OKEECHOBEE — Born in Miami and raised in Okeechobee, veteran Todd Chambers graduated from Okeechobee High School in 1984 and joined the Army under the delayed entry program before his graduation. He was sent to Fort Jackson, S.C. for basic training and was then able to come back and attend a year of college at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University before going to AIT (advanced individual training) at Fort Eustis, Va.
Chambers was trained as a helicopter mechanic and worked in that field in the 81st ARCOM at the West Palm Beach Facility for about five years before going to flight school at Fort Rucker, Al. in 1989. There, he was trained to fly UH-1 Huey and AH-1 Cobra Helicopters.
After this training, he was deployed to Desert Storm and sent his wife and children back to Okeechobee to live with his parents, Pam and Adron Chambers. Throughout his military career, Chambers continued to send his family home to Okeechobee any time he would be gone for extended periods.
While serving in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Chambers was surprised to see a familiar face one day — a friend from Okeechobee, Larry Peterson, who he hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. Chambers was deployed as the Aviation Task Force Standardization Instructor Pilot for 3-101st from Fort Campbell, Ky. Chambers said he walked in one day, and everyone started laughing. He asked them what was so funny, and they said, “Don’t you recognize this guy?” He did a double take and realized it was an old friend. “What a small world,” he said. “He had graduated with my wife and brother and I had told him about the Warrant Officer Program in the Army when he worked for Scotty’s on South 441.”
During his second deployment, he again met up with an old friend from Okeechobee while in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Andy Galletto served in Desert Storm as well and was working in Afghanistan as a contractor working on UH-1 Helicopters. He and his wife, Sandra, currently reside in Okeechobee and own and operate The Thirsty Cow Drive Thru.
One of his most interesting tours was in Egypt teaching Egyptian pilots to fly Apache helicopters. He said the tour was not difficult, but it was a challenge instructing people from another country. “Being a homegrown southern boy, it was tough transitioning to their culture,” he said. “But, I really enjoyed doing it.” It helped that English is the common aviation language across the world, he explained. Although their English might be weak, they have to be able to speak it to some extent in order to fly.
In Egypt, he was able to see many of the antiquities that most people will never have the chance to see from the perspective of someone who actually lives there rather than as a tourist. Often on a Saturday, he called the stables and let them know he was coming to ride his horse. “I would go out and ride around the pyramids and spend the whole day.”
“Having lived in several third-world countries, I find it interesting how we can adapt, but most people don’t realize how fortunate we are, as Americans, to not be in that situation.”
While in Egypt, he ran into another Okeechobee High school graduate, Randy Myrick, and after some conversation, they discovered they had graduated from OHS the same year.
Following Desert Storm, he and his family settled at Fort Campbell, KY with the 101st Airborne Division, and after the Army retired the Cobra, he was sent back to Fort Rucker in early 1992 to complete the AH-64 Apache training and transition.
He finished his career in the service at Fort Rucker, Al. as the Master Gunner Branch Chief for the US Army. “I remained here approx. four years and was looking at a new assignment at Fort Riley, KS. I decided 32 years was enough and hung up my hat.” A CW5, Chambers retired in 2016.
During his time in the service, Chambers was sent to Egypt (2002), Saudi Arabia (1990), Kuwait (1995), Korea (1997), Iraq (1990, 2006) and Afghanistan (2009, 20011). He took part in Operation Desert Storm (1990), Operation Southern Watch (1995), Iraqi Freedom (2006) and Enduring Freedom (2009, 2011).
After his discharge, Chambers remained at Fort Rucker flying Apaches and teaching students. He has students from India, Korea, Egypt, Singapore, Indonesia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. “Some come with better English than others, so we have to be able to work with language challenges,” he said.
His brothers Ross and Travis also served in the military during Desert Storm, and all three brothers’ and a cousin’s (Troy Doxey) name are on the memorial wall in the park. All the brothers were in the same combat theater at the same time. “My mother was a mess! Ross was an interrogator with A Co 519th Military Intelligence Battalion 525th Brigade of the 18th Airborne Corp form Ft Bragg, NC. Travis was a Military Policeman stationed in Germany and was assigned to the 66th MP Company while deployed to Operation Desert Storm. My two brothers did run into each other in Iraq, but that is a story they will have to tell!”
Their mother was the orchestrator of the memorial park in Okeechobee. She was very involved in supporting the military and veterans. She, along with Tracla (Chambers’ wife) and Norann (Ross’ wife) organized the homecoming parade after their return from Desert Storm.
“When we got back, the city council and county all gave us a key to the city,” said Chambers. “We had a big march with all the Vietnam veterans, because we wanted to include those guys in the welcome home.” Each of the returning Desert Storm veterans chose a Vietnam veteran they knew and asked him or her to walk with them. “I marched in the parade with Mr. Craig Montesi that served in the Airmobile in C Co 7th Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment during the Tet Offensive in 1968. He is the owner of AAA Radiator.”
Chambers and his high school sweetheart, Tracla “Tracy”, were married in 1985 while he was stationed in Miami. They have four children. Their oldest daughter, Dr. Tia Spugnardi, lives with her husband, Brian, in the first home her parents moved into after they were married. She is a veterinarian working with Dr. Harvey at his animal clinic. The couple’s second daughter is Toshia Chambers. She and her fiancé, Lane, live in Alabama along with Chambers’ first grandchild Tallulah. The youngest daughter, Hailey Yeager lives in Birmingham with her husband, Clay, and is a social media and video consultant for a marketing firm. Their youngest child, SPC Bryce Chambers joined the Army after Chambers retired. He has made a deployment to Afghanistan and is now at Fort Eustis, Va. going through AH-64 Apache Maintenance School. He will then be sent on to Ft Bliss TX.
Chambers’ brothers run Adron Fence Company, a family business in Okeechobee “fencing you in” since 1962. Chambers has been a long-time member of the American Legion and the VFW. He and his wife participate with a veteran’s organization (friendsofamryaviation.org) flying UH-1 Huey Helicopters at air shows throughout the southeast.
“I often get recognition as a veteran and many thank me in public if I am in uniform, but I always point to my wife and children as the heroes that kept things together so that I could serve my county.”