Tess Banko, Executive Director
Tess Banko’s background is in social work including mental health, community development and non-profit organizational management. As a disabled veteran and military spouse, Tess has a passion for supporting and assisting fellow veterans and family members facing the challenges of military life and the servicemember to civilian transition. She has lead veterans organizations and served in volunteer board roles in the military and veteran communities. Additionally, as a suicide survivor, Tess is a staunch supporter of mental health initiatives and believes in accessible, strengths and evidence-based approaches that span the continuum of client needs.
Recent work experience includes working with the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund as the Volunteer Coordinator and interning with the Washington D.C. Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs where she composed a Veterans Treatment Court proposal for the district. A Rotarian, Tess also serves as her club’s president.
Deborah Kline Fryar, Family Program Manager
Very few individuals have the compassion and determination for serving service members, retirees and their families as Deborah Fryar. Her profound desire to serve those who serve their country stems from her family’s strong military heritage where patriotism and love of country was instilled by her parents.
Ms. Fryar earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from West Texas A&M University in Canyon, Texas. Her compassion for patients and helping others easily translated over into serving military families. For over twenty-three years as a military spouse, her leadership and management skills have allowed her to make significant impacts on military communities and programs which enhance and support military families. Ms. Fryar became involved with the National Military Family Association (NMFA) in 1996. From March 2004 until June 2006, she served as the organization’s Deputy Director of Government Relations. In this role, she wrote and presented testimony before Congress on behalf of military families and quality of life issues. Ms. Fryar chaired the Department of Defense (DoD) Beneficiary Advisory Panel for the Uniform Formulary which comments on the recommendations made by the P&T Committee, from 2007-2014. In 2006 at the height of the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Assistant Secretary for Defense (Health Affairs) appointed her as the sole family member representative of the initial DoD Task Force on Mental Health. The purpose of the Commission was to examine matters relating to mental health and the Armed Forces and to produce a report containing an assessment of, and recommendations for improving the efficacy of mental health services provided to members of the Armed Forces by the Department of Defense. The Task Force report was submitted to Congress and the Secretary of Defense in June 2007.
Ms. Fryar has served on The Military Coalition’s (TMC) Veterans and Health Care Committees and has represented military families on the Navy Force Management Oversight Committee (FMOC) Working Group of the Injured Marines and Sailors Program. She also co-chaired the Joint Task Force for Family Readiness Education on Deployments (FRED). She serves as an independent consultant for family quality of life issues affecting military families and was recently certified as a Grief Recovery Specialist with The Grief Recovery Institute.
Ms. Fryar has been involved at all levels of a Department of the Army’s family education and readiness program - Army Family Team Building (AFTB). As one of the initial trainees in 1995, she quickly rose to the level of a Department of the Army Core Instructor and Master Trainer. For over ten years, she managed installation programs and mentored families from across the globe. Ms. Fryar has also been involved in a myriad of other volunteer family programs, including Health Services Auxiliaries at various military hospitals, American Red Cross, Army Family Action Plan, Marines’ Toys for Tots, Compassionate Ministries, and has worked with numerous Military and Uniformed Services Support Groups.
Her leadership and empathy for families has been recognized by installation and senior Defense leaders. She is a recipient of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Outstanding Achievement Award, the Department of the Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service Medal and Commander’s Award for Public Service (2OLC). The National Military Family Association recognized Ms. Fryar with the Sydney Tally Hickey Award in 2008 and the Novella Gibson Whitehead Award in 2007. The I Corps Commanding General honored her in 2002 with the Superior Citizen Service Award. Ms. Fryar has been Volunteer of the Year for Fort Lewis, Washington in 2003, and the Kaiserslautern Military Community, Germany, in 1998.
Ms. Fryar currently resides in San Antonio, Texas, where she greatly enjoys and cherishes spending time with her son and her wonderful husband.
William Rodriguez MSW, LCSW, Peer Advisor
Former U.S. Army Scout RECON, Three Tour OIF, OEF Combat Veteran
My lifelong experience growing up in an active-duty military family, and then serving on active duty as noncommissioned officer with a young family of my own, gives me a unique perspective on the needs of military families. These needs and struggles are compounded with the introduction of rapid deployment cycles. My role as a program evaluator and researcher plays a vital role in further qualifying the thought leaders and healing modalities Purple Star Veterans and Families endorses and supports.
Former Military Police/Military Working Dog Handler. OEF Combat Veteran, 2 time OIF Combat Veteran. I was on active duty for almost 9 years, and had three (year long) deployments. I was diagnosed with PTSD in 2006 and deployed two more times after that diagnosis. I was suffering from the worst of the symptoms in 2011 when I was charged with a felony and tried to commit suicide a few months after. The journey that followed has been a difficult one, but to have come from the level of absolute despair to where I am now in life is worth the work. I am here to help other families avoid going through the same obstacles that mine has experienced.