MARICOPA — Joe Baca may only be 18, but he’s already got some big accomplishments under his belt. Upon graduating from Maricopa High School and JROTC in May of 2019, he was already committed to the Army at 17 years old.
He shipped off to basic training in 2019, and returned to Maricopa and his family after a grueling 10 weeks in Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, in January. On Feb. 14, he’ll hop on a flight to South Korea, where he’ll be stationed for the foreseeable future.
His parents, Joseph and Shawna Baca, adopted all five of their children, including their eldest son, Joe. Their other children — Izayah, 15, Iyana, 9, Ariah, 8 and Karmeleah, 4 — are all excited for their big brother to make the leap into adulthood.
When he left for basic, Baca was not only leaving the city he grew up in, he was also leaving his family, something that he says was especially hard for him.
“One of the challenges of going through basic (was) being away from home and family, because I’ve been here 14 years, it’s all I know,” Baca said. “Then for me to go from here, all the way over to Missouri and go through all that, it was pretty hard.”
Though the change was abrupt, he took the lessons of his commanding officers, and what the Army can provide him over the course of his five-year contract, to heart.
“It was hard, but I picked up a lot of good traits from my drill sergeants,” Baca said. “They taught us a lot — a lot about military discipline. It definitely prepared me for what I’m going to be doing in the next five years.”
Baca took the stress of long training days in stride and made fast friends with the rest of his platoon, some even sharing his hometown connections.
“I was very lucky to get my platoon. All the guys, we went through it together. We brought each other up when some of us were feeling down,” he said.
One of Baca’s comrades in basic, and the only other Arizonan, was a young man from Casa Grande.
“He shipped out on the same day,” Baca said of his friend and comrade. “He’s got the same birthday as me, same situation. It’s me and him. He was the one guy that I could really trust from the beginning.”
He went through the Rites of Passage Ceremony last month, which marks the completion of their 10-week basic training course and awards Army hopefuls with the official title of military police (MP).
“They pretty much put this patch on you — this one says U.S. Army — and then you get to be called a soldier. That’s been the most rewarding,” Baca said, moving his left arm to proudly show the U.S. Army patch on his uniform.
Joseph Baca could hardly contain his excitement for his son. Though Joseph himself did not join the military, all of his brothers did. He is intensely proud of his son’s choice to do the same.
“I tried to guide him in what he wanted to do. He needed to pick a profession, and he was interested in the military,” Joseph said. “So I told him to join (J)ROTC because that would guide him in the right direction where he wants to go. So that really helped him out, (J)ROTC in high school. I highly recommend it to any of these kids.”
Joseph recalls, as if it were yesterday, little Joe running around on all fours, pretending to be a dinosaur — his favorite at the time. He’s grown up a lot since then, running all four years in track at MHS and earning the Sons of American Revolution bronze JROTC award for exceptional leadership qualities his senior year.
“He’s just been the awesomest kid from day one. He’s always listened, never talked back. I’m just so, so proud of him. I just burst with joy with what he’s done so far,” Joseph said. “He’s gonna do really good in what he chose to do.”
His son is most looking forward to experiencing a different lifestyle in South Korea than his American upbringing, especially, “the culture, the people there, the food.”
“I can’t wait to — after my shift — go out and explore,” Baca said. “I see myself as an 18-year-old being able to go to Korea. You know, not a lot of people can say that, at least at 18 years old. So I’m going to try and see as much as I can.”
His siblings are all excited for Joe too. His younger sister Iyana has taken to wearing an army hat around the house and his younger brother Izayah, a sophomore at MHS, is also considering a path in the military.
“Once he (Izayah) went to Ft. Leonard Wood and he saw his brother, that made his decision,” Joseph said. “His eyes were wide open, it was awesome. It was really awesome. It’s unbelievable what they do there. I’m just so proud of all our military, the kids that go there. You know, they do a lot for our country. And we need to help back ’em.”
MARICOPA — Though the race for Pinal County supervisor in District 4 started out with just one candidate in its southeastern corner, Jeff McClure of Saddlebrooke, the ranks have swollen in the last month to include two Maricopa residents, Marlene Pearce and Dan Frank.
Frank is a civil engineer by trade, and his resume includes owning a consulting firm, in addition to his current roles as president of the Maricopa Flood Control District and commissioner with the Maricopa Planning and Zoning Commission.
This is not his first campaign either. Frank served a six-month term on the City Council after a special election and ran again in 2016 — losing by a small margin of votes. He believes that living and working in a major population area of Pinal County gives him a special opportunity to appeal to the needs of the masses.
“I think it’s good to have competition,” Frank said. “Given that most of the population of the district is over here in the western part of the county, it does kind of make sense that competition would come from this area.”
But this time, he’s feeling the pressure of a larger campaign since announcing it in early January.
“Jeff McClure has a definite head start on everybody,” Frank said. “He’s been campaigning for about nine months now. I feel like definitely the underdog in this for sure. He’s kind of ahead in meeting with all the groups and getting the support.”
District 4 includes Maricopa, Arizona City, part of Eloy, part of Marana, Oro Valley, Oracle and Saddlebrooke.
Frank hopes to focus his campaign on three main issues, the first of which is continuing the mission of many city officials to improve roads, infrastructure and ultimately traffic on city roads.
The second was economic growth, a sentiment echoed by other candidates in the running. However, he would like to zero in on developing and bolstering the workforce locally.
“Where we’re really having a problem is workforce development,” Frank said. “Retention is one of the main things that we need to focus on, especially with the big employers like Lucid Motors coming in to Casa Grande and they’re going to be wanting to draw from Maricopa for quite a few of the jobs.”
The end goal, Frank says, is to keep Maricopans thriving within the city he recognizes started out as a bedroom community.
“We really need to develop that workforce to stay local. Once we give them a good job, then they need to be happy here as well,” Frank said.
With his background in civil engineering and position with MFCD, Frank is well versed in the water issues Maricopa faces as well.
“We have too much water in places we don’t want it — flooding — and then not enough water in places that we do (want it),” Frank said. “So as a civil engineer, I’ve been impacted personally by (Arizona Department of Water Resources’) new model, and some projects I’ve worked on have been put on pause because of that. While that impacts me professionally, as more of a citizen, I want to make sure that the model is correct, and that we do have water in the future.”
Frank moved to Maricopa in 2005 with his wife Tina, drawn by the real estate market at the time. He was previously working at a corporate civil engineering firm for 16 years, before moving to his own company in 2012. He’s a father to four adult daughters and the grandfather of nine.
As someone who has put his roots down in Maricopa, he said he understands the importance of maintaining a vibrant community.
“I’d like to see a vibrant, healthy workforce here in Pinal County, that is establishing roots to stay for the long term and not coming in here to move to another county later on in their life cycle,” Frank said. “I’d like to see our transportation infrastructure improved, and I know that takes a long time. So we have to have a plan for the future, an eye for the future for those kind of projects.”
Frank is running as a Republican against McClure and Marlene Pearce. But for right now, he’s just focusing on getting the word out about his campaign and getting to know his county.
“As with any of my campaigns, it’s always getting out and meeting new people — that’s always one of the most rewarding aspects of it,” Frank said. “Even when I was on City Council, that was really neat to just meet new people in our community and help wherever I can.”
CASA GRANDE — Local water stakeholders got an update on plans for a separate and more detailed groundwater model for parts of Pinal County Wednesday morning from the Pinal Partnership organization.
The Eloy and Maricopa-Stanfield Basin model is being created by a collaboration between Pinal Partnership, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Central Arizona Project, Arizona Department of Water Resources, Pinal County, Pinal County Water Augmentation Authority and several cities, local water companies and irrigation and drainage districts.
Work on collecting and analyzing data for the groundwater model started in November 2018. It will take approximately a year to finish the model, said Valerie Swick from the Bureau of Reclamation.
The model doesn’t cover the entire county or even the entire Pinal Active Management Area, which is a state entity that covers much of the county. The model only covers the Eloy and Maricopa-Stanfield sub-basins in the county, she said. Those basins cover most but not all of the major cities in the county.
Once the model is finished, the group will be able to use it to test multiple water supply and demand scenarios and create plans to meet the needs of those scenarios. The cost of the $1.3 million study will be split between the Bureau of Reclamation, Pinal Partnership and the other study partners. Most of the local costs will be covered by in-kind work provided by CAP, ADWR and others.
The Eloy and Maricopa-Stanfield model is different from the groundwater model for the Pinal Active Management Area that was released by the Arizona Department of Water Resources last year, said Austin Carey from the Central Arizona Project. The Eloy and Maricopa-Stanfield Basin model is designed to look at only the next 43 years of water use from 2018 to 2060. The Arizona Department of Water Resources groundwater model looks at water uses and supply for the next 100 years.
The Eloy and Maricopa-Stanfield Basin model is being created for planning purposes rather than regulatory purposes like ADWR’s Pinal AMA groundwater model, Carey said. The Eloy and Maricopa-Stanfield model will also allow the group to test for multiple possible outcomes and estimate the cost for possible solutions to those outcomes, instead of just providing one outcome like ADWR’s model. The Eloy and Maricopa-Stanfield model is also using historic and current water use data from local irrigation districts and water companies instead of basing the model on what various water users are allocated to use by the state.
The group will be testing five possible scenarios once the groundwater model is finished, he said. Those scenarios include the effects of a hotter, drier climate, more intense urban development, changes in agricultural uses and groundwater pumping on water supplies.
Because the group is still collecting and looking at the data, preliminary results are not available, Carey said. The hope is that the Eloy and Maricopa-Stanfield model will give local stakeholders a better understanding of what the aquifers look like, how they work and allow the area to come up with a sustainable plan for the future.
The group plans to hold the next stakeholder meeting a year from now when the groundwater model is expected to be finished. A subcommittee meeting for the group is scheduled for 1 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Casa Grande Community Recreation Center.