The Spirit of Service Award winners at the American Legion National Convention in Milwaukee, Wis., Aug. 30, 2010. From left to right: Army Sgt. Chelsey D. Billing, National Commander Clarence Hill, Navy Petty Officer Lothridge, Marine Sgt. Avery Washington II, Coast Guard Petty Officer David L. Downham, Air Force Staff Sgt. Edward L. Perez, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and actor-comedian Ben Stein. Photo by Tom Strattman

Armed forces honored for volunteerism

The American Legion presented the Spirit of Service award to the following recipients for their volunteer service in their local communities: U.S. Army Sergeant Chelsey D. Billing, Fort Belvoir, Va.; U.S. Navy Petty Officer Third Class Thomas M. Lothridge, USS Maryland (SSBN 738), Kings Bay, Ga.; U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Avery Washington II, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C.; U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Edward L. Perez, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.; and U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class David L. Downham, Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, N.J. The presentations were made during the Legion's 92nd National Convention in Milwaukee.

National Commander Clarence E. Hill and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates presented the five recipients with the 11th annual award, which includes a one-year membership in The American Legion.

"As an organization of wartime veterans we understand and embrace the concept of service to community, state and nation," Hill said. "These outstanding military members represent the true spirit of service - a steadfast commitment to serve their country and their fellow Americans."

To receive this recognition, an individual must be an outstanding military professional and be actively involved in volunteer projects in the community during off-duty hours.

"We know about service to others," Hill said. "We also know that those in uniform today from all branches of military service - active duty, reserves and National Guard members - often go out of their way to make a difference in the lives of so many others in the communities in which they live. Today, The American Legion honors these outstanding Americans who reflect the great spirit of service to others that the founders of our organization considered essential."

Hill said that the military men and women being honored fulfill the requirements and are representative of thousands of their peers who make up the finest fighting force in the world.

"Each of them has demonstrated a strong commitment to serving others, a spirit of service that deserves the highest recognition The American Legion can provide."

Each of the members was selected according to their individual services. And during their time in Milwaukee for the National Convention, the recipients participated in the ceremonial opening of the convention hosted by actor-comedian Ben Stein and were featured in The American Legion convention parade as the newest members of The American Legion.