When he returned to Texas from South Korea, Arley Echols knew he wanted to go back to college, but he was not sure where. He said he loved Tarleton State from the minute he stepped on campus and decided to continue his education in Stephenville.

Originally from Plains, Echols left college at Hardin-Simmons University to join the United States Army in 1969. He spent three years in the military, serving as a chaplain with the 2nd Division Artillery in South Korea. Echols traveled between a number of encampments and did as many as five services in a day at times.

"When I returned home I knew I wanted to get a degree in education," Echols said of his plans after retiring from the military. "I came to Tarleton State and got my degree, then my secondary certification, then my superintendent's certification all right here in Stephenville."

After graduating from Tarleton, Echols worked for Stephenville ISD for 16 years before becoming the superintendent at Three Way, and then Huckabay for another 16 years. When he retired from education, he came to work part-time in the Veterans' Service Center of Erath County with former County judge and district attorney Edwin Keller.

"He (Keller) was a great man, and a real help to the veterans here," Echols said of his former boss. "We had a great time here; I really enjoyed every minute of working with him. He taught me so much in the three years we spent working together."

That was 10 years ago, and after Keller's retirement, Echols took over as the veterans service officer. He said the job is continually rewarding and he's thankful every day for the opportunity to work with veterans in Erath County. In January 2013, Echols will have been with the organization for 13 years.

In September, the Veterans County Service Centers Association of Texas honored Echols at their annual conference with the Outstanding Officer of the Year award for 2011-2012. The award is given in recognition of Echols "outstanding achievement in veterans service in the state of Texas."

Echols said while he is very honored to have received the award, he was, and will continue to be, just doing what he can to help each and every veteran who walks through his door every day.