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UPFDA members inspired by Iraq war hero who helped capture Saddam Hussein and say goodbye to longtime Executive Director Valera Jessee at Annual Spring Conference in San Antonio.

July 11, 2019

Following on the heels of its successful 50th anniversary celebration in 2018, expectations for this year’s UPFDA Spring Conference were somewhat muted, although in hindsight they didn’t need to be given the high quality of the educational program and the emotional farewell of longtime Executive Director Valera Jessee.

UPFDA President Scott Riley kicked off the two-day event by welcoming more than 70 attendees to San Antonio, which was celebrating Fiesta Week, creating a festive “vibe” throughout the Lone Star State’s second-largest city. Riley said the annual UPFDA Spring Conference is an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally while “enjoying the fellowship and friendship this industry has to offer.”

As he did last year, veteran lobbyist and Washington insider David Crow updated attendees on the mood in our nation’s capital, while offering his predictions for the 2020 presidential race. In an animated one-hour session covering a wide array of political topics, Crow said President Donald Trump “has changed the Democratic Party even more than he’s changed the Republican Party,” pushing a new generation of leaders even further left.

He also said partisanship in Washington, D.C., as well as the entire country, is at an all-time high “and it’s getting worse. It’s as if we’re living in two separate universes,” he observed, with the coasts “getting bluer” and America’s heartland “getting redder.”

Army interrogator Eric Maddox described the role he played in helping to capture Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with other members of the military.

And despite President Trump’s lukewarm favorability ratings, Crow predicts a second term for 73-year-old businessman and former reality TV star, in part, because Democratic candidates will beat each other up during the primary process.

“What you’re going to see is a food fight like you’ve never seen before,” he said, with traditional Democrats like Joe Biden and Kirsten Gillibrand butting heads with more progressive candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, creating a “very wounded Democratic candidate” heading into the 2020 election.

And Crow is convinced President Trump continues to have the upper hand by delivering the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, two Supreme Court justices, and a hardline immigration agenda to his base. “Eighty percent of the Republican Party loves what he’s done!” Crow said. “This guy is the best counter puncher who has ever lived. I would put money that its (the election) his to lose.”

A RIVETING STORY. Following Crow on the program was Eric Maddox, the Army interrogator who played a central role in Saddam Hussein’s capture. A member of the 82nd Airborne and Joint Special Operations Command Task Force, Maddox worked closely with a Delta Force team in Tikrit as they “tracked down the bad guys,” performing hundreds of interrogations of Iraq War prisoners.

Early on Maddox said he “couldn’t get a single prisoner to open up,” but everything changed when he altered his interrogation tactics and began asking about their lives. “I never had sympathy for a prisoner I was interrogating, but I had empathy,” he said.

Soon, prisoners began to open up, providing him with actionable intelligence that eventually led to the capture of the driver for Mohammed Ibrahim, a member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle. And once they captured and interrogated the driver, it wasn’t long before they discovered they also had swept up Ibrahim in a raid.

When Maddox finally found himself face to face with Saddam’s former bodyguard, he said, “You’re Mohammed Ibrahim. I’ve been waiting to meet you.” Ibrahim responded, “You’re the interrogator in the blue shirt. I’ve been waiting to meet you too.”

With his tour of duty ending and about to leave Iraq, Maddox told Ibrahim that time was short. “When I’m gone, no one is going to give you another shot,” he said, so it was now or never if he was going to cooperate. Ibrahim eventually identified a property nine miles outside of Tikrit where Saddam was hiding and the Iraqi dictator was captured by special operations forces in a spider hole on the evening of Dec. 13, 2003.

UPFDA President Scott Riley (left) and his brother Brett, owner of the West Haven Academy of Karate.
Chris Gorecki, vice president of operational support for Rollins Inc., discussed the regulatory and legislative environment in his presentation, “What’s Happening in Washington for Pest Management and NPMA?”
Washington lobbyist David Crow shared insights about the state of politics in our nation’s capital.

Maddox said Ibrahim opened up “for no other reason than because he had been listened to at a much higher level than he had (ever before) in his life,” which is an important lesson for everyone, whether serving in the military or managing a business.

If you listen at a higher level, Maddox said, people will open up and share valuable insights about themselves and their experiences that you can utilize to more effectively perform your job. “It will change your world forever,” he says.

OTHER NEWS. Rounding out the UPFDA Spring Conference program were presentations by PMP Publisher Marty Whitford and PCT Publisher Dan Moreland, as well as Chris Gorecki, vice president of operational support at Rollins, who spoke about the current regulatory environment in the structural pest control industry.

UPFDA attendees recognized Executive Director Valera Jessee for her three decades of service to the association.

This year’s conference also was the last for longtime Executive Director Valera Jessee, who retired at the end of May after 31 years leading the organization. In her resignation letter, Jessee wrote, “Retiring from UPFDA will leave a big gap in my life. The organization and members have been a vital part of me and my career since 1988. I wish for the organization continued growth and prominence in an industry that is vital to the health and well-being of many.”

The UPFDA board and its members thanked Jessee for her numerous contributions to the organization, presenting her with a Cartier wristwatch and check in recognition of more than three decades of tireless service to the trade association.

As a result of Jessee’s retirement, the UPFDA Board voted to retain the services of Cooper/Coron Associates to manage the association moving forward. The company is led by Andrea Coron and her sister-in-law Kristin Coron, who also manage the Virginia Pest Management Association and Pi Chi Omega.

On the final night of the conference, attendees were treated to a live martial arts demonstration led by Brett Riley, brother of UPFDA President Scott Riley, and the West Haven Academy of Karate. In a spirited 40-minute performance, students shared various self-defense techniques and the classical Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do.

Next year’s UPFDA Spring Conference is set for April 7-9 at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Fla.

The author is publisher of PCT magazine.