Five 'Everyday Heroes' Receive Recognition for Their Efforts
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 11, 2003 Stella Garrison was watching the Marine Corps TV channel at Camp Pendleton, Calif., when she saw an advertisement about nominations for the "Marine of the Year" competition. She thought her husband met the prerequisites for the honor, and she was right.
Unbeknownst to her husband, Staff Sgt. Karl C. Garrison, she wrote the nomination letter. He was totally surprised when he found out he was selected as "Marine of the Year" -- and that his wife had nominated him.
"I was away when she wrote the nomination, and she destroyed the evidence so I wouldn't find out," said the proud husband.
Garrison is one of five "everyday heroes" who were presented the Military Times Publications 2003 Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman of the Year awards during a special dinner and awards ceremony at the Reserve Officers Association July 10.
This marks the third year that the Military Times Media Group and AT&T, in association with Fisher House, have sponsored the awards. The Times publications readership and service members are asked to recognize those among them who have made special contributions and performed dedicated, outstanding service everyday without fanfare or broad recognition.
World War II Medal of Honor recipient Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii and Silver Star recipient Sen. John McCain, who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, presented the awards. The recipients received triangular wooden boxes containing a folded American flag that had been flown over the Capitol building, a commemorative plaque, a copy of the awards citation and a picture of themselves outside the box.
Garrison, 29, a native of Twin Bridges, Mont., is assigned to the Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity at Pendleton. "It's nice to be recognized when you didn't expect it," the radio repairman said. "This program recognizes people who don't seek out recognition or medals. I just do the things I do because that's the way I think they should be done."
Among other things, Garrison was honored for being a bone marrow donor and for the support and morale he provides to fellow Marines and area youth.
When Garrison learned in August 2002 that he was a compatible bone marrow donor to a patient in Washington, he immediately made himself available for a series of exams and tests -- though the patient was a complete stranger.
The award citation states that Garrison was watching a football game on television when he received a phone call on Nov. 4, 2002, about the patient's immediate needs. "He was on the first plane from California to Washington the next day and the collection was done on Nov. 6," according to the citation.
"Being a bone marrow donor is an extremely painful process and this volunteer effort is one not taken lightly," the citation continued.
Not only did Garrison go through the painful procedure, he volunteered to do it again if the patient needed his help.
Garrison noted he had registered as a donor in 1995 when a fellow Marine's daughter was in need of a transplant. "I stayed on the list and they called me last fall and asked if I'd do it, and I said yes."
The Coast Guardsman of the Year is Chief Petty Officer Terry W. Lathrop, 40, of New London, Wisc., who is assigned to Coast Guard Station St. Clair Shore, north of Detroit.
The award citation notes that Lathrop "initiated many training and educational programs that have increased qualification and readiness at his command." It went on to read, "His effort in training and readiness also resulted in the unit receiving the prestigious Summer I. Kimball award for superior operational readiness."
When his former commanding officer was diagnosed with cancer, Lathrop organized an American Cancer Society 24-hour walkathon that raised $1,500 for the society.
Lathrop said he was also recognized for hundreds of hours of community outreach work, such as talking to organizations on boating safety. "I also organized a 'Sea Partners' program for elementary school students for marine pollution and boating safety," he noted.
He said a lot of Coast Guardsmen go above and beyond their normal duties, but if someone isn't observing their contributions, they don't receive any recognition.
An executive petty officer, Lathrop handles all the paperwork for 34 members of the outfit. As a coxswain, another primary duty is driving boats, including 41- foot utility boats and 25-foot homeland security safety boats.
This marks the second time this year he came to Washington to receive an award. In March, he won the Angela McShan Leadership and Inspiration Award, a Coast Guard-sponsored award for chief petty officers and above, for his community outreach efforts.
The Airman of the Year is Senior Master Sgt. Cedric M. Council, 42, of Schertz, Texas, who is an aircraft maintenance inspector at Headquarters, Inspector General, Air Education and Training Command at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.
Affectionately called "a role model for airmen," Council said the award is a total surprise to him. He was honored "for his work which has a global impact on pilot combat training supporting homeland security and basic training programs," according to the award citation. Council was also recognized "for championing positive youth programs, such as mentoring, fund raising and athletics."
A member of the Texas Youth Commission, he works with children who have been incarcerated for rape, murder and other offenses. "We try to bring them back into mainstream society," said Council, whose duty responsibilities include inspecting propulsion systems throughout his command.
"The commission is the step before going back into society as functional young men and women," he noted. "Our success rate is 80 to 90 percent. We try for a 100-percent success rate, but when you're dealing with humans, there are times when some people have a tendency to go back and do the same things they used to do."
Soldier of the Year Capt. Wheeler R. Manning, 29, of Kountze, Texas, was cited for his leadership and performance during a helicopter crash recovery in South Korea. He was also cited for his efforts to foster harmony between the U.S. military and Korean communities.
Expressing his humility, Manning said he never thought he'd be selected for any kind of award, "I just thought I was doing the right thing for the soldiers in each situation," he said. "So I'm humbled by the award."
When an AH-64 Apache helicopter from the 2nd Infantry Division crashed on a dangerous Korean mountainside during a training mission in August 2002, Manning's unit was tasked with the recovery effort. At the time, Manning was commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 19th Theater Support Command, Camp Henry, Taegu, South Korea, a position he still holds.
"Both pilots were killed in the crash, so we had to prepare the soldiers for recovery of the aircraft and for what they might see on the side of the mountain," Manning noted. "It was a monumental task for me as well."
When one of Manning's soldiers experienced financial difficulty, Manning initiated a campaign to raise funds to help support the soldier and his family. He then doubled the amount of money raised with his own funds.
"That was my personal contribution to the soldier and his family," said the modest captain, who pointed out that the soldier's money problems were not his own fault.
"This is love in action -- a secret, heroic act. Nobody knew what he did for the family. It's an honor to serve with him," said a junior officer who later found out about Manning's humanitarian efforts.
"I think morale is increased when troops realize that they have leaders who care for them," Manning said, "and that those leaders are not afraid to step out and do what's necessary to take care of them."
Petty Officer 1st Class Steven C. Cheaney, 37, of West Columbia, Texas, garnered the Sailor of the Year award.
"Never, in my wildest dreams did I ever think that this would happen," said Cheaney, the son of a former Coast Guardsman. "I'm still in shock."
Cheaney was cited for his work while serving as the mess cook for Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 (Seabees), which was attached to the 3rd Marine Air Wing in Kuwait. He's now assigned to the Gulfport, Miss., Naval Construction Battalion Center.
"I was recognized for creativity in taking care of Seabees while we were in Guam, Kuwait and Iraq," Cheaney said. "Creative meant taking nothing and making something. If we didn't have coffee, I bought them coffee when it hit record low temperatures. I made sure I got them out as many meals and many goodies as I could, including for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's."
Cheaney said the award has definitely boosted his morale. "It's a prestigious thing -- nice," he said.
"During the largest, single battalion project in the last 30 years, the success of this project was due to the dedication of Petty Officer Chaney," his award citation states. "During port calls, Cheaney is the first to volunteer for a multitude of community service projects, which help to build goodwill between the military and communities where he is stationed."
Cheaney said he and his follow sailors appreciated the support the nation gave them. "At first (during Operation Iraqi Freedom), the only media reports we saw were all negative," he said. "Once we found out that the nation was just so wholeheartedly behind us and supported the troops, that made a whole world of difference. Everybody's morale skyrocketed. It was great."
"Being a cook in the Navy is the greatest job in the military," Cheaney said, speaking of how much he loves his job. "Everybody comes to see you."