Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Gonzales, the degree Ember Gonzales is pursuing and how many children the couple has.
STERLING – Floyd Dunn is not the kind of man who walks away from his commitment to serve.
After eight years in the Army, finding joy in feeding thousands of hungry service members a warm meal, Dunn returned home to Sterling, started a small food business of his own and immediately began looking for ways he could help other veterans, especially those plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder and thoughts of suicide.
Now 36 and with a wife – the former Ember Gonzales, a 2006 Rock Falls High graduate – three little ones running around the house, and a burgeoning business, Sgt. Dunn’s Beef Jerky, he still has found the time to establish a local chapter of 22Mohawks, a national nonprofit that serves the needs of veterans and, now, also emergency workers such as police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.
Dunn is the first to admit he’s no angel – he wanted to be a police officer, “but I kinda screwed myself on that one – I’m a recovering alcoholic.”
Problems with alcohol led to some bad decisions, he said, yanking that dream away but redirecting him to the Army as a means to satisfy his ambition.
“I’m the leadership type,” he said, but “if you look me up, there’s good things and there’s bad things.
“I’m trying to go back to the good and straighten my life out. I’m an open book. I have nothing to hide.”
Sober six years now, it seems like he’s back on the right path.
Dunn spent his early childhood in Charlotte, North Carolina, and his family moved to Illinois when he was 9 or 10.
He moved to Sterling and signed up with the Army’s 389th Engineer Battalion out of Davenport, Iowa, in 2011. He signed up to be a cook – it seemed less likely to lead to an overseas deployment, and he enjoyed it.
“At a young age, I learned how to cook. It sounded like something that could be really useful in the service,” Dunn said. “I really enjoyed seeing the Joes’ faces when they came in for a hot chow. They’re always thankful getting a hot meal, and being able to provide that was a really big deal to me.”
His biggest mission, in fact, was 99 days in Fort Knox, Kentucky, where “we fed 122,000 soldiers in 99 days,” Dunn said.
He moved up the ranks from an E1 to an E5 in rapid time: two years and nine months. Once he became a sergeant, he transferred to the unit in Joliet, ending his eight-year stint in 2019.
He then spent some time in the Mojave Desert in California, training with some special forces guys and cooking for them before returning to Sterling.
He and Ember have been together eight years. He has two older children, 15 and 13, who live in Missouri and whom he doesn’t get to see as often as he’d like, and a 10-year-old. He and Ember, who’s studying to become a board certified behavioral analyst, have two young children at home, ages 6 and 2.
Upon his return to civilian life, however, he said he wanted to find a way to use his talents to help struggling servicemen and women.
He searched online for veteran nonprofits, and up popped 22Mohawks, a Massachusetts-based veterans suicide prevention group. He reached out, provided the group with some of his homemade salsa for a fundraiser, and one thing led to another and its leaders asked him if he wanted to help them expand into Illinois.
Dunn jumped at the chance.
His efforts began with a 5K fundraiser, the 5K Run for Veteran Suicide Prevention, which was held Aug. 12 and drew a respectable 60 or 70 participants to the inaugural event. He followed it up with a tandem parachute jump for veterans Sept. 3 at Rochelle Municipal Airport, where he and 10 veterans did the jump while friends and family waited below.
He’s planning a free, live Christmas tree giveaway for vets Dec. 2, with the help of Strom Tree Farm in Dixon, and a half-marathon and community festival in May at Rock Falls High School. He’s planning food, music, bounce houses, face-painting, a petting zoo and maybe a dunk tank in addition to the race.
In fact, all the fundraisers are done with an eye toward involving not only vets but also their family members and the community.
“I want it to help bring awareness to veterans’ suicide issues but also with family-friendly fun,” he said.
Another program Dunn has brought to the area is the 22Mohawks Pups for Vets program, in which rescue dogs are paired with local veterans who learn how to train them to be their companions, at no cost to the vet.
The day before the 5K, Dunn was able to give the program’s first Illinois pup, Ice, to Chicago-area veteran David Martinez.
He’s now on the lookout for the next veteran to benefit from the program.
Those interested can go to 22mohawks.com and click on Pups for Vets for an application.
Dunn also is working hard to make people aware of the local 22Mohawks chapter. He’s working with the American Legion and a counselor at Sinnissippi Centers who works with veterans. He’s also joined the Chambers of Commerce in Sterling and Rock Falls and has reached out to the local Rotary.
He hopes folks will help get the word out by finding and sharing the Facebook posts at Illinois-Mohawks22.
Dunn also would like to find some inexpensive office space to give the local chapter a base. Reach out to him on Facebook if you can help.
Now the man whose mission simply was to warm service members’ stomachs with a well-cooked meal has retired from the military, but he has not lost sight of his duty to serve.
Dunn’s new mission – to lighten the load for his fellow veterans who are suffering from the ills brought on by their service – also is healing and sustaining him. And what better outcome could there be than that?
How you can help
Find Illinois-Mohawks22 on Facebook for information on the local Christmas tree giveaway and other upcoming events and updates.
Go to 22mohawks.com to learn more about the nonprofit.