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Military Spouses Earn Presidential Volunteer Service Award

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 6, 2008 – President Bush presented six military spouses the Presidential Volunteer Service Award today for exceptional support to their communities and the nation. Video

Bush made the presentation as 1,100 military spouses gathered for a Military Spouse Recognition Day celebration on the White House South Lawn.

This year’s awardees were: Colleen Saffron, an Army wife; Ramona Vazquez, a Coast Guard wife; Bob Davidson, an Air Force husband; Ellen Patton, a Navy wife; Dawnle Scheetz, an Army Reserve wife; and Kaprece James, a Marine Corps wife.

“The six individuals we honor here today have earned the respect of our nation. They represent thousands of other military spouses that make significant contributions to our country,” Bush said. “So we honor six, but we say thanks to millions. Our country appreciates the service and devotion.”

Bush shared the award-winning spouses’ accomplishments and the “little extra” they have done to serve their communities and the nation.

Colleen Saffron founded “Operation Life Transformed” after her husband, Terry, was injured in May 2004 serving in Iraq. The nonprofit group trains families of wounded troops so they can work from home while caring for their loved ones.

“To date, Operation Life Transformed has helped more than 30 spouses and caregivers get the funding and support they need for new and flexible careers,” Bush said. “And so Colleen, America can't thank you enough [for helping] our wounded troops and their families.”

Ramona Vazquez founded “Nate's Open Door Baby Pantry” in honor of a Coast Guardsman she had befriended who died in Iraq, becoming the first Coast Guardsman killed in military action since the Vietnam War. The program provides diapers, formula, clothing, toys and furniture to military members and civilians at no charge.

“Ramona, America's proud of you. I'm proud of you,” Bush said. “I have a feeling that Nate is looking down on great pride today as well.”

Bob Davison has made a difference everywhere his wife Lisa’s Air Force career has taken her during the past 12 years, Bush said, rattling off examples. While stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Davison raised $10,000 for the local Fisher House. At Lakenheath, England, he raised nearly $120,000 for short-term food aid for military families facing tough times. At Scott Air Force Base, Ill., he was a volunteer with Operation Home Front, a national nonprofit group that helps needy military families. Most recently, he works with Operation Home Front at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., where he’s raised more than $350,000 in donations, including more than 1 million phone card minutes for deployed servicemembers.

“Lisa Davison is a leader in the United States Air Force,” Bush said. “Bob Davison is a leader in America's armies of compassion.”

Ellen Patton’s husband, Mark, is a Navy captain, and her son, Eric, a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. “She loves her military, she loves her boys, and she loves to sew,” Bush said. “So she put these … loves together and began to volunteer with Quilts of Valor Foundation.”

The group provides wartime quilts to every single servicemember wounded during the war, and Patton personally has made 80 quilts for wounded troops and veterans, Bush noted. She also tracked down many of the sailors injured during the 2000 attack on USS Cole.

“Ellen says that when she sees troops coming home with terrible wounds, she wants to provide them with some healing in knowing that they are appreciated,” the president said. “So, Ellen, we thank you for what you do to wrap our soldiers in quilts made with such loving hands.”

Dawnle Scheetz learned of terrible conditions young Iraqi children endured when her husband, Army Reserve Maj. Larry Scheetz, deployed in 2006. In response, she started Operation Schoolhouse, a project to collect school supplies and clothing and toys for poor children in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over an eight-month period, Scheetz collected 5 tons of supplies, all packaged and shipped to the front lines and distributed by U.S. troops.

“Here's something even more impressive: She's doing it while fighting breast cancer,” Bush told the group. “So Dawnle, your service has changed young lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Your service has inspired the whole nation. We all pray for a speedy recovery, and we honor you here at the White House.”

Kaprece James has been “a force of nature” since arriving at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., with her husband, 2nd Lt. Rodney James, Bush said. She immediately volunteered for the American Red Cross and has sent more than 100 emergency messages to deployed servicemembers.

She developed the first year-round youth leadership program to teach professional leadership and interviewing skills. She raised money so young people could assemble 500 disaster kits for enlisted Marine families and founded a newsletter for deployed Marines’ families. All the while, she was a cheerleading coach for children on base.

“Phew!” Bush said, drawing laughter before he turned serious.

“Kaprece, we honor you,” he said. “We honor your enthusiasm, we admire your dedication to the corps, and we thank you for the example you've set.”

Bush conceded that military spouses’ contributions don’t always get the attention they deserve. “But I can tell you that every one of your efforts matters,” he said. “You do not do this only for your loved ones who are serving and sacrificing in distant lands, but for your entire community and for our country.

“Your dedication, compassion and selflessness play a vital role in uplifting spirits,” he said, “and our nation is deeply in your debt.”

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