Donna West learned how to fold the American flag before she ever attended kindergarten.
Her father erected a flagpole in the family’s backyard upon returning from the Second World War – where he, along with West’s uncle, had been a POW in Germany.
Every morning, West would help her father raise the flag; a majestic reminder of the importance of fighting for one’s freedom. Every night, she would help him take the flag down.
“I did that my entire life,” says West, who operates Focus Answering Service with sons Jim and Tom Reandeau. “For my kids to climb grandpa’s flagpole – it was a rite of passage.”
West’s earliest recollection of the very concept of a military stretches even farther back.
“The boys were coming home,” she recalls. A big party was thrown at a local farm for all of the guys from town who had signed up together.
“It was an all-night bash,” West says of the homecoming. “I was the only child, and I got an enormous amount of attention and presents. It made such a huge impression on my memory.”
Military service continued to make an indelible impression on West, and her ideals, throughout the years. Both of her brothers followed in her father’s footsteps, joining the army, and serving tours of duty in Vietnam.
West would ultimately marry a career airman, and years later – her own boys, Jim and Tom, would follow in their father’s footsteps.
“After high school, I didn’t have a real direction,” Jim Reandeau recalls. “One day I decided I wanted a real career and went to the recruiter’s office. Two weeks later, I was headed to basic training.”
Jim opted to be a Tech Controller, which required him to troubleshoot and repair communications systems. “After a seven-month tech school in Biloxi, Mississippi, I was sent to Offutt AFB in Omaha Nebraska. I maintained communications systems between the Strategic Air Command Underground Headquarters and every missile silo across the country!”
Jim’s brother Tom also joined the Air Force after high school, where he says he grew up quickly and became a member of a family that always sticks together.
“We were there for each other,” says Tom, who enlisted as a Security Policeman at Castle Air Force Base in California and was sent to RAF Fairford in England as part of the 806th Security Police Squadron for Operation Desert Storm.
“It was an honor following in my father’s footsteps and serving alongside my brother, as well,” he says.
When Focus Answering Service was founded years later, the patriotic through-line that was so influential to West and her family provided direction and reserve.
In its earliest days, the answering service was headquartered near Fort Meade, and the company – spearheaded by West – made it a practice to hire as many wives who were stationed at the military base as possible.
“We still have so many military families that work with us today,” she says, stressing that the military mindset has absolutely informed the work that Focus does.
“My kids have amazing work ethics,” West says proudly. “And they have a very upright set of morals… I think that translates over into the type of service we give our customers, and that our staff feels that cohesiveness in the guiding factors of our company. We expect and appreciate that ethic in others, and we are always telling them how great they are.”
“Being a member of the military is a lot more than just having a job,” he says. “It’s about always striving to be the best. Holding a high moral standard and following a strict code of ethics allows me to deliver the best in quality for our clients.”
As Veteran’s Day approaches, West and family reflect on the sheer impact their experiences have had on their lives and business.
“I think that it has made us extremely aware of the position that we are in in this country, considering that so many people in this world are not free,” West says. “The very fact that we can hold an election and fight over the results is so amazing compared to so much of the rest of the world. And we are deeply appreciative of our servicemen and women [who make such freedoms possible.] We celebrate them whenever we can.”
To that end, Focus continues to offer a discount to active military, and endeavors to hire military personnel whenever possible.
“What I miss most [about the service] is the camaraderie with my fellow airmen – the people that decided to serve their country like I had,” Jim says. “When someone thanks me for my service, I always reply that it was my pleasure.”
Some of life’s lessons – like duty – are never, ever forgotten.
“’Til this day I fly the flag,” West says.