As Veterans Day approaches, we have the privilege of sitting down with three remarkable individuals, Kevin Hysell, Paul Starr, and Kelly Hughes, at Avnet who have served their country with unwavering dedication and sacrifice. Click here to listen to the full interview on Spotify
US Army 1980 – 1988
Utilities Equipment Repair
Sales Associate for the Mid-Atlantic team. His team oversees the Carolinas, up to the coast, parts of Pennsylvania, and parts of New York.
US Marine Corps 1994 – 1998
Heavy Machine Gunner, Infantry Platoon Sergeant for final year of service
Director of Sales & Customer Engagement at Newark. He is responsible for all the inside sales for the Newark business.
US Air Force 1987 – 2017
Navigator/Cyber Warfare Officer
Senior Manager for Business Continuity and Enterprise Risk PMO. He oversees all of Farnell, Newark, and anything that falls under the Avnet umbrella.
In this exclusive interview, we have the honor of hearing the stories and experiences of these Veterans, each with a unique perspective and background. They have collectively defended the values and freedoms that we hold dear, and their journeys are a testament to the courage, resilience, and patriotism that defines the men and women who have worn the uniform. As we gather to commemorate Veterans Day, let us take this opportunity to gain insight into their lives, their service, and their reflections on the significance of this solemn occasion. These conversations with our Veterans will provide a deep and personal understanding of the sacrifices and commitment made by those who have served, and the profound meaning of Veterans Day in their lives.
In addition to their service and dedication, these Veterans have come together to form a new and inspiring initiative known as MAVERIC (Military And Veterans Employee Resource & Information Community) a Veteran ERG (Employee Resource Group). ERGs are voluntary employee lead groups at Avnet that align with their strategic initiatives and core values. MAVERIC is led by two co-chairs Kelly Hughes (Veteran) and Zsaber Gere (Veteran family member). With the support of Avnet’s Chief Finance Officer, West Point attendee and MAVERIC executive sponsor, Ken Jacobson, Avnet looks forward to seeing the positive impact MAVERIC has on Veterans and their families within Avnet and around the country. This initiative reflects their commitment to not only serve their country in uniform but also to continue their mission of service and support within their civilian careers. MAVERIC aims to provide a space for Veterans within Avnet to share their experiences, support one another, and actively engage in community outreach, all while contributing to the company's goals and values. As we delve into their stories and their perspectives on Veterans Day, we will also discuss remarkable creation of MAVERIC, the importance of this initiative, and their plans for the group’s future.
What branch of the military were you in and how long were you in the military?
Kevin- “I was in the Army for eight years. I worked in air conditioning, refrigeration. We made, we fixed air conditioning units for missile guidance systems, and I was stationed over in Germany.”
Paul- “I was in the United States Marine Corps for four years and while I was there, I signed up to be a heavy machine gunner. Then through that I worked my way up to oversee a platoon of infantry men in the United States Marine Corps.”
Kelly- “I was in the Air Force, and I started off flying. I was a navigator for about 10 years. Then I worked with the Army and taught them how to use airplanes and not break them. So that was my job. During my last 10 to 15 years, I worked as liaison and then started to move into cybersecurity. So, I ended up as a Cyber Warfare Officer for the Air Force.”
How many years did you serve overall?
Kelly- “A lot. So I was, I was in for 30. I was blessed that I got that opportunity.”
What brought all of you to want to join the military? Any specific reason?
Kevin- “Well I joined right out of high school. When I graduated, I had no career goals in mind at all. I just wanted to drive my 70SS Chevelle and have fun. Life changed. My wife got pregnant. I didn’t have a very good job. I was working at a gas station and her dad was a former Marine of World War Two. He was with the First Marine Division in Japan. If you watch that movie the Pacific, he was with that group. From all the stories he told me, and I thought it was time to grow up so I joined the Army. I was hoping to be an MP, but that didn’t work out well. So, it was for growth and my family. That’s the main reason.”
Paul- “I just kind of always knew. So even when I was a little kid, I just knew that’s what I was going to do when I grew up. And the reason why that is I have six uncles and two cousins who were in the Marines and my dad was in the Air Force. He had a really cool job in the Air Force. He was an ammunition and armorer in the Air Force. I was fascinated by that life and the stories that I had heard, like Kevin said growing up, I was surrounded by all that. So, I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. I made it easy on the recruiters. I walked in and said, hey, I just want to shoot machine guns, where do I sign? And they’re right here, young man. I was like, great, thank you and had a blast. I used to play army in the woods when I was a kid. And I figured I could grow up and play with the real stuff and get paid to do it and get all the training. So, it was a real easy sell for me. So yeah, I just kind of always knew I was going to do it.”
Kelly, I want to change your question a little bit. I do want to know why you initially joined. But I’m also curious how did you come to the decision that you want to make those switches within your experience of your 30 years?
Kelly- “That's easy. That's one thing. In the military, there's a lot of times you don't get a choice. I was like, just like Paul grew up running around the woods putting Black Cats in apples and throwing them as hand grenades at my brother and then mom wanting to know why your shirt was on fire, you know, little things like that. But I always knew. So for me, I was very driven. I knew to fly what I needed to do. So it was kind of a pain because to me, college was in the way, high school was in the way it literally, I knew where I wanted to go. I would just go into my counselor and say you're a waste of my time. I'm getting out of here. And I'd stand up and walk out and they're like, OK, but that was it. I just, I needed to fly. I wanted to get off the ground, and the military was the best route back then. There wasn't a lot. There's a lot more private airplane, you know, like the Amber Riddles of the world, where there only one before, now there's many of them. So those weren't very numerous when I was a kid. So it was just always you go to the Air Force you want to fly go. Army you could try, but they also had a history of oh hey look, we're full. You're not an army, you're not a pilot. Now you're going to go drive truck. And I wanted to get on the big airplanes and go places. So that's really where what took me there.
Then a lot of the career decisions I was a navigator, so it was right at the tail end of what we did. GPS was just coming online, and GPS just took us out. I mean it's face it, it's just too, it's too good. They still have navigators in in key airplanes, mostly things that drop bombs because you need to have a person in there because computers are great, but they're not very good at realizing when they're not right. So, you need that human in that loop especially when you're when you've got weapons and that you're employing so but and then I've always been a technology nerd, so it was even when I was flying I was very involved with the technology that we're putting on the aircraft and testing stuff on the airplane. It's like I always volunteer hey I'll, I'll take the next jet that's got that whatever on it and off we'd go. So that kind of helped me move back in and when the cybersecurity started off in the mid about little after about mid 2000, 2005 or so I got that opportunity to go into cyber and I'm like I just I jumped in with both feet.”
Are there any life lessons or skills that you're still using today that you learned when serving in the military?
Kevin- “Respect. Just respect for everybody. When I got out of high school, I didn't want to do anything. I learned a whole different lifestyle. I learned to better myself. Like still a lot of the skills that went back in 1980. So I'm going to date myself here, but I still a lot use a lot of those skills or respect a lot of the stuff that I've learned. Some survival skills, some, you know, just mannerism, things like that I still use today. I've been passing some of that stuff on to my my two boys.”
Paul- “I have found the unequivocal power of teamwork is the absolute biggest legacy and the biggest impact that the Marine Corps had on me, the 2nd to that was decision making capabilities and leadership skills. One of the things that they teach you the Marine Corps is in any situation you can do three things. You can make the right decision, which is the best thing you can do. You make a decision that’s wrong and it will be the second best thing you can do. But the worst thing you can do is not make any decision at all. So really a very simple rule to apply to life is you want to get it right, but you’re still okay even if the decision is wrong, because failure is a great teacher. So if you don't get it right, at least you took a swing at it and you tried your best. Then the power behind that is the entire Marine Corps is based on teamwork. When you get to boot camp, the reason they shave your head and the reason they call you recruit and the reason they ask you to refer to yourself in the third person is because individuals do not make it on any team. If you are an individual, then you are not part of the team and then that team is only as strong as its weakest individual. So the Marine Corps is an entire organization based on the power of teamwork. Finally, Servant leadership is a foundational tenet of the Marine Corps. So even the Commandant, the highest guy in the land, recognizes that he's there to serve his fellow Marines and the Marines in his charge. They really impressed upon me the power of that teamwork, the power of that leadership, and the power of making decisions even in the craziest time. Those three things can serve anyone in any situation, and they continue to benefit me to this day.”
Kelly- “Funny, you're not going to hear anything new here either. It's the teamwork. We flew in small crews- four to six and then there's about 20 people in the back doing other duties. You got to be really tight with your crew and that was it. You learn because literally for us, left turn good, right turn, they wake up the president. There was no room for error on where we were and what we did. When we went to war, the same thing. You're with the same crew. You've relied on each other; you trusted each other and that was just critical because you would do anything for each other. And that's what I really solidified. The big leadership is so far away, and it doesn't really mean anything to you. What meant to you is those people that are right around you. You can do anything for them through the good times, the bad times, all of it. But like I said I had a few extra years there. I really started to see it from the other side of the lens when I saw engaged leadership. When I flew, I had to evaluate people very quickly, literally are you going to kill me or not? And I've had a couple pilots that did try to kill me. I mean standing up yelling at guys like if you don't move that lever, we all die on this airplane type of thing. And the guy looks at you like what did I forget something? You know those are the types of things that you must always be aware of as that Spidey sense goes off. The units are much more effective when they have leadership that supports and engages with them. When I first saw Phil Gallagher, our CEO, talk. He engages with people. He's like, hey it's relationships and that's what I'm used to. It's kind of feels like being at home when you get to come back to that.”
What was your most memorable experience in the military?
Kevin- “I had a lot of them being in eight years. I spent 5 1/2 in Germany and got to see a lot of lot of Europe. Spent a lot of time in Berlin before the wall came down. Got to see that lifestyle. One of the most experienced, memorable experiences. I was stationed down at Fort Belvoir, Virginia and AIT. I stayed there for a while and I was an instructor there for a little bit. We were doing a commercial for United Way and the Washington Redskins. At the end of the shooting of the commercial, the presidential motorcade came driving through and out came President Reagan. There was several thousand people there and he walked right over to me, shook my hand, and thanked me for my service. That was one of the most memorable things that I share with everybody I talk to. I shook his hand and it the first time I felt like I was doing something right because he thanked me for my service. I was like, wow! I was only E3 at the time and when he left everybody around there just stared at me like “what did you do?””
Paul- “That sounds very much like something Ronald Reagan would do. If you hear stories about that guy, he was a heck of a leader.”
Kevin- “Yeah that was him! He was a phenomenal leader.”
Paul- “The Marine’s job is to fight and win wars. There's kind of no other option. There's a lot of power and there's a lot of intensity and there's a lot of bravado behind that. I have a lot of ribbons that support that side of the Marine Corps, but I also have 3 humanitarian ribbons. So that power, when used for good, can create just as much salvation and relief of oppression as Kevin said. He saw East and West Berlin and he saw the 1/2 that was being oppressed. When the wall came down, Germany came together. I have 3 humanitarian ribbons from going into places where they needed help. They didn't need the Marines to fight war. They needed the Marines to protect them, and they needed humanitarian aid from the power of the Marine Corps. I'd say that’s the most memorable experience. The job was a little crazy sometimes and we did some crazy things, but the humanitarian ribbons are what I'm the most proud of. The ones that I earned because we did good with all the power that we had versus waging war. Anybody can start a fight, but it takes real strength and real power to do good on behalf of people who can do nothing for you.”
Where are those humanitarian ribbons from? What kind of the mission did you serve?
Paul- “One of them came Liberia, Africa, where I got that little monkey statue right there. I traded an African peacekeeping soldier my watch for that monkey, by the way. The US embassy is in Liberia, Africa and it was being overrun by African drug gangs. There's two drug Lords that were fighting a war and they needed protection. The citizens of that city also needed help. I got sent there to be a show of force and then some other units went out and captured some of the bad guys. So going to Africa to be a peacekeeping force on top of a reactive force was one. And then I earned two (2) when I was stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for processing Cuban migrants. The US naval base in Cuba is US soil. When you cross the fence line from communist Cuba, as it was back then, you're on American soil. The year that I was there we processed roughly 26,000 asylum seekers. It's a life-or-death exercise to get through the fence because the Cubans have landmines. They have lots of Cuban soldiers on their side of the fence making sure no one escapes Cuba. You had to risk your life in order to cross through that war zone essentially to get onto US soil. I earned two other humanitarian ribbons through the rescue efforts of those asylum seekers coming across and coming through communist Cuba to be able to come to US soil. Then we process them, and we gave them a new life and new start in Florida. There were a lot of wonderful people who just wanted to live their lives but could not find that opportunity in Cuba because of the oppression. They started the new life in in Florida and I'm and I'm real proud I was a part of that.”
Kelly- “Oh boy, there's a lot of them. I got to do some amazing humanitarian stuff. I was in Afghanistan when they had their first vote and listening to the stories that would come from the villages where people are standing in snow, barefoot for hours because they've never been able to be in a democratic process before. It's gone now but at least they got it. We tried and we did something. We made a decision, and we moved out on it.
I kind of go back to when I first started flying. You get your basic flight training. Then you get trained on your specific type of airplane. When you get to your first base, all of a sudden there's that day when you're by yourself and there's not an instructor standing over your shoulder. At this point I've now been flying for a total of 50 hours and now I've got nobody over me. I've got half a billion-dollar airplane with a lot of people on board. Our airplane airborne 24 hours a day. We'd always had an airplane up in the sky and it was a nuclear alert piece that’s gone on since 1963. You didn't want to break that chain. So here comes Kelly, brand new Lieutenant, 50 hours under his belt and look, we're out of gas. What are we going to do? And of course, it only happens in thunderstorms in the Midwest, you know. I'm in Nebraska and next thing you know, we're on our way to the Canadian border and I'm pushing airplanes around and all this stuff. My pilot turns around and looks at me and asks me “how long you been flying?” And I'm like “counting today?”. He turned white as a sheet. I said, “don't worry I got this”. Sure enough, I rolled out right behind. I put our tanker right ahead of us. We supposed to roll it out at three. I pulled him in at 2:00 because we didn't have the time to go catch him and we were literally dodging thunderstorms as it was happening. I've never seen a thunderstorm for real. It’s only been simulated before. Note to self, don't say out loud “wow, that's what thunderstorms really look like”. It doesn't infer confidence to your pilot team. After that the General got to go back to his nap again and all was safe for another day. When you land, it's just like, hey, good job. That was all that was said and off you go. I think a lot of people who join the military do it to test themselves. What happens if I ever get to that point? What am I going to do? Am I going to buckle? Am I going to stand up and be counted? What's going to happen now? I saw some in combat that they didn't make it. They literally just fell apart. You never know. I always wanted to test myself. I think that was kind of my first litmus test- like hey I'm going to make it and I like it.”
Have all of you been involved in the creation of the MAVERIC Group?
Paul- “As soon as we kind of got the go ahead that yes, we can stand this up, we didn't really wait. We just kind of moved on it. Oh, we're not recognized yet… Oh well, we'll get there... Let's go. So, Kelly, Zsaber, and I got together, and I sent the call out. There are about three or four others in this building that are vets. I said, hey, I know Kevin, you're a vet. He answered the call immediately without hesitation “I would love to be a part of that!””
What resources will the MAVERIC Group provide your current Veteran employees?
Kelly- “It's a place to get together and talk that's one piece is just to share and let the Veterans out there know that. Hey, if you've got questions, some vets have a tough time making that shift from the military world to the civilian world. We want to make sure we get the message out there. You know, we've got marines, army, Navy, you name it, “Coasties”. We can speak the speed. We understand we've been there. We can help walk them through those times. It helps to diffuse some situations. We're used to very rigid structures. Sometimes it's very hard. If you walk into a room and can't really tell who's in charge, it makes some people very uncomfortable. They are used to knowing who is in charge no matter what. There's security in that. But it’s different in the civilian world and that’s where Zaber is so valuable. She has parents and relatives that have been in the military. She's been around it her whole life. It's the whole ecosystem, not only the vet but the people around them. MAVERIC really is everybody that's involved in that Veteran community. One of our group members just got activated and sent off for a year. He was just about to retire. We are supporting him and letting him know hey if you need anything, we got your back. We’re a $26 billion company. We want to make sure that it's a Veteran friendly. If there's ways we can help, now we've got some place we can turn to and say, hey, I need help with XYZ. Boom, we're on it.”
How many Veterans or military family members are currently working at Avnet?
Kelly- “79 currently! We're not certain on the exact number since they don't all identify. Everybody isn’t always gung-ho about it. But we're hoping that as we get the name out there more, we'll draw more in. We also want it to be a major import because we have some great presence in Ohio, South Carolina, and Phoenix. There are some great military communities there. We want to tap that potential since there are over 200,000 a year that are transitioning out of the military into civilian world. We hope to start getting messages directly to the Veterans community long term. We have positoins matching all the types of things that are common across all of the services from driving a forklift/warehouse, to high tech, engineering, and sales. I mean we've got a place for almost everybody which is rare under one roof. “
How often will this group meet? What are your plans/goals for the group?
Kelly- “We're kind of event driven right now. We don't really have a tempo yet, so we're not real rigid. We've got a couple of events happening and then it'll be quiet. Then next spring it'll pick up again especially when we get closer Memorial Day. There’s an event that we're going to try to get a nationwide presence across as many of our facilities as we can. We'll kind of get people fired up again. We want to give a shirt for everybody and say, “you're part of the MAVERIC”. We want to get that name out there and have people realize it. Avnet is 100 years old. Our CEO and executive board have now made Veteran's Day an official holiday for the company. When you talk about putting your money where your mouth is that's about as loud as you can get.”
Paul- “It's remarkable. Never had a job where I received Veteran's Day off. It's funny. Kevin will probably tell you the same thing.”
Kevin- “I never had Veterans Day off and it next year that happens to be my wife's birthday. So now I get to take her birthday off. It means a lot having this support group and giving us Veteran's Day off. It means a lot to me that they want to honor us and give us that time off. It’s amazing!”
What does Veteran's Day mean to you and your organization?
Kevin- “Veterans Day means giving honor to those who've served past, present and eventually the future. Just to honor them, especially the ones that served the World Wars and Vietnam. I had cousins through Vietnam and uncles and father-in-law you know, fought World War 2. It just means a lot to me that the country honors everyone that was honorably discharged. It’s a memory day for me. I take the day off every year even before we get the holiday off and give my respects.”
Paul- “It means being intentional about thanking Veterans. Find those in your life who did serve and ask them if they feel comfortable to talk a little bit about their service. Some of their experiences were a little bit tough to recall, however, from my experience the older and more mature you get; you start to have the ability to process some of those things that you saw. You become proud and want to tell those stories. Veteran Day means carrying that mantle and passing the torch from those old timers in World War 2. My grandfather fought in World War One. He was installing glass in Canada when they joined World War One. He went and fought, then came back to my grandma and was like, “yeah, these guys are going to go fight, I’m going to fight with them”. You don’t see that kind of commitment these days. Veterans Day is dedicated to recognizing the sacrifices our fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers made and telling those tales. You must pass those stories down and recognize how this country came to be. We are free because of the brave right? I think is what they say. It really is a day to be intentional about reflecting on the sacrifices the generations before us made. They missed out on time with their families to serve a calling that was bigger than them. It's an opportunity to ponder and recognize that freedom isn't free. It means a lot that I work for an organization, Avnet, that recognizes what Veterans Day means as well.”
Kelly- “I really make it a point, especially when I see a Vietnam or a Korea war Veteran that they're wearing their hat to make sure I go over and say, “thank you”. My neighbor came out of Vietnam and was getting spit on as he walked into the airport. You know, we've had long talks about that before I joined. It's like, what can we do to make sure that never happens again? And that’s the personal engagement you make. There's emotion when you go up and say thank you. Even when there's a caregiver with them, they stop. It's very solemn and they're like, “wow you served as well?”. I'm like, “yeah, but I just want to talk about you”. That little 30 seconds or a minute might make their whole month. You never know. So just making sure you stop, it's easy to get too busy. That's what Veteran's Day for me. I think it's that time to take a breath and sit back and say we honor those that are serving. We've got Memorial Day for the ones that have passed. This is for all the ones that are still here. We can still take a second to say thank you because you never know they’re not going to be there.”
What advice would you give to someone who's considering joining the military?
Kevin- “Go for it! It's an experience that no one can ever take away from you. It's like a college degree. Nobody can take that away from me. This is something I did, I chose to do, and it holds dear to my heart being a Veteran. All I can say is go for it. Do it. You know you won't regret it.”
Paul- “Yeah, I'd add to that. Go for it but do your research on what it is. Yeah don’t just sign on the dotted line like I did. It was something I very much willingly did, but I did it knowing what I wanted to do. A lot of young men and women are like, “I think I'm going to join the military”. You need to really ponder that question because it is a contract that you sign that requires up to and it including your life. It’s something that will change you for the better when you go into it with eyes wide open and do your research. It's not all sunshine and rainbows that is for sure but the things we talked about, teamwork, servant leadership, the camaraderie, the Esprit de corps, and all those things that come with it forever change you for the better when you do your research, and you go into it. I agree with Kevin- go for it but make sure you are very focused on what it is because there's a place for everybody. In the military, there's no wasted parts because everybody does their job for the greater cause that is defending our country, defending our allies, and serving the globe. I would say do it but go in knowing what you want out of it.”
Kelly- “You know they call them the one percenters. When you get through all our civilization and population, there's only about 1% that are capable of serving. Of that 1%, then it's the ones that want to serve. We are an all-volunteer force. If somebody's has that inclination, it's like what are you looking for? What do you want to do? Because not everybody can get a college degree but Air Force or Navy pilots you must have a degree. If you want to drive a tank, well okay the Marines got rid of their tanks. So, guess what? You're going into the Army. Do your research first. I was on aircraft carrier for three days (my Navy stint) watching some seamen scrub the deck with the toothbrush and I'm like yeah, I'm glad I stayed in school. What they did was very important, you know, but then there's where you get to go and the things that you see. There's nothing that holds a candle to it.”
What do you think is the most important thing for civilians to understand about Veterans specifically?
Kevin- “We're humans. We just temporarily took a career path differently than a lot of people. We love our country, we respect it, and respect each other.”
Paul- “I would say civilians need to recognize that it is a commitment and massive responsibility. Some peoples’ experiences aren't great. You have to have empathy. And Kevin mentioned earlier you need to treat everybody with kindness, dignity, and respect. As a Veteran some guys and some gals have tough experiences and as civilians you need to know that we went into it for all the right reasons. Sometimes our experiences didn't really line up with what we've talked about here. There are folks who served and are very proud of it, but it's hard for them to talk about what they saw. You must have respect and empathy for those individuals who go in and have a little bit of a tougher time transitioning out. As Kevin said, we're still humans and embraced that responsibility to serve. So just having an understanding that there's all sorts of experiences that you get when you come out. Responsibility and commitment are a part of every Veterans DNA and that's why they join the military.”
Kelly- “There's a sense of service that drove all of us. No matter what, there's always that sense of service. That's why you get up in the morning. That's why you do what you have to do. You know, taking a shower with full flak jacket on is not exactly fun but you do it. As Kevin said they are humans. They're people. Just approach them and talk to them. They're not all broken. There are some are very broken, but you still have to engage and talk with them. If they want to talk, they'll tell you. If they don't want to, they'll also tell you.
We kind of hope that’s where MAVERIC can come in. Do you want to talk to another Veteran? Or are you struggling with something at work but you don't want to be given ultimatums right away? Many Veterans have a fight or flight within them due to our careers. We want to keep it an open exchange of information and remind them that there's somebody here that can talk with them and work through this.” To listen to the full interview please
For more information on the MAVERIC group, please contact [email protected]