Every year, the City of DeLand recognizes locals past and present who have dedicated their lives to serving their country. This year’s Hometown Heroes, whether they are members of the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps or the Air Force, chose service above self.
Thank you to this year’s Hometown Heroes!
CPL Mark Blocker
Mark Blocker served four years in the 2nd Amphibious Assault Battalion as an Amphibious Assault Crew Chief, stationed at the Marine Corps base in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
He spent a three-month deployment with the 6th Fleet, aboard the USS Hermitage, training with NATO allies from Norway, Denmark and Germany. His next deployment was also with the 6th Fleet aboard the USS Pensacola in the Mediterranean Sea, training with NATO countries of Spain, France, Italy and Turkey. He then spent one year in Okinawa, Japan, stationed at Camp Schwab. Blocker’s last deployment was for three months in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
His most prized awards are: Good Conduct Medal, Meritorious Mast, and Rifle Sharp Shooter.
Blocker has been married 38 years to Susan Blocker, and they have two daughters and seven grandchildren. He and his wife have lived and worked in DeLand for 34 years.
— The family of Mark Blocker
PO3 Ethan J. Berner
Ethan Berner, 21, has grown up in West Volusia. He attended Father Lopez Catholic High School his freshman year and then transferred to University High School in Orange City and graduated in 2020. During his senior year of high school, he decided to put college on hold, and joined the Navy following in the footsteps of his older brother.
Berner left for the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in August 2020 after he graduated. His boot camp and graduation experience were altered due to COVID, but he did not let that affect his journey.
Berner is now an aviation machinist’s mate and has been deployed twice in his early career. His first deployment was on the USS San Jacintoout of Norfolk, Virginia. Currently Berner is deployed on the USS Gerald Ford. He is enjoying seeing the world and creating friendships that will last a lifetime.
Berner will be stationed in Jacksonville when he returns from this deployment. He is happy to be closer to home; Mom and Dad are happy to have him closer as well!
“We are extremely proud of Ethan and look forward to seeing what the future holds for him. We are honored to have him recognized as one of DeLand’s Hometown Heroes,” Ethan’s parents, Linda and Cliff Berner, said.
— The family of Ethan Berner
SPC Jennifer L. Deveaux
When she was a senior at DeLand High School in 1997-98, Jennifer Deveaux wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. Ultimately, she decided to join the U.S. Army.
“I have had some military in my family, and so it’s kind of like creating an ongoing legacy that way,” Deveaux said. “Not really knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up, I thought I would go and do this thing I could get value out of and it would ultimately pay for my college and stuff.”
She shipped off to basic training after she graduated in 1998.
Deveaux went on to become a medical specialist during her time in the Army. She was stationed in South Korea and later Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Once her Army contract was up, Deveaux joined the National Guard in Maryland and served on Army bases until 2005, when she left to pursue college degrees.
Deveaux received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and went on to get her master’s degree in educational leadership and student affairs in higher education.
Nowadays, Deveaux works for Volusia County Schools as a purchasing agent. Deveaux and the rest of the department make sure that schools, media centers and teachers have all the books and other supplies they need.
“My military experience counts at this job, and I’m at a higher level of pay and seniority because of that experience,” she said. “Volusia County Schools really values their veteran employees and staff.”
It’s especially rewarding, she said, to be working where she grew up.
“It’s a rewarding career,” Deveaux said, “to contribute back to the same county I am a product of.”
— Noah Hertz
MSG Sandra D. Porter-McCullough
If there’s one thing Qiana Porter wants people to know about her mom, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Sandra Porter-McCullough, it’s that she’s an incredibly selfless person.
“She’s volunteered at the Chisholm Center before; she’s worked for Goodwill teaching people how to apply for jobs and fill out their résumés,” Qiana Porter said. “She really does everything she can to take care of people.”
Porter-McCullough enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1978 at the age of 18. One of the reasons she joined, her daughter said, was to become self-sufficient; to learn to stand on her own two feet.
“That was the driving reason,” Porter said. “Stability, structure, and learning what you want to do and how you want to do it. That’s why she saw the military as a good outlet.”
Porter-McCullough went on to serve in the military for 31 years, during which time she was stationed in countless different places like Afghanistan and South Korea.
During her childhood, Porter remembers traveling around with her parents, but they always made an effort to ensure that the stress of moving halfway around the country with active-duty parents wasn’t stressful for her.
When Porter-McCullough retired from her Army career in 2009, she continued to play her part in helping out the U.S. Army. After coming home from an overseas job, Porter-McCullough worked with a tech company, going from base to base teaching troops about software they had to use.
Nowadays, Porter-McCullough enjoys her time with her husband Raymond McCullough — the two married last year — gardening and traveling. She likes to volunteer her time to the community, and she’s a member of New St. John Missionary Baptist Church in DeLand.
— Noah Hertz
CPL Jack W. Whitaker
The main thing that Jack Whitaker’s family remembers about him is that he was a great man.
“He was a very strong father,” his son, Jeffrey Whitaker, said. “I looked up to him quite highly.”
“He was a great guy. He was disciplined, he loved the Lord,” his daughter, Denise MacDonald said. “He was a family man. He always loved his family, no matter what they did to him.”
Jack Whitaker served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Korean War during the early 1950s. During his time in service, he rose to the rank of corporal. Whitaker was discharged after suffering a facial injury from a pin ejected by a machine gun.
After returning stateside, Whitaker married his wife, Iris Faye Brooks, in 1953 and started working as a journeyman welder.
As a welder, Whitaker worked on many projects around Central Florida, his daughter said, including some at Walt Disney World, Kennedy Space Center, the Daytona Beach Ocean Center and more.
Whitaker was a teacher and positive role model for many people, too, not just his own children. A member of the Ironworkers Local 808 Bridge, Structural and Ornamental Iron Workers union, Whitaker rose through the ranks and served as the union’s president for four years and also as the director of the union’s apprenticeship program.
He helped many people get a foothold in their own careers.
“There were so many young men he mentored and trained and helped instill his own personal work ethic in them,” MacDonald said. “His work ethic was very strong.”
Later in his life, Whitaker went to seminary school and worked as a minister at the Church of God of Prophecy in DeLand.
Whitaker died in 2014, but his family has never forgotten his service to the U.S., or his dedication to his family and community.
— Noah Hertz
E-5 David J. Beaulieu
David Beaulieu joined the Army in 2004 prior to his senior year of high school. His early enlistment gave him time to work with his recruiting office, where he volunteered his time between school, soccer and work. Six short days after graduation, Beaulieu left for boot camp at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and he completed his training at Fort Benning in Georgia. Then Beaulieu married his highschool girlfriend Mandy.
From there, he received orders to Fort Richardson in Alaska as an airborne field artilleryman. Beaulieu served in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006, completing a 15-month tour where he re-enlisted.
After returning from Iraq, Beaulieu knew Operation Enduring Freedom would be next. He chose to extend his stay at Fort Richardson so he could deploy with his team again in 2009.
Beaulieu and his wife, Mandy, had their first child, Sophia, in 2011, and he separated from the Army in 2012.
After leaving the Army, Beaulieu attended the Alaska State Trooper Academy and attained an aircraft firefighting certification. Beaulieu also worked for the State of Alaska as an Anchorage Airport Police and Fire officer. After some time at the airport, Beaulieu seized an opportunity to go back to Fort Richardson as a Department of Defense civilian employee working as a logistics heavy-equipment operator.
During this time, Beaulieu and his wife had their second child, Orion.
Sometime after, Mandy received an opportunity to work for a company based in Florida, which provided the family an opportunity to move back to the state after spending 16 years in Alaska. The Beaulieus chose DeLand to be close to family, and because of the sense of community DeLand has to offer.
Now, Beaulieu is going back to school to become a certified mechanic, and the whole family is adjusting to being back in the Sunshine State. They look forward to planting roots in DeLand.
— The family of David Beaulieu
CW4 Robert D. Childre III
For Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Childre III, joining the Army was an act of patriotism and a family tradition, but it became a career from which he is only days away from retiring.
“I was a military brat,” Childre told The Beacon. “It runs in the family. My father was in the Army. We moved to DeLand.”
Now married with three children and stationed at Fort Shafter in Hawaii, Childre calls DeLand home. He is preparing to retire from the Army Aug. 1, when he will come back to where his father retired from active duty, too.
Childre’s connection with the Army started when he entered the world. He was born at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
“My Dad was a tank operator,” he noted. Fort Knox was just one place of his travelogue childhood.
“When you grow up as a military brat, you may move every two or three years,” Childre noted. “I actually grew up in Germany.”
Childre is a 1995 graduate of DeLand High School. He entered the Army the following year, not intending, he says, to stay for 27 years. His work in the Army was challenging, working on the electronics of missile systems. He used these skills and training on three combat tours, two in Iraq — 2003-04 and 2005-06 — and one in Afghanistan in 2011-12.
Asked what his fondest memory of his military career was, Childre recalled a tour of duty in the Mediterranean.
What was his scariest time? That was in eastern Afghanistan, Childre recalled, while he was working on a missile platform and taking enemy fire.
“I was hearing these sounds, and they were from a recoilless rifle. I had to roll off a pedestal, a 15-foot jump and into a bunker,” he said.
As he prepares for civilian life, Childre leaves the Army with an array of honors, including two Bronze Stars and the Legion of Merit.
— Al Everson
1st LT Jared Mitchell
A home-schooled U.S. Army officer from DeLand has ambitions for a career in higher education, as well as the military.
“There is part of me that thinks I could really do a lot in 20 years,” 1st Lt. Jared Mitchell wrote in an email response from Germany. “I’m still planning to get my doctorate and become a college professor. It’s just a question of when I’m ready to move on to that part of my life. In any case, I will not be giving up my commission. I’ve worked too hard for it, and it means a great deal to me. If I leave active duty, I’ll move to the National Guard or the Reserves for as long as they’re interested in keeping me.”
Mitchell was commissioned through the University of Central Florida’s ROTC program, which he completed in 2021 when he received his master’s degree in communications.
Now serving as a logistics officer assigned to the 51st Composite Truck Company, part of the 18th Combat Sustainment Brigade, Mitchell is at the midpoint of a three-year tour of duty in Germany. He is assigned to Grafenwoehr, a well-known Army training ground in Bavaria.
Asked why he had joined the Army, Mitchell said, “Everyone I had ever admired had served in the military, so I thought it was time to live up to my heroes.”
From his words, Mitchell is clearly a man on a mission.
“Every single thing we do matters,” he said. “There’s a poem I once heard called ‘The Soldier’s Pledge,’ and I think it’s deeply true: ‘Therefore I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone.’”
“In the Army, I get the chance to do my best to live up to that sentiment each day,” Mitchell continued. “And I get to see others who have for many years.”
— Al Everson
E3 Dylan S. Collie
Dylan Collie was born in Nassau, Bahamas, and grew up in Volusia County. He graduated from DeLand High School in June 2021.
In July 2021, Collie went to boot camp, and he was stationed in Pensacola. He is currently stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, working in the aircrew on the USS Eisenhower.
His mother Jennifer, father Stafford and brother Johnathon miss him terribly and like to visit where he is stationed. They know he is doing great things.
His family here in Florida, in Pennsylvania and in the Bahamas are very proud of him!
— The family of Dylan Collie
CPL Charles Wayne Grimes
Charles Wayne Grimes joined the military in 1980 and served in both the Army and Navy. He was stationed in Sicily and later in Germany and also was involved in the Grenada campaign in 1983.
After Grimes was discharged from the military, he and his family moved to DeLand in 2002. He quickly became involved with the community including the DeLand & Greater West Volusia Chamber of Commerce and was a graduate of Leadership West Volusia. He also owned and operated a website design company.
Sadly, Grimes passed away in 2017.
— The family of Charles Wayne Grimes
E7 Michael Fior
Michael Fior is a member of Duke Energy’s Regulatory Support and Planning team, which supports Duke Energy State Presidents’ strategic planning and cost recovery planning frameworks, including coordination with legal, regulatory, legislative, and accounting teams for regulatory filings and compliance activities.
Before joining Duke Energy, Mike served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 20 years as a counterintelligence agent/human intelligence specialist. Mike is a member of The Rotary Club of DeLand and enjoys volunteering throughout West Volusia and Seminole County.
— The family of Michael Fior
SSGT Claudio Paulino Jr
Claudio Paulino Jr. was born in DeLand and grew up in Volusia County. He graduated from Taylor Middle-High School in Pierson in May 2011.
In March 2016, he joined the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Patrick Space Force Base in Florida, working in the 920th Security Forces Squadron.
He also worked as a CATM instructor (Combat Arms Training & Maintenance), where his team was responsible for teaching every 920th RQW airman to be proficient and skilled in using their weapons.
Paulino would like to thank the great leadership and mentorship from MSgt. Lomax, MSgt. Marchak, MSgt. DeRivera, and everyone at the 920th SFS.
Paulino currently works as a Volusia County Schools teacher at Pierson Elementary and is the head coach of the girls’ varsity soccer team at Taylor Middle-High School.
— The family of Claudio Paulino
For some, entering into the military is a personal choice, but for others, it’s more of a family tradition. These six members of the DeLand-based Taylor family have turned service into a legacy that has touched three generations and counting.
PV1 Alfred Taylor
Youngest son Alfred Taylor joined two years after his brother Billy. Originally, he was sure that he wanted to join the Air Force — he already had the T-shirts and everything. But after a disagreement with the recruitment officer, he switched to the Army.
Like Billy, Alfred Taylor joined the delayed entry program in high school. Serving was the only thing he ever wanted to do, but in an accident at airborne school, he received an injury that prevented him from pursuing that career further, exactly like his father.
The transition into civilian life was hard, and letting go of his dream was even harder, but Taylor found a new way to fulfill his need to serve by training to be a paramedic. There, he hopes to continue the family tradition of helping others.
E7 Luis Rodriguez
Luis Rodriguez was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and he elected to serve the duration of his time in the Army, 30 years in all. Most of that time was spent on that very same island. Rodriguez loved his role as an accountant, and then a recruiter, but he loved fatherhood more. He wanted to be sure that his children got to experience as stable a childhood as possible — a rarity for military families, as any could attest. And that’s exactly what Rodriguez provided for them.
Every day, he’d drive across the island to make it to his post while his children went to school. The three years he was stationed elsewhere — in Texas — he was sure to bring his family along, and he kept their house in Puerto Rico ready for their return home. All the while, his kids absorbed the importance of their father’s work, as well as the benefits that it afforded their family. While Emily, Rodriguez’s daughter and Fred Taylor Sr.’s wife, never could quite bring herself to enlist, she appreciated the lifestyle. That’s what ignited the inspiration for Fred Sr. to carry on Rodriguez’s legacy after marrying his daughter.
Today, Luis is living his best life on the shores of Puerto Rico with his wife of 60 years, and is always seen proudly wearing his U.S. Army hat.
1LT Fred Taylor Sr.
Fred Taylor Sr. had no military aspirations, he just wanted to provide for his family. He met his wife of 29 years, Emily, when the two were working at McDonald’s. After three months of dating, they decided to get married at the Courthouse in DeLand during one of their breaks. They both went right back to work after they tied the knot.
Once the responsibilities of married life hit home, Taylor knew it was time to get serious. So, having heard stories about his father-in-law’s days in service, he enlisted.
He joined the Air Force, got his degree, and became an officer. There, he was responsible for a team of his own, and enjoyed better benefits to boot. Eventually, Taylor was injured after a parachute malfunction, and that ended his active duty. From there, he went into recruiting, just like his father-in-law. Now, he’s living the good life with his grandkids as he supports his wife and her career as an educator.
For Taylor, service is his purpose. It’s as essential to give as it is to receive, perhaps even more so, and he instilled that into his children as well. Bouncing from base to base — 14 in total — Taylor’s kids got an understanding for his passion and selfless service. And that, Taylor wagers, is what inspired three out of four of the next generation of Taylors to follow suit.
AMN Alfred Taylor Jr.
The oldest of the Taylor children, Fred Taylor Jr. always wanted to join up. But his skinny figure made meeting the weight requirements almost impossible. After high school, he attended culinary school to pursue a career as a chef, but the urge to serve never faded. So, just before he was set to graduate, he decided to bulk up and try one last time.
With help from his dad, and a ton of bulking shakes, he finally passed all the necessary requirements. He joined the Air Force and is currently serving in Georgia, fulfilling his dreams to travel and serve at the same time. He’s going on 10 years next year.
SSGT Billy Taylor
Billy Taylor, the middle Taylor son, was the next of the kids to join up, and he did so immediately after high school. His lack of hesitation shocked his parents at first — he didn’t even wait until he officially graduated from high school to commit to it.
He started out as a recruiter, and then worked his way into a paralegal position in the Army. There, he met his wife Katherine, and they are the proud parents of a young child.
Taylor is currently stationed in South Korea, and he is excited to work his way up the totem pole and into a career in service.
SPC Katherine Taylor
Katherine Taylor is a Taylor by marriage. She met Billy Taylor, her now-husband, while they were both working as paralegals in the Army. She came from a military family as well, and she always knew that she wanted to serve, but she never expected to meet “the one” while there.
After they got married and had a child together, Taylor decided to take a step back from active duty to be with their child and support her husband during his service. She now lives near Fred Taylor Sr. and Grandma Emily in DeLand and is enjoying motherhood.