On Tuesday, Medal of Honor recipient Sgt. Kyle White joined American Legion National Commander Dan Dellinger in awarding the organization's Spirit of Service Award to representatives from the five armed services during the Legion's 96th National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
The Legion gives the Spirit of Service Awards annually to servicemembers in recognition of their exemplary efforts in volunteering in their local communities.
“No one understands service in the same way that both active-duty, reserve and veterans understand it,” White said. “Those of us who have worn the uniform of our country know that our service does not end when the uniform comes off.”
This year’s recipients:
Army Spec. Cassandra Rousayne. Rousayne spends time delivering baked goods to local police, fire and emergency personnel who work during the holidays. She also participates in the Army Service Blood program providing blood products for soldiers, veterans and their family members. She’s currently assigned to the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense.
Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Porfirio Pimentel. Originally from Veracruz, Mexico, Pimentel joined the U.S. Navy in May 2003. During his tour in Gulfport, Miss., he spent many off-duty hours volunteering to help clear roads and build temporary housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina. He also volunteered his time coaching children of the Keflavik Youth Athletic Association Soccer League.
Cpl. Ricardo Gonzalez, Marine Corps. Gonzalez is a Marine honored for his selfless community service while assigned to Headquarters Company, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, Camp Schwab, Okinawa. During his tour in Okinawa he volunteered hundreds of hours to various organizations on and off base, including the USO, Henoko Orphanage and the Kadena Special Olympics. He is cited as a leader and mentor in and out of uniform.
Op. Spec. 3rd Class Kristina Manson, U.S. Coast Guard Communication Station Kodiak, Alaska. Manson volunteers much of her off-duty time as a mentor for female high school students. She also organized, nontraditional career field trips for female high school students, and spearheaded the creation of an adult mentorship program for troubled middle school children living in the Kodiak community.
Staff Sgt. Jessica Day, Air Force. Day has distinguished herself while serving as an Air Traffic Control Watch Supervisor at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, home of the 366th Operations Support Squadron. Her volunteerism encompasses support for her fellow Airmen, local veterans and veterans organizations, as well as Habitat for Humanity, The Humane Society, and church food pantry programs. She’s a fundraiser, a mentor and a leader in her community.
White, who earned the Medal of Honor for his life-saving heroics in the Battle of Aranas in 2007, talked about his own service in remarks made after the awards presentation.
“My service takes the form of addressing bodies like yours about post-traumatic stress” he said. “Servicemembers and veterans need to realize that they went to war and they made it back, but they might have some scars remaining. They need to reach out to their chain of command or mental health professionals to get the treatment they need.”
White said his service is dedicated to honor those who fell while serving beside him.
“I will forever be a voice for them," he said. "I will tell their stories and preserve their memories. Although they are gone, they will not be forgotten. Their sacrifice and the sacrifices of so many others is what motivates me to wake up each and every day and be the best that I can be.
"Anything I do in my life is done to make them proud. Getting troops to come forward and tell people they’re suffering is perhaps the biggest challenge to tackling the mental health issues that many combat veterans face.”