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MGM employees give back to veterans

5 Nov 2015

By Kimberly De La Cruz
BOULDER CITY, Nevada — Beneath a cloudy grey sky, bronze headstones stood out from the green grass at Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

Along the rows of graves, 39 Southern Nevada veterans walked solemnly, their heads hung low.

The men and women, employees of MGM Resorts International, visited the cemetery and the Nevada State Veterans Home on Wednesday as part of the company's "Boots to Business" training.

At the cemetery, active-duty Marine Hector Alvarez made a beeline for his own branch of service.

"Take me to the Marines," he said. Alvarez and the others stepped off their bus and were allotted 20 minutes to browse the graves.

"It's kinda sad. This is where we're all gonna end up," Alvarez said, his eyes drifting to the ground.

Only moments before, Alvarez and his two friends, David Silva-Perez and Cristian Barraza, sat together in the veterans home dining room, cheering on a fellow Marine for winning the grand prize in a game of bingo.

Bags and boxes stuffed with prizes, like large-print crossword puzzles, baseball caps, jackets and puzzles sat on the floor beneath a big, bronze bingo wheel.

"One to go for bingo," shouted one player, his voice carrying over the laughter coming from the packed tables in the dining hall. There wasn't an empty seat in the room.

The bingo balls spun. The squares grew more and more obstructed by blue caps.

A third and final blackout round would determine the big winner. A 32-inch Insignia TV was up for grabs.

The crowd went quiet.

After a 15 minutes passed, a single word from Silva-Perez, Barraza and Alvarez drew all attention to the back corner.


Leonard Shippy had covered each of his card's 25 squares. The 94-year-old grand-prize winner wasn't sure what he'd do with a second television.

One thing he was sure about, though, "once a Marine, always a Marine," he said.

He served during World War II from 1942 to 1945, mostly in the South Pacific, but when asked how long he'd been a Marine, he replied, "forever and ever and ever."

"You kind of have an eye for Marines," Barraza said. He and his two friends spotted Shippy right away and "just knew."

They sat next to him and the four marines talked together about their years of service over the game. The three young men are from the same reserve unit and live in Las Vegas.

They have never been deployed, but say they want to be.

"It's a Marine thing," they agreed. "You want to be deployed."

The game's host, 25-year-old Thelma Padilla, who spent more than a year overseas in her seven-year military career, has a very different background.

Also from Las Vegas, it pained her to leave her mother and younger sister behind for a 12-month deployment to Iraq.

She enlisted in the Army at 18, right after high school and knew immediately she wanted to be a military police officer, the only "hands-on" job women are eligible for, she says.

She didn't want to sit behind a desk or have administrative duties, and she still doesn't.

Now back home in the valley, she works as a security officer at the Luxor and studies criminal justice, kinesiology and psychology at the College of Southern Nevada.

Both "Boots to Business" and her military experience have taught her discipline and leadership skills.

She's one of many who attest to the program's success.

Wilson Edgell, a 26-year Air Force veteran, spent his military career in Utah, England, Korea and Germany. His first civilian career began in Las Vegas.

After five deployments to combat zones in Afghanistan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Edgell retired in 2012.

Three months later, he enrolled in the Boots to Business course and was subsequently hired by MGM Resorts International where he climbed from senior consultant to his new outreach position, recruiting veterans.

"It's huge," he said of the program's ability to identify military talent to match skills with opportunities.

Bailey spoke highly of his past graduate, Edgell.

"He has been very successful. He's very good at anything he does."

Over 150 MGM employees who also are veteransvhave been educated through what Jonathan Bailey, learning and development consultant for MGM Resorts International, calls the program's "transformational leadership."

Bailey, whom the students call "Jono," has taught the class for three years. He is not a veteran, but says veterans are amazing leaders, when given the right opportunities and training.

"They're really solid, sharp leaders. They're taught from the very beginning to lead and to deal with pressure situations," he said.

The ten-week course is offered to active and non-active duty military members who are interested in boosting their civilian careers. They learn about communication, emotional intelligence, and themselves, as part of a detailed profile about how they work.

Eight weeks of the class, which is funded out of the corporate budget, are spent in the classroom, Bailey says. The final two weeks are spent volunteering and celebrating its completion.

This second-to-last week for the third group of 2015 was about giving back to the community.

Instead of the traditional graduation "walk," those who've completed the course this time around will celebrate by marching alongside the MGM Resorts International float in the Las Vegas Veterans Day parade next Tuesday.

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