Zeste Debro and Valerie Brown Debro share a passion for service and community that brought them together in 2005 and keep them serving as Commander of the American Legion Post 77 and President of the Post 77 Legion Auxiliary.
Valerie, currently in her second year as Auxiliary President, never had prior exposure to the Legion before she joined in 2008 but was put to work right away on various board and committees.
“I’ve always served in the community. Air Force USO, Habitat for Humanity. It’s naturally in me, as far as serving,” said the Los Angeles native and real estate broker.
Zeste Debro, who retired after 21 years in the army, 82nd Airborne Division in logistics with the First Special Operations Command and Joint Task Force throughout South America, and then retired again after seven years as a police officer in Tennessee, is completing his first year as Post Commander. He also wears multiple hats as the Son of American Legion advisor and Detachment of Georgia Junior Vice Commander. Although he was a Legion member, he was inactive until joining the Post 77 Color Guard around 2005.
The couple, who married in 2008, met when Valerie, an LA native, moved to Georgia from California in 2005 following other family members. Zeste, a Knoxville, Tenn. native, was the basketball coach for her twin sons, now seniors in Rockdale County High School. The two helped form a rec basketball league and team, the Rockdale Rockets.
It was this organizing that brought them closer together and brought them to the American Legion. Then Post Commander Jack Murphy offered the Post 77 facilities as a place for league organizers to hold their meetings.
Valerie also supported Zeste as he quietly battled multiple myeloma, a blood and bone cancer.
“No one knew it until afterwards,” said Valerie. “‘I don’t want no one feeling sorry for me.’ We went through it. It made him fight even more. We just stayed active, busy, kept him off of his pain.”
Being husband and wife does help, but the two organizations operate separately, said Valerie.
“It’s easier if you have that communication, husband and wife or not. Open communication is the key.”
The Legion and Auxiliary are trying to spread awareness of the services and programs they offer veterans and their families, especially as more military personnel are discharged coming back from Afghanistan.
“Veterans are a funny breed,” Zeste said. “A soldier would not look for help out of a civilian. Just something funny about us. The military is more team oriented.”
The four pillars of the Legion are Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, National Security, Americanism, Children and Youth. But there’s a niche for everyone, he said.
“Everybody thinks the Legion is about baseball, bar and bingo. And the Legion is not about that,” said Zeste. “The Legion is about supporting the veterans,” he said.
Currently the Post 77 Legion counts 660 members. The Auxiliary has 75 members auxiliary and conducts about 18 programs, ranging from scholarships to visiting veterans and children’s hospitals to educational programs in schools.
They are not the first husband and wife team to helm the local Legion and Auxiliary, but they are they first African American Commander and President in the post’s 83 year history. When they became active, they were the only African Americans in Post.
“We’re just here to serve,” said Valerie. “When I used to go to the airports for the USO and see their families. To see their faces, that smile. It’s just an awesome feeling.”