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Nestled in Limestone County at the intersection of U.S. Highway 84 and Texas State Highways 14 and 171, the quaint town of Mexia is roughly a hundred miles south of the glistening lights and urban sprawl of Dallas-Fort Worth’s Metroplex. Known for little more than the often argued over pronunciation if its name, Mexia, Texas appears to be more of a dot on a map than the launching point for a long and successful career in the United States Navy.
For U.S. Navy Cmdr. Fredirick Conner, Mexia is home. Born and raised in the small municipality, Conner enlisted in the Navy at the age of 18 and has enjoyed a career spanning decades; a career which took him to the depths of the world’s oceans, tours of duty across the continental United States, and to the White House serving as President Obama’s Communications Response Officer.
Conner returned to Mexia Jan. 18 to participate in outreach events celebrating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and to share with residents his experiences gleaned from serving in the Navy.
“This is my hometown,” said Conner pointing from the front steps of a worn two-story brick building that serves as the town’s Civic Center. “I was born in Mexia hospital. It’s three blocks up to the right. I lived about five blocks in that direction.”
The MLK celebration began with a parade featuring local marching bands, community organizations, floats, and vehicles of all makes and models winding along the town’s Main Street. Ending at Mexia’s Civic Center, the celebration continued with a formal observance where Conner served as the ceremony’s keynote speaker.
Before the event, Conner stood in the building’s foyer greeting friends, family, and members of the community. Attendees lined up to meet with him, and to get a chance to reminisce about their shared experiences. Conner’s crisp Navy dress blue uniform, adorned with service ribbons and badges denoting Conner’s Presidential service, submarine service, and demonstrating his qualification as an officer in the Information Professional community, stood in stark contrast to the traditional Western attire worn by many of the residents in attendance.
“This is a wonderful experience,” said Conner who attended the ceremony with his wife and son. “It’s almost more like a family reunion, there are so many friends and family here.”
For Conner, the event not only served as a chance to highlight the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but also as an opportunity to share with others the experiences he enjoyed though a life of service in the Navy.
“Events like this one are a good opportunity to show what kind of good can come from a small town,” said Conner. “Sometimes small town folks don’t see what’s outside of this area – especially in Texas. Serving in the Navy has taken me all over the world.”
“I have literally been to every continent except for one, all of the seas except for one, and I’ve been to 46 of the 50 states and counting,” continued Conner.
Leaving the modest town of nearly 7,000 residents in 1988 to pursue an enlisted career in the Navy’s submarine force as a radioman, Conner returns more than 30 years later as a decorated naval officer and as the deputy Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) for the entire U.S Submarine Force.
“Opportunities are endless in the Navy. I entered with a partial scholarship to Texas A&M and ended up with two degrees, professional certification in information systems security, and the doors are still open for me,” said Conner.
Noting the importance of diversity in the Navy, Conner reflected on the strength of embracing ideas from a wide talent pool.
“Great ideas come from anywhere,” said Conner. “It is improbable to think that one group of people have all the right answers. It is great to have information and ideas from all sorts of people and places.”
According to Chief Navy Counselor Tony Murphy, director of community outreach for Navy Recruiting District Dallas, events like Mexia’s MLK Day celebration provide an excellent opportunity to showcase the Navy in communities not often reached by the United States Navy.
“Having Commander Conner return to his hometown of Mexia and share his experiences with residents goes a long way in reaching and educating members of a rural community about the opportunities available in the Navy,” said Murphy.
Conner is currently stationed in Norfolk, Va., and is the father to 5 children and grandfather to 10 grandchildren.
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