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Veterans Affairs Commissioner Annouces New Leadership Team

Monday, April 11, 2011 | 10:16am

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs (TDVA) Commissioner Many-Bears Grinder today announced a new executive leadership team to head up the department. 

“These new assignments are a result of a careful search of strong local leaders with military backgrounds who genuinely care about veterans,” Commissioner Grinder said.  “I am pleased that these talented and compassionate leaders have joined our team.

Wendell Cheek has been named Deputy Commissioner and will have direct oversight in the Middle Tennessee area.  Cheek retired from active duty with the Tennessee Army National Guard as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2001.  He has since been working for Humana Military Healthcare Services in several positions culminating as the regional director for the Guard and Reserve programs for the TRICARE South Region.  Cheek also served Operation Stand Down in several posts, including president of the board of directors in 1999.  Cheek holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Cumberland University.  He is the father of four children, and he and his wife, Lenae, live in Murfreesboro.

“It is not only an honor but a privilege to serve the veterans of this great state as well as all veterans of the United States Armed Forces,” Cheek said.  “These brave men and women, their families and their survivors have made tremendous sacrifices, and we owe them the same level of commitment that they gave to their country.”

Don Smith has been named Assistant Commissioner with direct oversight of East Tennessee.  Smith has been a veterans’ benefits representative for the department in Cookeville since 2001 and has served as the Department Service Officer for the Veterans of Foreign War since 2004.  He was previously assigned as a County Veterans Service Officer in Hillsborough County, FL.  He retired as a Master Chief Petty Officer from the Navy with service in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Storm.  He was assigned as the Senior Enlisted Leader for USS Guadalcanal, LPH-7.     Smith holds an associate’s degree in business administration and lives in Spring City with his wife, Mary.  Of his new post, Smith stated, 

“Our veterans are our greatest national treasure, and I consider it a great privilege to be able to serve them, their dependents and survivors,” Smith said.

Mark Breece has been named Assistant Commissioner overseeing West Tennessee.  Breece is retiring as a Command Sergeant Major after serving over 33 years in the Tennessee Army National Guard.  He has deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, where he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal.   Breece’s career culminated with his assignment as the Senior Enlisted Leader, the highest ranking NCO in the Tennessee National Guard.  He earned his bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Bethel College.  He and his wife, Vicky, live in Dyersburg. 
“The driving force behind my 33 years in the military has been my ability to serve the men and women in uniform, and now I get the honor and privilege to continue in a similar capacity of serving those who have served,” Breece said.

“Tennessee has over 500,000 veterans who will be better served by having a senior official assigned to each Grand Division,” Commissioner Grinder said.  “These men are great leaders; their skills and background will make them tremendous assets to the TDVA team.”

Responsibilities within each region will include supervision of TDVA field offices and state cemeteries as well as providing close coordination with U.S. Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, Veterans Service Organizations, County Service Officers, civic leaders and state Veterans Homes.

The Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs is organized to accomplish its mission of serving Tennessee's veterans and their families with dignity and compassion, and being their principle advocate in ensuring they receive the care, support, earned entitlements, and recognition they earned in service to our nation. For more information, visit the department’s Web site at

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