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How a Passion for Public Service Took These Veterans from Air Force Base to Tech Startup

November 6, 2020
How a Passion for Public Service Took These Veterans from Air Force Base to Tech Startup

 

- By Jen Aceto - 

Here at Polco, we’re all about civic engagement. And our roots in public service run deep. 

Active duty military and veterans are part of our team and our families, so this Veterans Day we honor them and reflect on the commitment to service at the heart of Polco’s mission. 

Polco’s founders, Nick Mastronardi (CEO) and Alex Pedersen (CTO), both served in the Air Force before starting the company. Two more employees are veterans, and six of our staff have veterans or active duty personnel in their immediate families. Almost all of our investors are former military veterans who believe in our mission to facilitate healthy and civil conversations and promote civic engagement around the country. This Veterans Day, we asked our Polco founders and staff to reflect on their experiences. 

What does service mean to you? 

Alex Pedersen, CTO/CFO: For me, service has always been about experiencing a dedication to values, ideas, and principles that far exceed any individual. It’s about setting aside personal needs or preferences in the name of upholding or promoting those higher order ideals. On Veterans Day we certainly think of service in the context of military service, but I don’t think service needs to stop there. There are countless ways we can (and do) improve our communities, country, and world - for me, all of that is about living a life of service and just as important as our military service.

Nick Mastronardi, CEO: It’s one of the honors of my life to have been selected, trained, and get to wear the uniform. I ended up serving a little over 10 years on active duty, and still continue to serve in the reserves. I just find myself drawn to work on what I believe are the most important and pressing issues facing society. That’s why I loved my service so much.  And, frankly, it’s why I love our work at Polco now. You only live once. You have to work on something you really believe in and are passionate about it. Then, on top of it, I really liked the culture and the people in the military. 

Parker Quinn, Data Scientist: I am very proud of my military service. I got to meet and work with some incredible people who were dedicated to a mission much bigger than themselves. Their dedication was infectious and taught me a lot about the value of service, even beyond the military. I served 5 years in the Air Force on active duty and separated in 2019, but I still bring the same passion for service to my life as a civilian, and I owe that to my time in the military.

Polco data scientist Parker Quinn at Air Force basePolco data scientist Parker Quinn during his time in the Air Force

Why is Veterans Day important to you individually and as a company? 

AP: I think Veterans Day is a time to reflect and appreciate those who have dedicated themselves - and especially those who have sacrificed everything. Our team at Polco includes many veterans and veteran families; this day is very much a part of our lives and who we are.

NM: There have been a lot of selfless people who have sacrificed a lot, in fact some sacrificed everything, to deliver us what we have today and to take a day and salute them is a worthy tribute. 

PQ: Veterans Day is a wonderful way to express our gratitude to those who served and reflect on their sacrifice. Our service members do important work, and they deserve recognition for it. For me, though, Veterans Day is a reminder that there are so many people out there that do important work, but are often underappreciated. Teachers, nurses, postal workers, social workers, trash collectors, bus drivers, local government officials – these are the unsung heroes of our society. I often spend Veterans Day thinking about them.

What does your ongoing service look like? 

NM: I continue to serve in the Reserves as a data scientist with a new team based at the Air Force Academy and reporting to the pentagon on manpower and resource allocation issues. Prior to that, Alex and I both served on a special cyber team.  

Polco staff: Where and in what capacity do your family members serve? 

Cory Poris Plasch, VP, Strategic Initiatives: My son is active duty Marine Corps, stationed at Fort Pendleton.

Michelle Kobayashi, Senior VP of Innovation: My husband, Ky, is a retired officer from the US Air Force where he served as a flight surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon. He graduated from the Air Force Academy and served at Travis Air Force Base, Grand Forks Air Force Base, Hanscom Air Force Base, Keesler Air Force Base, Lackland Hall and USAFA.  He was deployed to Baghdad, Balad and Bahrain.  

Photo of two doctors operating, including surgeon Ky Kobayashi during his time in the Air ForceMichelle's husband, Ky Kobayashi, during his time as a surgeon in the Air Force

Angelica Wedell, Director of Marketing & Communications: My husband, Mark Wedell, is an Army veteran of the 101st Airborne division. He was deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. When he came back home to the states, he later served in the National Guard until he got his honorable discharge after a total of 8 years in service. Now he is a paramedic.  

How has your family members’ service impacted you?

CPP:  You can never look at your flag, or your freedom, in the same way once you know someone on active duty. I never imagined this could be so hard since we miss so much of what others take for granted - holidays at home, being able to see your kid whenever you want.  But I’m very proud of him!

MK: My life has been greatly impacted by my husband’s service. I moved 7 times the first 10 years of my marriage so I was able to experience a variety of cultures, climates and make friends throughout the U.S. Many of the relationships I have developed are life-long and deep. Spending months alone at a time with young children while Ky was deployed taught me strength and also helped me appreciate the sacrifices so many military families make in the service to this country. I shed an extra tear every time I hear a country song about sacrifice and service.  

AW: If Mark had never served, we probably would have never met. My church was doing a program where families were sending care packages and letters to soldiers in Iraq. So my family and I were sending Mark letters and packages all the time, and he would write us back. After about a year of that … I was the only one still writing to him, lol. We were penpals for years before we eventually started dating and got married.  We’ve been married for 11 years now.  I used to worry about him a lot when he was in service. And when you have a partner with a career that takes them away - you have to get used to the long-distance relationship life. Even when he was in the National Guard, he’d still have to make trips away from home for weeks at a time. I definitely enjoy having him around more often now that he’s in the next chapter of his life. Ha! I’d say it really made me appreciate the time we have together, in-person.  I missed him SO much every day he was away!

Photo of Angelica & Mark Wedell. Mark is an Army veteranPolco marketing director Angelica Wedell with her husband, Mark, an Army veteran

How has it impacted your role at Polco/passion for civic engagement? 

CPP: Our family has a history of civic engagement, so my son is continuing a tradition of public service. I am a former 911 dispatcher and his dad is a police officer. I love that at Polco we have a way to help build consensus in communities, and that everyone has a voice.

MK: The dedication and sacrifices demonstrated by our soldiers and their families shows a side of humanity that makes me want to give more for a greater purpose. The selflessness required in the military takes public service to the next level, inspiring us all that we all have a lot to give. 

AW: You can’t help but be proud of someone when they give up years of their life to serve others. In a way, it also gives me an appreciation for those who have dedicated their lives to serving their communities locally as well. City staff, everyone from the Clerk to the PIO to the City Manager, and the elected officials - they all have to work as a team to serve the best interests of their communities. In some small way, I feel like I can help communities too - by helping residents across the U.S. to connect with their local governments. By helping their voices be heard - I can contribute to making life better for others. I think it’s the same motivation for all of us, it just carries out in different ways.  Also, I’m proud to work for a company that honors veterans.

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