Social Eyes by Faye Reeder

Texas Rangers’ investment in student scholarships is paying off big 20 years later

Lt. Kris Hawbaker and his family. Hawbaker was a Texas Rangers Richard Greene Scholar in 2007.
Lt. Kris Hawbaker and his family. Hawbaker was a Texas Rangers Richard Greene Scholar in 2007. Courtesy

When former Arlington High School student Kris Hawbaker was named one of the Texas Rangers Richard Greene scholars in 2003, he didn’t yet envision flying the U. S. Navy’s slickest new warplane designed to fight the global war on terror. And he definitely had not even dreamed about being named the Pilot of the Year for the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance.

Hawbaker was promoted recently and will officially wear the rank of lieutenant commander later this year. I caught up with him at the recent reunion reception for the former scholars where more than 40 of the 114 alumni gathered to visit and catch up on the latest career and family news.

Established in 1998 by former Rangers president Tom Schieffer, the ballclub announced at that time plans to spend $1 million over 20 years to fund a unique scholarship program with an emphasis on community service and named the program in honor of former Arlington mayor Richard Greene.

Since then, the Rangers have awarded a $10,000 scholarship annually to a senior from each of Arlington’s high schools. Program participants complete a rigorous internship during their senior year that acquaints them with selected nonprofits, the Arlington ISD, the Texas Rangers and local government entities. They have interactions with civic and business leaders as mentors throughout the internship.

Hawbaker — a 2008 graduate of the Naval Academy who completed an MBA program at Liberty University where he is currently a doctoral student expected to receive his Ph.D. in international business later this year — is one of many examples of how the money the Rangers invested in the scholars is paying off.

He says the Greene Scholars program helped him see what existed beyond high school. “It made you realize high school is just a small moment in time and when you leave school you will get an opportunity to help shape the city where you will live.”

Hawbaker’s earlier assignments in the Navy include flying the P-3C Orion before he moved on to pilot the newer P-8A Poseidon developed by Boeing as a replacement for the 737-800ERX.

“I served multiple deployments to the Middle East and Africa in support of Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom. These deployments demanded from me over 620 combat support flight hours and spanned every hour of the day. Flying alongside the Navy’s finest air crewmen over some of the most hostile land in the world marked a humbling and unforgettable moment in my life,” Hawbaker said.

At the 2017 Maritime Patrol Association Heritage Dinner, Hawbaker was honored as the Maritime Patrol Reconnaissance Pilot of the Year by the U.S. Navy. His commanding officer, Michael Puffer, described Hawbaker’s exceptional ability to train tactically-proficient pilots across many diverse environments and praised his role in producing successful instructors and combat aircrews.

“Lieutenant Hawbaker defines what it means to be extraordinary. He serves the MPR community with unequaled distinction and seeks mission accomplishment with a raw and impressive sense of purpose. I have never seen anyone achieve what he has accomplished as an MPR pilot. He is undeniably the most talented Naval aviator and instructor with whom I have had the privilege to serve,” Puffer wrote.

Even though Hawbaker treasures his military experience, it has not come without personal sacrifice.

“My wife endured the delivery of our first child apart from me as I was serving halfway around the world in Djibouti, Africa,” he explained. “For me, these deployments consecrated the fundamentals of patriotism. Patriots at home and abroad, in and out of uniform, make it possible to secure the blessings of American liberty every day.”

The Greene scholar reunion event was hosted last month by Richard and Sylvia Greene at the River Legacy Living Science Center. The former mayor says he is deeply honored that the Rangers chose to attach his name to the program. Greene and his wife stay in contact with most of the students from the program, and each year they serve on the committee that evaluates applications from student hopefuls.

Sylvia Greene works closely with the AISD to determine the schedule and internship placements for the students and with Karin Morris, CEO of the Rangers Foundation, on the application and interview process. Richard Greene teaches leadership sessions as part of the scholars’ special curriculum.

According to Sylvia, among the former scholars there are six physicians, eight attorneys, six in government/military, and 12 in medical professions (physician’s assistants, nursing, administration, and pharmacy). Other professions include two who are firefighters, nine working with nonprofits, seven in education and 22 in business/finance/sports management/engineering. At least 80 percent of them have completed or are working toward postgraduate degrees.

“The main focus has always been to identify promising students who not only have achieved high academic scores but also demonstrated the potential for leadership through community service to compliment their chosen career fields,” said Richard Greene. “All of us, including the Rangers and our team of mentors and supporters, are rewarded in full measure by these outstanding young people meeting and exceeding all expectations that we had when the program began.”

Also among the returning scholars attending the reunion was Heather Arredondo, who was in the first group of students selected for the program in 1998. Arredondo is the chief nurse for workforce and excellence at the Dallas veterans hospital where she manages such services as nursing informatics, nurse recruiters and magnate coordination. She completed her undergraduate work at UTA’s School of Nursing and later completed her master’s degree there before earning a Ph.D. at the University of Phoenix in healthcare administration.

“The Richard Greene scholarship was a steppingstone and allowed me not to have any debt when I graduated college,” said Arredondo. “It set me off on a great start that opened many other opportunities.”

I chatted with Todd Gonzales, who now lives in Dacula, Georgia, in the Atlanta area and works as the director of operations for Aldi where he manages operations for 30 grocery stores. Gonzales graduated from Arlington High in 2008 before earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from TCU.

Gonzales said the scholar program gave him a unique professional experience and built confidence. “Being able to interact with Mr. Greene, with the mayor and the superintendent and the city manager really enabled me to learn how to be professional at an early age and helped me in my own career,” he said.

“Every time I come to this event I meet people from all over the country now doing incredible things. I am grateful to the Greenes and to the Texas Rangers for all they have done with this program.”

The Rangers’ investment in the Martin High School 2002 Greene scholar Chris Reynolds helped launch a stellar career in public service. Reynolds works in Washington, D.C., at the Treasury Department’s Office of the Controller of the Currency, where he helps regulate the big banks like Wells Fargo and Bank of America. He graduated from Trinity University and later earned a Ph.D. in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I am a public servant at heart and that is why I was attracted to the Richard Greene program,” Reynolds said. “As I continue my public service, my role in banking regulation is one way to really help out the little guy. For a lot of my peers and me, the Great Recession was a huge deal — and a lot of that was driven by bad behavior or lazy behavior on the part of banks by not properly accounting for the risks they were exposing themselves to. And so if I can help by kicking the tires on the banks’ mathematical models and sound alarm bells if anything is wrong, then I can be a part of making sure this does not happen again.”

Considering the emphasis on community service that the Rangers Richard Greene Scholar initiative focuses on, a comment from Kris Hawbaker illustrates and sums up how effective the program has been for these young people that participated:

“For me and my family, military service in the post-911 era has cemented our appreciation for the sacrifices everyday Americans made and are making to secure our freedom from all enemies, foreign and domestic. My family understands these blessings firsthand and is grateful to live in this exceptional nation.”

Twitter @FayeReeder