Alumni Profile: Maj. Mark Smydra

Maj. Mark Smydra
Bachelor of Arts in organizational communications, 1995
Master of Education in agency and community counseling, 1996
Strategy and Plans Officer, Department of Defense
Washington, D.C.

Walk On | Smydra walked onto Xavier’s campus in 1991 and, after a year, onto the basketball team. He played four seasons, including his last as a graduate student. “I had a year of eligibility left, so I asked Coach Prosser if I could play as a fifth year walk-on, and he said I was welcome.”

Spot On | “I remember Prosser took all the tryouts into a room and said, ‘If you want to be a walk-on, you can’t get hurt, you can’t get sick, you have to get good grades and if not, then don’t try out.’ I played in 15 games, including against Georgetown in the first half of the NCAA Tournament game in 1995. We ended up losing by three points. Prosser said I would get to play, but I had caught some bug and just felt horrible when I got into the game.”

Military Liaison | After graduation, Smydra completed the Marine’s Infantry Officer Course and Scout Sniper School, among others, before a colonel recommended him for deployment to Kosovo with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in 2000. From there he was sent to Bosnia to support military operations and then to Latvia to support Latvia’s desire to enter the European Union and NATO. “We spent our time scheduling experts to train and assist the Latvians.”

SOCOM | After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Smydra was assigned to U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Fla., which helped provide information to special operations units in Afghanistan. “The office I was in was specifically set up to support special ops units engaged in the War on Terror.”

Moving On | Smydra was assigned as the Marine Attaché in Pristina, Kosovo, in 2003. His unique experiences in special operations and foreign affairs led to additional assignments as the U.S. liaison to Turkish Special Forces in Iraq and as the Marine Attaché to Ukraine.

Fired Upon | In 2006, he went with Turkish Special Forces into Iraq and was fired upon by Peshmerga snipers. Smydra stopped his Toyota Landcruiser when one of the convoy’s Kurdish soldiers fell out with a gunshot to the head. They picked him up and sped to a hospital. “I saw him a few weeks later and he’d made a full recovery.”

The Pentagon | Now assigned to the Pentagon, Smydra drafts policy and makes recommendations affecting Marines. In short, he writes a lot of briefs and executive summaries for military and civilian leaders. “You have to be articulate, brief and effective, so all the writing and speaking skills I developed at Xavier were fantastic.”

Promotion | Smydra has been selected for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel this year. He expects to continue sharing his unique experiences with other military members, while also spending more time with his wife, Karyn, and son, Max.

Alumni Profile: Col. Paul Fellinger Jr.

Col. Paul Fellinger Jr.
Bachelor of Arts in international affairs, 1990
Garrison Commander for the U.S. Army Garrison at Presidio
Monterey, Calif.

Army Brat | Paul Fellinger Jr., has been moving since before he had motor skills. His father, Paul Fellinger Sr. (see Paul Sr.’s profile on page 41), was an Army man. So they moved from base to base, house to house. “I was born in Cincinnati and probably within six months had moved for the first time. I’ve probably lived in 30-35 different houses throughout my lifetime. My favorite places growing up were Germany and Virginia.”

International Education | As a lover of both academics and athletics, Fellinger enjoyed high school. For his first three years, he studied at the International School of Hamburg, in what used to be West Germany. There, he befriended students of different backgrounds and was exposed to cultures from places as far away as the Middle East and Asia.

Going Back | Later in life, Fellinger returned to Germany, but this time, it was for his assignment—not his father’s. He spent two years there with his wife and two daughters. “We lived in southern Bavaria and spent a lot of time in town interacting with locals, buying their food and practicing their language. I’m glad that my girls spent some time living there and getting to know the lifestyle. I don’t know how much they appreciate it yet, but they will when they get older.”

Active Duty | Since 2004, Fellinger spent nearly three and a half years on assignment in the Middle East. While in Afghanistan, he assisted in establishing local military and police forces. He also assisted the Department of State to develop rural and war-torn areas, which included involvement in the construction of schools and roads. 

Snapshot | “Many people in Afghanistan, at least where I was in 2010, lived in mud huts. They’re good at building these structures, but it’s a lifestyle that we as Americans don’t think is possible. Many people there don’t have electricity. They’ve got no sewage, no plumbing. Very
different from the world that we live in. But that’s their life and that’s just how they live. It’s not bad or worse than ours, just different.”

A Good Sport | “I’m a huge fan of sports and have been my whole life. When I was deployed, Xavier basketball was my connection home. I would have a bad day in Afghanistan, and if I was lucky enough to have a cable TV, at the end of the day I could pull up a Xavier basketball game. It’s something that was and still is important to me.”

There’s No Place Like Home | “During one deployment I was the commander of a squadron of just under 1,000 soldiers. My school spirit must have rubbed off on them at some point, because many became fans of Xavier basketball. Whenever I visit Cincinnati, I pick up some Skyline Chili and buy Xavier garb for them. They love it.”

Alumni Profile: Lt. Col. Paul Fellinger Sr.

Lt. Col. Paul Fellinger Sr.
Bachelor of Arts in history, 1967

Blue Bloods | Four generations of Fellinger freshmen have now passed through Xavier’s doors—Raymond Fellinger, an English student who went on to become Xavier’s registrar; Paul Sr., a history major; Paul Jr., an international communications graduate; and Hannah, a current theology student.

Xavier Roots | “I remember when I was little and would go to the basketball games in Schmidt Fieldhouse with my dad. The building only held like 3,000 people, but it was a fun place to be during a game. The students would line the floor on temporary benches, and we would stomp on it and drive the place crazy.”

Service | When Fellinger Sr. started college, Xavier was still a field-artillery school that required all incoming students to join the ROTC program for at least two years. For his junior and senior years, Fellinger decided to stay enrolled in the program. Upon graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant into the U.S. Army and soon after was sent to Vietnam. After returning from his tour in Vietnam, he accepted an assignment in Germany—where his wife and children joined him.

Found in Translation | “Coming back to Cincinnati after living in Germany, you gain an appreciation for traditions from other cultures. For example, people in Cincinnati often say ‘Please?’ instead of ‘I didn’t hear you.’ That’s a total German thing. When German-speakers can’t hear what you’ve said they respond by saying ‘Bitta?’ which is the German word for please.”

Military School | Fellinger Sr. moved to Philadelphia to earn his master’s degree while simultaneously teaching for Widener University’s ROTC program. “The course I taught was called Ethics in Military Environments, and most of what I taught had to do with leadership. The class showed the theory of leadership, and I actually made the students make decisions. It might be as simple as marching a group of people, but they figured out how to navigate a group of men by practicing.“

Boot Camp Advice | “Before they enlisted, I told my two sons that, one, the officers aren’t intentionally trying to kill you, and, two, if the person to your right can keep going, and if the person to your left can keep going, then you can keep going, too.”

Soldiering On | Fellinger Sr. retired this spring from his second career as an administrator at Shriver Co., a tax firm based in Cincinnati. “I’m enjoying retirement and staying busy. My wife and I still have friends in Germany, and my son (see Paul Jr.’s profile on page 43) just moved to California. So I’m sure we’ll be doing some traveling.”

Alumni Profile: Lt. Gen. Charles G. “Chick” Cleveland

Lt. Gen. Charles G. “Chick” Cleveland
Master of Arts in history, 1966
Montgomery, Ala.

An Ace 50 Years in the Making | Before Top Gun, there was Lt. Gen. Charles G. “Chick” Cleveland. And unlike today’s era of unmanned predator drones, Cleveland was at the controls during the dawn of the jet age, engaged in aerial dogfights over the infamous “MIG Alley” during the Korean War. His designation of “ace” was not made official for more than 50 years, but thanks to a lifelong friend and a little help from the Soviet Union, Cleveland’s place among the flying stars was eventually assured. His biography, Once a Fighter Pilot, was published in 2012.

West Point | “When I graduated from West Point in 1949, there was no Air Force Academy, so 20 percent of the graduates went into the Air Force. And I was lucky enough to be in that group. I still remember my first jet flight. The instructor said, ‘On takeoff, keep your hands off the stick and just enjoy.’ We raced off into the Arizona afternoon and it was an exhilarating feeling.”

Korea | ”When I left Korea, I had four confirmed victories, two probables and four damaged. It took five confirmed victories to become an ace in the Korean War. But I didn’t get that fifth victory confirmed because my wingman had been killed, so he couldn’t give his statement.”

The Dogfight | “I hit him hard from close range, and he went into a vertical dive into the roll cloud of a towering thunderstorm. MiGs just didn’t do that. I couldn’t follow him and I didn’t see him bail out, explode or crash, which is necessary for a confirmed kill, but I know he never got out of that thing alive.”

Ace Delayed | “One of those two ‘probably destroyed’ was confirmed as a kill some 56 years later, with new evidence from Russian records. A friend of mine, Dolphin D. Overton, discovered the records in the National Archives. Of course they were in Russian and had to be translated.”

Xavier Connection | “When I came back stateside I was assigned to Wright Patterson Air Force Base and took classes, commuting to Xavier.”

Vietnam | “I was Gen. Westmorland’s executive assistant for a year. That was the toughest year I spent in the service. Vietnam was a different war. All wars are terrible, but if you want to survive, you’ve got to fight ‘em and win ‘em.”

The Pentagon | “I served in the Pentagon from 1975-1979. My last assignment was as commander of Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., home for all professional education for the Air Force.”

Retirement | “We retired in Alabama, and I was the director of the Montgomery-area United Way. I did that for seven years, and think I did the community some good. I have three volunteer jobs now—one is the president of Say No, an anti-drug coalition, the second is the president of the American Fighter Aces Association and the third is the Alabama World Affairs Council.”

Profile: Ron Henlein

Ron Henlein

Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, 1979
Director of corporate and community partnerships for people working cooperatively

Heart and Hammer | Ron Henlein is a handy guy around the house…anyone’s house. As a former district manager for big box retailers like Home Depot, he knows a hammer drill from a nail gun. Plus, with three decades of volunteering for People Working Cooperatively (PWC), a Cincinnati-based nonprofit providing home repair for low-income, elderly and disabled residents, under his tool belt, his heart has always been in the right place. So when faced with relocating or finding a new job, Henlein combined the best of two worlds.

Good Move | “1983 was the first year I volunteered for PWC. At the time I was working for Payless Cashway, one of the first national chains to embrace the D-I-Y retail model. Eventually I went over to Home Depot as a District Manager but then realized that God was calling me in a different direction. I took a position with PWC, to help the community’s most vulnerable homeowners remain safely in their homes.”

DIY Kind Of Guy | “My first volunteer assignment was helping an 88-year-old woman. Her front porch had rotted away to the point she was forced to balance on the support beams to get out of her house. I was amazed with the resilience that our clients live their lives. They don’t point at the sky or yell at their neighbors. But sometimes when very bad things happen, like the loss of a job or traumatic accident or illness, it can impact their ability to stay in their own home.”

PWC | “PWC has grown into a nationally recognized agency. There’s nothing else like it in the country with its ‘Whole House’ approach to critical repairs, modifications and weatherization. PWC helps people in dire need, who don’t have any other options for help. In my newly created position, one of my goals is to create partnerships with local and national companies, like Home Depot.”

AMDG | “Jesuit principles and values have effected me strongly,” he says, holding up a photo of his “AMDG” personalized license plate. He’s taken Jesuit principles to heart in his business life too, making it a practice to reread the book Heroic Leadership: Best Practices From a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World by Kevin Lowry. His favorite quote—“Heroic Leadership is a daily personal pursuit. Heroism is not just a response to a crisis but a consciously chosen approach to life; it is judged not by the scale of the opportunity but by the quality of the response to the opportunity at hand.”

Service Learning | For Henlein, Xavier is the foundation on which he built his career of service. “Christian leaders are called to a different level of leadership principles than other leaders. Teachings of the Jesuits can be woven into modern corporate culture. There is a life beyond business—people have a responsibility to help make the world a better place.”

Profile: Charles C. Wright

Charles “Charlie” C. Wright

Master of Business Administration, 1972
CEO of Wright Brothers Inc.; Chairman of Ohio Valley
Goodwill Industries

Beer Bubbles | For the last 30 years, Wright has been at the helm of Wright Brothers Inc., which provides gas supply systems for applications in fabrication, leisure, nanoscience, cryogenics, research, product development, lasers, universities, pharmaceuticals, health care and, yes, beer.

The Other Brothers | “Wright Brothers was actually started by my dad and uncle, Charles and Morrow. People continually asked us if we were related to the Wright Brothers. We’re not. But when I got into the business, I incorporated the imagery of the original Wright Brothers. I admired their dedication to solve the mystery of heavier-than-air flight while still running a business. They were true innovators.”

A Tough Start | “When I was seven, I contracted polio and have limited use of my right arm and left leg. I was first admitted to Cincinnati General Hospital Ward H for polio cases since it was contagious and life threatening. I almost died that first night, then spent two weeks in an iron lung. After about a month I was transferred to the Cincinnati Convalescent Home, and then had five rounds of ‘corrective surgery’ at Cincinnati Children’s Hopsital. Because of all that, I’ve learned to live life by adapting to situations.”

Engineer to Entrepreneur | “My dad did not want me to go into the business. He told me to get an engineering degree and go to work for a big corporation. I started at the University of Cincinnati day school as an engineering major, got a job with General Mills then switched to the night college and graduated in 1970. I finished my MBA at Xavier in 1972. I used my first degree to get a job and the second degree to help the family business.”

Goodwill For All | “In early 2000, I was appointed by Gov. Taft to the State Use Committee to help provide jobs to folks with some sort of limitation or disability by purchasing their products or services, such as custodial services. After doing that, Joe Byrum, the CEO of Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries, recruited me to join the board of directors. I’ve been on the board for eight years and chairman for four. We’re part of the world’s largest, most successful network providing employment and training for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment. I just wanted to give back to folks I could help with some of the things I’ve learned in life.”

Take Everything | “Take anything to Goodwill, because if it’s not good enough for the store it gets recycled. So even clothing with a hole in it can be recycled as fiber. The whole Goodwill model is very environmentally friendly. If you donate something, it’s resold, reused or recycled­­—almost nothing goes into a landfill.”