On October 7, the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce hosted the 2011 Military Citizen of the Year Luncheon, in conjunction with Fleet Week. Nearly 250 attended the luncheon at the Norfolk Waterside Marriott. At the luncheon, the annual Samuel T. Northern Military Citizen of the Year Award (MCOY) is presented to the enlisted military individual whose personal and public contributions have had the most positive effect on the Hampton Roads community. The luncheon also gives the Hampton Roads business community the opportunity to show its appreciation for the local military presence here.
This year, the 21 men and women nominated completed a combined effort of more than 9,000 hours of volunteer service. For the first time in 55 years, the Chamber named two winners. “I think it says not something about the caliber of the award, but of the caliber of the awardees,” said JC Kreidel, chair of the Chamber’s Armed Forces Committee.
This year’s winners are Information Systems Technician 1st Class James Halleran and Construction Mechanic 1st Class James Simons.
IT1 James Halleran is a Course Supervisor/Instructor at the Center for Information Dominance Learning Site Norfolk. During his acceptance speech, he said, “My wife is the glue that holds us together.” He and his wife have involved their two children in their volunteer efforts as well. Halleran volunteers as Veteran Outreach Coordinator for The Mission Continues, in which he leads the development of programs and service projects that challenge wounded and disabled veterans to serve their country by serving their communities. In addition, Halleran volunteers with Vetshouse, Inc., a homeless Veteran transition program. He planned and coordinated an event that raised $20,000 and awareness of issues facing homeless veterans. Halleran also volunteers with a nonprofit called Wounded Wear, which provides free clothing and clothing modifications to wounded warriors and raises national awareness of the sacrifices of America’s wounded veterans and their families.
CM1 James Simons is a Journeyman Instructor Training Course Manager for the Center for Personal and Professional Development. In 2010 and 2011, Simons coordinated efforts with 34 local school administrators and teachers from Oscar Smith High School, Oscar Smith Middle School, and South Norfolk Baptist Church to volunteer their time off tutoring students in the local community. Nearly 300 students are now utilizing the tutoring program in subjects including Math, Science, English, History and Foreign Language. Simons also volunteers with Scholars Day Out which rewards hard working students who have improved academic standings. These students are treated to monthly outings to events such as baseball games. In addition, he created a group called the Chesapeake Tigers and has conducted over 20 free conditioning and skills clinics that informed citizens about living healthier and methods to combat childhood obesity. More than 300 children ages 5-18 were reached weekly, and Simons has volunteered 1,600 hours of his time for this cause.
During the event, Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim presented a City of Norfolk proclamation to RADM Tim Alexander, kicking off Fleet Week Hampton Roads. Keynote speaker, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Brian Birdwell served, shared his amazing and inspirational personal story with the crowd. He is a survivor of the of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. He received burns over 60 percent of his body and has undergone 30 operations. At the time of the Pentagon attack, Birdwell served on the Department of the Army staff as the military aide to the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Installations Management. His recount of that day and his story brought many in the ballroom to tears.
Birdwell told the crowd, “I’m not here for you to champion me, I’m here to champion you.” “There is something we share in common, those who earn the Purple Heart and those who do not. By virtue of you putting on the uniform states that whether you are asked to pull the trigger or not, you are willing to do so. It should come as no surprise that those who are willing to be in peril for their lives in the service of their nation are also those that we are championing today in being of service to their communities.”
The Chamber thanks the following sponsors: Omni Financial (Presenting); GEICO (Gold Military Program Benefactor); First Command (Speaker); Bon Secours Virginia Health System, City of Norfolk, Dale Carnegie Training/Wade Powell & Assoc., and USA Discounters (Gold); Cox Communications (Media); Norfolk Waterside Marriott (Hospitality); USAA (Silver); Bank of America and Lockheed Martin (Silver Military Program Benefactors); Regent University and Saint Leo University (Bronze Military Program Benefactors); and Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance (Special Envoy).