All posts by Joe Snell

Joe Snell studied film and business law at the University of Southern California. He has worked for a number of film and television companies including 21st Century Fox, Starz Entertainment, Creative Artists Agency, and Brillstein Entertainment Partners.

Connor Blend honored for leadership on and off field

Photo: Recognized for leadership on and off the field, Connor Blend (third from left) is presented with a Marine Corps letterman jacket. /Photo by Joe Snell

With 300 meters to go, Connor and a teammate found themselves racing toward the finish line of a cross country race. Running hard toward the line, Connor, a Cistercian Preparatory Junior, became an image of vocal leadership.

“Throughout the entire race we were running together,” Connor said. “At the last I told [my teammate], ‘Buddy come on, you’ve got to go! You’ve got to go!’ And I started pushing him. I took my hand and started pushing him. I was trying to push him, and I was trying to push myself. We ended up doing really well that race.”

Connor, who runs cross country and plays soccer and tennis at the Catholic preparatory school as well as competes in club hockey, was honored Tuesday, Dec. 6, with the MaxPreps High School Male Athlete of the Month for November. Connor was awarded the prestigious national recognition for his achievements both on and off the field.

MaxPreps, a source dedicated to covering high school sports on a national level, has partnered with the United States Marines Corps in their inaugural award program. One male and one female athlete are named each month from September to June.

“The United States Marine Corps, through the MaxPreps High School Athlete of the Month program, is committed to recognizing students that embody the fighting spirit which enables them to win battles and overcome challenges they face, both on and off the field,” said Captain Sean Pangia. “We’re proud to partner with MaxPreps in this powerful program showcasing student athletes that have a positive influence in their community.”

Special guest presenter Marty Turco, a former NHL player who played nine seasons with the Dallas Stars, was on hand to introduce Connor alongside two Marine Corps Staff Sergeants and present him with a Marine Corps letterman jacket.

“Leadership is so revered but so hard to do,” Turco said. “To do it properly and to really be selfless, to really listen properly, and equally put the time in. That’s really what it boils down to.”

While playing hockey this past season, Connor experienced two injuries that forced him to sit out a portion of the year.

“He had a really tough year this last year,” said Connor’s father Bob Blend. “He had a concussion last fall from playing hockey and then in the spring he had an accident on the ice where he broke his collar bone. The next morning we were in surgery and he has a plate in there, eight screws and an incision. It kind of changed his plans. He wanted to help out youth hockey and coach the real little guys.”

Instead, the accident started Connor thinking about what else he could do. That led him to getting involved as a volunteer for the Carrollton/Farmers Branch Cyclones Special Olympics bocce ball team.

“And (Connor) says, ‘My left shoulder, the collar bone is cracked, I can’t do anything with my left arm, and I’m left handed; but I can throw the bocce ball right handed.’ So he started doing that, and it was like an unexpected gift. He was actually shifted to where he should be,” Bob said.

Connor’s experience with the Special Olympics team also encouraged him to assist teenage children in Colombia and parts of South America. Through volunteer and athletic opportunities, Connor and his family have looked carefully at juggling all of his activities.

“He’s had to give up a lot of things,” Bob said. “We sit down at the beginning of the school year and we say, ‘Where do you want to be at the end of the year grade-wise and with athletics?’ Every now and then we will remind him, ‘Remember this is the plan.’”

Connor considers time management the most important part of his life and has had to make decisions on what to cut out of his life in order to complete his goals.

“Don’t waste any time,” Connor said. “It’s all about productivity. Homework. Sports. I mean, I don’t really do much else. I don’t play with my phone. I don’t watch TV that often. It’s just really about putting the time into stuff you want to do.”

NCPA discusses sad state of cyber security in U.S.

As foreign governments continue to make significant strides in cybersecurity, the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) gathered leading cyber and national security experts to discuss the risks facing our cyber-dependent world.

Yet, despite heavy investments by countries like Russia and China in their own cyber security systems, the United States is lagging behind in cyber policy and security.

“In 2009, the Department of Defense declared cyber space a new domain of warfare after growing concerns about cybersecurity and an increase in cyber threats,” said Lt. Col. (Ret.) Allen West, NCPA Executive Director. “The army decided in late 2013 to build a new cyber command headquarters alongside National Security Agency’s Georgia facilities at Fort Gordon, Georgia. They finally broke ground for this new cyber command headquarters for the army this week.

“2009, they recognize that we had a problem. 2013, they said we need to have a facility. 2016, they’re just now breaking ground on the facility. This is how far we are behind in our military.”

The panel, hosted on Wednesday evening, Nov. 30, at the University of Dallas in Irving, addressed a number of issues ranging from the complexities of defending cyber infrastructure as it affects businesses and individuals, to the future of cyber security in the military.

A significant number of local and state leaders were in attendance including Texas Senator Bob Hall (District 2), House Representative Tan Parker (District 63), Tarrant County Sheriff-elect Bill Waybourn, and Collin County Sheriff-elect Jim Skinner among others. Senator Hall is a champion of protecting the electric grid in the state of Texas, the only state with a self-contained grid.

Dr. David Grantham, NCPA National Security and Counterterrorism Expert and one of three panelists to speak at the event, discussed a significant new transition we are seeing in cyber attacks.

“Cyber capabilities over the last five to ten years have matured quickly and significantly, to the point that there are now cyber technologies, viruses, malware that can physically destroy, physically corrupt equipment,” Grantham said.

Dr. Christian Nielsen, Affiliate Assistant Professor in Cybersecurity and Information and Technology Management at the University of Dallas, highlighted volume as the main issue on the business and local levels. With the number of attacks that come in under the radar, the three-letter agencies do not have the manpower to deal with everything that comes across their desks.

“The [federal agencies] have set arbitrary limits, dollar limits, that say if your loss is under this amount, then I’m sorry you’re on your own,” Nielsen said. “Unless that particular loss is part of a pattern that we see, and we can aggregate that pattern into something that rises to the occasion of a response.”

One solution is developing a new form of internet altogether, one that has security at its heart. The U.S. and some of its world partners are working on the Internet2 with an aim to create constraints such as firewalls while still maintaining the openness and connectivity of the original structure. According to Nielsen, the current Internet was designed for information sharing on an academic level and had no constraints built in.

“What we’re looking at in Internet2, is how do we put constraints that still maintain the connectivity, a degree of openness, but have some firewalls in it,” Nielsen said. “If we have to, we can stop traffic from certain locations or stop certain types of traffic or at least be able to identify where traffic is coming from.”

The issue, the panelists agree, comes down to dedicating more effort toward understanding and furthering cyber policy as well as beefing up human intelligence.

“The Chinese have dedicated hundreds of thousands of people to do cyber warfare and hack into our systems,” Lt. Col. (Ret.) West said. “Guess how big the United States cyber command is? Less than 20,000.”

Lt. Col. (Ret.) West served in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Afghanistan. He earned a number of commendations including a Bronze Star. After the military, West served as the Florida representative in the US House of Representatives. At the NCPA, he focuses on national and economic security.

“As a matter of fact, the big fight right now in the National Defense Authorization Act is, do we allow the United States Cyber Command to be its own unified combatant command?,” West said. “Much the same as you have the Central command, the Pacific command, the Africa command, the European command.

“Other countries are investing heavily in this. Russia, China, Iran, non-state belligerents. We’re sitting around playing bureaucratic games.”

The panel was moderated by Jim Amos, President and CEO of the NCPA. The NCPA, a nonprofit public policy research organization, is headquartered in Dallas.

Water conservation, winterizing tips may lead to more luscious lawns

The City of Irving’s Water Utilities Department has come a long way in the past 20 years, specifically in their water leak detection program.

“Years and years ago we’d poke a hole,” said Barry Allen, Water Programs Specialist for the City of Irving. “‘Nope it’s not here!’ And we’d poke a hole over here. ‘Nope!’ We’d have two or three holes or more before we actually found the leak.”

Now with sophisticated technology at their fingertips, Allen and his team can pinpoint the exact location of a leak by using correlation equipment and measuring how much of the pipe is involved and what kind of material it is made from.

“It saves us a lot of time and effort,” Allen said.

At a Winter Water Conservation and Winterizing event hosted by the Water Utilities department on Saturday, Dec. 3, Allen led a workshop on the basic principles of what his department handles throughout the city as well as tips on winterizing irrigation systems and indoor pipes in preparation for the coming cold weather.



Photo: Barry Allen leads a workshop on water irrigation systems. /Photo by Joe Snell




Cycle Soak

One trick Allen advises to strengthen your yard before the cold weather strikes is an irrigation process called the cycle soak, a method that applies water slowly so the soil has time to absorb all of it. The process minimizes water run-off onto the streets and sidewalks.

“To get half an inch, I need 18 minutes of water,” Allen said. “What I’ll do is I’ll irrigate for six minutes and then it’ll cycle through and then later on [the water] will come back on, and it will do the same thing. I’ll do that in increments of three to get 18 minutes of water. When you do that you end up with a deep root system instead of a shallow root system.”


Earth-Kind Landscaping, an Environmental Stewardship Program and TexasA&M AgriLife Extension, advises that the feeding root system of a tree or shrub is located within the top 12 inches of the soil. Fertilizer should be applied just inside and a little beyond this dripline. Homeowners should be careful not to fertilize too often and do not need to fertilize during the winter.

“You only need to fert twice a year,” Allen said. “Fert just enough to give you a benefit. People often over fertilize, and when it rains, where does that fertilizer go? Into the street, into our creeks.”

If a homeowner is still unsure whether they should water their lawn, Allen’s department has teamed up with Texas A&M AgriLife for a program called Subscribers to the site input the precipitation rates of their sprinkler heads or choose a default tab, and every Monday morning they receive an email telling them whether to water their lawns.

“A lot of people will think that it’s necessary to irrigate for the winter months and in the spring,” Allen said. “They think it’s necessary in some cases to irrigate twice a week in the summer, which is certainly not the case. When we go out and we try to teach people, we get them to understand that even in the hottest part of the summer you need no more than 1 inch of precipitation for your turf grass in the summertime.”

Water Audit and Bill Adjustments

The department also directly aids homeowners with specific initiatives, one of which is free water audit and bill adjustments that individuals can sign up online through the city’s website ( Through the service, Allen and his team go directly to a site and teach homeowners how to read their meters as well as help them identify signs of a leak.

“If you do have a private leak and we identify that may be the cause of your high bill, we’ll give you instructions on how to request a bill adjustment,” Allen said. “So you fix your leak, you save your receipt, and then over a period of time we’ll adjust your bill. A lot of cities don’t offer bill adjustments like the city of Irving does.”

Water Conservation and Landscaping Classes

The City of Irving also holds classes on how to properly test if you have watered your soil correctly involving a moisture sensor, which needs to be inserted at least six inches into the soil to measure the water absorbed through the root system.

“A lot of times you’re kind of surprised that the top of the soil after say, a day, is going to be dry, but down below it’s going to be wet, especially if you utilize that cycle soak,” Allen said.

Allen teaches two to three courses a month ranging from basic water distribution, calculations, water utilities management for a number of different types of licenses. His courses are designed for employees.

“Why do we do it? It’s to provide a continued supply of water that’s safe to drink because water is life,” Allen said. “Next to air, water is the most important element.”

Serving Irving brings community together on Thanksgiving

Photo: A group of volunteers from Oakview Baptist Church serves holiday dinners. /Photo by John Starkey

For over 15 years, Bruce Goldberg has been volunteering at Serving Irving, the annual Oak View Baptist event that passes out meals to Irving communities on Thanksgiving. Each of those years, he comes away humbled by the experience.

“A lot of people are alone on the holidays,” Goldberg said. “They don’t have funds. They don’t have food. Serving Irving is a little bit different than other places where the people come to a large serving area and eat. This is more of an outreach to the people, and they do this because a lot of people are afraid to go to a serving place.”

Goldberg joined nearly 100 other volunteers last Thursday, Nov. 24, as part of Oak View’s 22nd annual event. This year, the group served almost 3,000 meals in over 14 locations as well as homeless communities. The meals cost in total around $8,000 to $9,000 and the church relies heavily on food and monetary donations. Joe’s Coffee Shop in Irving is among one of the biggest contributors.

“Sometimes they give us 100-150 pies,” said Roy Soto, Minister of Missions at Oak View Baptist. Soto is a Missions coordinator and part of a team responsible for organizing events for the worship community. “Joe’s is big in helping us out. It’s a great thing with them. Every year they’re ready to serve, ready to pitch in.”

Preparation for Serving Irving begins a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. Volunteers can sign up for one of five different teams: Paper Goods, Pie Making, Turkey Slicing, Set-Up, and Serving.

“A week before the event, we go to the captains of the volunteers,” Soto said “We do a little training in what they need to bring, what needs to be taken; so we have all of the things that they need.

“Monday, we have people that come and take all of the paper goods and pack them. Tuesday, we rest for service. Wednesday, we get the Turkey sliced and get all of the green beans and gravy ready.”

On the day of the event, teams start coming in as early as 5 a.m. to begin preparing the turkey and mashed potatoes. At 10 a.m., volunteers leave to their designated sites. They work until around 2 or 3 p.m., and then a few remaining volunteers work on passing out any leftovers.

“I continue to drive until I have most all of the food gone in the trailer,” Goldberg said. “There have been years that we’ve finished at 8 o’clock at night. There’s never any food left over. Very little food comes back. You don’t want the food to come back.”

Despite weeks of preparation, Soto explains that anything can go wrong on the day of serving, and you have to plan for everything.

“This year, one of my captains put all of the stuff in his car, and it wouldn’t crank,” Soto said. “It was almost ten o’clock and his team was waiting for him. So at the last second we loaded as much as possible into co-Pastor Ron Kurtz’s car and he took off. It was a lot of pressure, but it turned out real good. Ron was the hero right there.”

After the last bits of food are served and all of the trays cleaned, Soto’s work is not quite done.

“We have a little form, a little card that the recipients put their names and all of their basic info,” Soto said. “Then later on, we contact them. We just want to say we’re praying for you and thank you for coming to be served.”

“Sometimes they have other needs, and this is what we’re there for, to serve them, to try to make a difference and impact their lives through the love of Christ.”

Goldberg shared a final story that summed up his experience.

“This year, a lady came up to us. She was crying because she was alone for Thanksgiving. She didn’t have a place to stay. She didn’t have a place to go. She went to eat with the other people that we served in that area, and she was sitting with them having Thanksgiving with other folks,” Goldberg said. “What more could you ask – to have a wonderful meal and to have others to talk to.”