Manatee Women Veterans Raise the Next Gen

"I'm the Marine"

Nicole Bizzard stands in her barnLooks can be deceiving. At first glance, you’d think Nicole Edwards Blizzard were doing a commercial for a product that makes you look 20 years younger, rather than representing a tough Marine Veteran who scored 299 out of a possible 300 points on her Personal Fitness Test (PFT), which consists of a timed three-mile run, crunches and pull ups.

Blizzard explains you don’t always see the marine on the outside. It is about the intangibles.

“It is hidden. I live by the Marine core values of ‘Honor Courage and Commitment.’ I believe the many traits the Marines instilled in me made me a better person,” said Blizzard.

Her 12-year-old son calls her “hard core.”

Blizzard spent four years in the Marines, discharging as an E4 Corporal.

“Being in the marines was really hard, but it was the best decision I ever made. It was a privilege to wear uniform and represent my country, even if that isn’t the most popular thing to do these days,” said Blizzard.

Blizzard joined the military at age 22, wanting to do more after a few years in the workforce.

After Boot Camp and Marine Combat Training (MCT), Blizzard finished a month-long course and obtained her MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) as a 3051 Warehouse Clerk. Her first duty station was Camp Kinser in Okinawa, Japan. “Clerk” might leave the impression of someone who sits behind a desk all day, but this 9 to 5 job was actually the opposite at the facility Blizzard said was about the same size of a Home Depot as it involved using a forklift, sometimes for her entire eight-hour shift.

Very determined to prove herself, in her spare time, before and after work, she would run.

“I didn’t want to be that marine who fell out of platoon and company runs,” said Blizzard.

Blizzard earns ride in jet plane for Marine of QuarterAfter a year tour overseas, Blizzard was then stationed in MCAS (Marine Corps Air Station) in Miramar, CA. During her three years in California, Blizzard earned Sharp Shooter with the 9mm and Expert consecutively with the M16, giving her the opportunity to earn a second MOS 8531 (Rifle Range Coach) to assist marines on the rifle range.

“My male counterparts often felt intimated, but they got over it real quick,” said Blizzard.

Another achievement of Blizzard’s was receiving Marine of the Quarter, where she was selected out of a group of 2,000 for Stellar Performance as a marine, earning her a ride in the back of an F-18, a twin-engine, supersonic, combat jet.

Nicole with familyAfter the military, Blizzard returned to Bradenton and soon married and moved from the West side to Myakka City, where she stayed busy raising her stepson (now 29), and now her 15-year-old daughter who attends Lakewood Ranch and her 12-year-old son who attends Mona Jane Middle. During this time, she also was the full-time caretaker for both her mother and stepfather.

Blizzard’s youngest son is a big history buff, especially World War II and Vietnam, hearing firsthand accounts of the latter from his grandfathers.

Blizzard suggested to her daughter, who maintains a 4.5 GPA, that if she is interested in joining the military, that she obtain her degree and train at Officers Candidate School.

Blizzard’s father, Charles Edwards, was also in the military, as well as her two older siblings. Her brother was in the Navy, and her sister was in the Army.

Blizzard smiles and says, “My siblings sometimes get annoyed because I tend to get more attention in the family because I’m the marine, and marine boot camp is the hardest of all the branches. However, I know they are as proud of me as I am of them. My sister paved the way for me to serve,” said Blizzard.

Blizzard’s stepfather, First Sergeant David Bilodeau, was Blizzard’s biggest influence in joining the Marines. While Bilodeau began his military career in the Navy during the Korean War, after he joined the Marine Corps, where he served three official tours and two additional unofficial tours in Vietnam. Well known in the military community, members of the Patriot Guard Riders rode in from all over Florida to escort Bilodeau and stand guard at beginning of his funeral at Sarasota National Cemetery in February 2019.

“We had a tight relationship. He always said I was his best Corporal, and I referred to him as my very first First Sergeant,” said Blizzard.

Blizzard exhumes patriotism. Both the American flag and Marines’ flag hangs from her barn, and a Marine Corps mat greets visitors at the front entrance to her home.

“It was a privilege to serve. No matter how bad you have it, you get up and accomplish the mission. I’m proud to say I ran with the big dogs. To earn the title of U.S. Marine is something that can’t be taken from you,” said Blizzard.

A Lifetime of Service

Gwyn Poock with some of her familyRetired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Gwyn Poock grew up learning about serving others. The daughter of missionaries, she met her husband, Reverend Patrick Poock, the current Pastor of Faith Lutheran Church (Parrish), while living in Liberia (West Africa) where her husband’s parents were also missionaries.

Since their parents hadn’t saved as much for their retirement, Poock and her husband opted to join the military.

“I loved the idea of the military since it was service oriented—doing something that served the greater good,” said Poock.

Poock served 22 years (five years active duty and 17 years in the reserves) as a Public Affairs Officer. She started off at March Air Force Base in Riverside, CA. She also spent some time at Misawa Air Base in Japan.

During the reserves, Poock was at Scotts Air Force Base (IL), then nine years at Hickam Air Force Base (Oahu, HI),as well as the Eglin (Panhandle), Yokota (Tokyo), Travis (CA) and finally MacDill.

Poock with her daughter's 4H Club“Being in the Air Force was very gratifying. I could be proud of it and my country and have the experience full time or part time--it doesn’t get better than that," said Poock.

When Poock retired in 2014, she took on the role of homeschooling her four children full time, and their family moved around as her husband remained in active duty.

Poock’s family moved to Manatee County in May 2018 from California with their two youngest children after her husband went into the reserves and accepted the pastor position at Faith Lutheran Church.

Her daughters are now in fifth and tenth grade and are actively involved in extra-curricular activities. Her older daughter is involved in debate and orchestra, and her younger daughter is involved in a Palmetto 4H Club which meets a few days a week to help care for a goat farm.

Poock at the Manatee County Fair (2021)Poock appreciates the quality of life Manatee County offers and having so many opportunities for her children to participate in various activities within a short distance. She cites the Air Force for helping her to encourage her children to get involved and try new things.

“Being in the military pushes you to stretch from your comfort zone. It pushes you to (a) work hard, (b) be flexible and (c) work as a team. Through the Air Force, you’re serving while doing. It is structured with a support network that is just as strong. I grew so much as a person while serving," said Poock. 

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