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Top Military Volunteers Named 2001 VIP Award Winners

Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2001 – Fifteen service members and military spouses stationed in the United States and Europe have been named winners of the National Military Family Association's 2001 Very Important Patriot Program.

The VIP program recognizes individuals for exceptional volunteer service to their military and neighboring communities. Active duty, National Guard, reserve and retired members of the seven uniformed services and their family members and survivors are eligible to receive the award.

Program judges select five first-place Very Important Patriot award winners, who are flown to Washington to attend the NMFA Annual Meeting and Luncheon and receive $1,000 cash prizes. Five Award of Honor recipients receive $250 and five Award of Merit recipients receive $100.

Very Important Patriot award winners this year are Tech. Sgt. William Harrington of Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii; Kitty King of Maxwell AFB, Ala.; Stephenie Palmer of the military community in Giebelstadt, Germany; Master Sgt. Viola S. Tovar of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.; and Tech. Sgt. Brian Williams of Altus AFB, Okla.

Award of Honor recipients are Sgt. 1st Class Joseph A. Belcher of Fort Bragg, N.C.; Air Force Reserve Maj. George Friedman of Travis AFB, Calif.; Capt. Jason Haynes of RAF Mildenhall, England; Doris Lankford of Holloman AFB, N.M.; and Master Gunnery Sgt. Valentino Sanchez of Marine Corps Headquarters, Henderson Hall, Va.

Award of Merit winners are Capt. Orlando J. Dona of Eielson AFB, Alaska; Jessica Hendricks of Naval Air Station Keflavik, Iceland; Natasha Robinson of Fort Hood, Texas; Air Force Staff Sgt. Brian Stolpe of Bad Aibling Station, Germany; and Quintella Marie Thibodeaux of Fort Polk, La.

o Harrington was cited for his longtime service with the Hawaii Special Olympics and Honolulu food bank and homeless shelter programs. He has served as a coordinator and leader of several on- and off-base African-American cultural and heritage programs.

o King has served as a coach in three youth sports since 1995; church leader, volunteer and Sunday school teacher; volunteer coordinator of several school programs; and, since 1985, an officers' spouse club leader and committee worker at every installation her family served. She is president-elect of Maxwell's Officers' Spouse Club for 2001-2002.

o Palmer, since arriving in Germany in 1998, has served in several volunteer and leadership roles with community Girl Scouts and the Red Cross. She is the Family Readiness Group leader for the 5th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment at Giebelstadt, and frequently takes part in the battalion's "meals on wheels" program and numerous fundraisers.

o Tovar was cited for work with veterans at a local Veterans Administration hospital and for leading fellow Marine volunteers in a holiday meal cooking and feeding program for an Arlington, Va., homeless shelter and a Christmas toy donation drive at a local school, and serving as a school mentor and counselor for students and Spanish translator for parents unable to read or speak English.

o Williams was cited for fundraising work for needy organizations, youth mentor, soup kitchen volunteer, home builder for needy families and coach for youth sports. He started the Pilot For a Day Program for chronically ill individuals in Charleston, S.C., and continued the effort at Altus. Participants eat meals in a base dining facility, tour the flight line and a C-17 Globemaster III transport, ride in a C-17 simulator and receive "Pilot-for-a-Day" wings and a plaque.

CocaCola Foods (now the Minute Maid Co.) conceived the program in 1995 and recruited the Kellogg Co. and National Military Family Association as co- sponsors. Other underwriting sponsors who've joined since then include the Clorox Co., H.J. Heinz Co. and Tyson Foods. Sponsors contribute funds for travel, expense allowances and cash awards. NMFA administers the nomination and selection process.

Nomination packets are mailed in late February to military installation family service centers, reserve component family readiness offices, military spouse clubs, and a variety of youth, civic and service groups, among others. Judging takes place in April, and winners are notified in May.

NMFA is a nonprofit, predominately volunteer organization with membership from the seven uniformed services, active duty, retired, reserve component and their families and survivors. For more information on this year's winners and the VIP program, visit the NMFA Web site at www.nmfa.org, or call the association at (703) 931-6632.

(From Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and National Military Family Association news releases.)


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