The Atlanta Metropolitan Council of the Navy League of the United States held it’s 23rd Annual Youth Awards Banquet May 12. It is the biggest council event of the year and is the culmination of a year of hard work, learning, competition, community service and fun for over 3,500 cadets, almost 100 Naval Science instructors, and numerous family and friends. The Atlanta Council supports 45 high schools with Navy and Marine Corps Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) units and eight Naval Sea Cadet Corps (NSCC) units, all of which were eligible for the awards.
The winners of the JROTC Outstanding Cadet of the Year (COY) award were: Outstanding COY to c/LCOL Bryan Garcia of North Forsyth High School MCJROTC, two Runners-up were c/LT Jordan Rogers of Allatoona High School NJROTC and c/LCDR Gabriel Dickerson of Chapel Hill High School NJROTC, and Honorable Mention to c/LCDR Abigail Martinez of Eagle’s Landing High School NJROTC. Each of the winners received a monetary gift as part of the award. These awards were presented by South Atlantic Region President and Atlanta council member Jeff Alexander.
The winners of the NSCC Outstanding William T. Schwendler Award for Excellence were: Outstanding COY to c/CPO Gabriel Liranzo of the Pathfinder Excursion Squadron, Runner-up to c/CPO Andrew Purcell of the 233rd Seabee Battalion, and Honorable Mention to c/PO2 Florence Gaillard of the Delta Force Division. Each of the winners received a monetary gift as part of the award. These awards were presented by William T. Schwendler, Jr.
In addition to these individual awards, the Jason E. Lawson Trophy for Outstanding NSCC Unit went to the Warrior Division led by LT William Golden, Commanding Officer, NSCC and attended by c/PO1 Jon Davis and SR Zion Hilton. This award is named for Navy Aviation Warfare Systems Operator 2nd Class Lawson who was killed when the SH-60B helicopter he was flying in crashed off the coast of Greece March 12, 2002. He previously was a member of the NARS B-1 Squadron. This award was presented by LCDR Eric Farland, NSCC Regional Director.
Two new events were added to the program this year, according to Diane Ritter, Vice President Public Affairs.
The Navy League’s Theodore Roosevelt Medal and Ribbon was awarded to each of the Outstanding Unit’s Sea Cadets at the annual Youth Awards Banquet instead of at their own unit event. This was done to give more recognition of their many accomplishments. Receiving this award were: c/PO2 Florence Gaillard, Delta Force Division, c/PO2 Michael Velazquez, 1124th Construction Battalion, Cadet PO3 Kayla Belisle, Ironclad Division, Cadet PO3 Jacob James, NARS B-1 Squadron, Cadet CPO Gabriel Liranzo, Pathfinder Excursion Squadron, Cadet CPO Andrew Purcell, 233rd Seabee Battalion, Cadet PO3 Hunter Daniels, 2745th Seabee Battalion, and League Cadet PO3 William Thrift, Training Ship David A Enright. This award was presented by CAPT Harley Jones, U.S. Navy Reserves (Ret).
Council member Don Giles, Vice President Legislative Affairs, shared with the audience how proud the council was in joining the more than 9,700 local, state and federal organizations that have come alongside the Department of Defense as Commemorative Partners with the Vietnam War Commemoration. Giles said “We are committed to assisting the nation in thanking and honoring our 7.2 million living Vietnam veterans and the families of the 9 million who served.” This year the council invited Youth Award Banquet attendees who served in the Vietnam War to step forward and be recognized for their service and sacrifice and receive a Vietnam War Commemoration pin. The audience personally “welcomed home” these valiant veterans with a standing ovation. Receiving pins were: Senior Chief Petty Officer Brian Fleming, USN (Ret), CAPT Joe Wilkinson, USNR (Ret), CDR Steve Frederick, USN (Ret), CAPT Harley Jones, USNR (Ret), Aviation Machinist Mate First Class Ray Torres, USN NAC/AW (Ret), LCDR James Hunter, USNR (Ret), Grandfather of a Cadet, CAPT H. Robert Wise, Jr, USNR (Ret), LT Richard Evelyn, USNR (Ret), Aviation Electricians Mate 2nd Class Dale Mastley, USN (Ret), and CAPT Donald Giles USN (Ret). The commemoration pins were presented by Jeff Alexander.
This year’s keynote Speaker was Representative Joe Wilkinson (Georgia House District 52). He retired after a career as an executive at The Coca-Cola Company, and also retired as a Captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He worked in the White House Press Office under Presidents Ford and Reagan, and he is a Desert Storm veteran. Representative Wilkinson has visited more than 40 countries and has been a guest lecturer on international affairs to college and high school students for the past 25 years.
In his speech, Representative Wilkinson shared a few stories from his time in the Navy Reserves. He emphasized a few things they should remember. He asked that they go home and read about and learn about Congressman Carl Vinson, a son of Georgia, who had an “amazing life of dedication to this country.” Observing the audience, he said he was so proud and so impressed with the cadets’ uniforms and appearance. He encouraged them to always be the sharpest and good looking person in their unit. He stressed that all the cadets should work with their parents and physician to develop a lifetime plan for physical fitness. Work hard to set the best standard. He also told the cadets to “never, ever forget these dedicated people who have been your JROTC or Sea Cadet officers and instructors. You owe them and your parents so much and the best way to repay them is to go on into great careers.” In closing, Representative Wilkinson thanked the audience for allowing him to be a part of this very special night. “I congratulate you on your achievements, but it’s only the beginning. You are going to be writing successful and exciting chapters in your lives. I bid you fair winds and calm seas.”
LCDR Dennis Wonders, Sprayberry High School Senior Navy Science Instructor, presented an emotional reflection on the life of a prior NJROTC cadet. On July 16, 2015 a terrorist attack took place at the Navy Operational Support Center in Chattanooga, TN. The aftermath left four Marines and one Navy man killed. One of those Marines was Lance Corporal Squire “Skip” Wells.
Before he was a Marine, Skip was a long time member of the Sprayberry High School Band and enrolled in the NJROTC unit his senior year, 2011-2012. Wonders wanted to say a few words about what kind of person he was - just to remember him. “Our unit started in 2009 and by 2010 Skip started hanging around, checking us out. He liked what he saw especially the camaraderie and how tight everyone was. So, his senior year he decided to join the program. Let me tell you, when he came aboard, he really came alive, inspiring the cadets around him. He helped our unit become the best athletic unit in all of Area 12. So, it was no surprise afterward when he told me he was going to enlist in the Marine Corps.
LCDR Wonders added that over the past year the unit felt that Skip was always with them. It motivated the cadets as well as the instructors to work harder than ever, which resulted in their making it to the Navy National Championship and earning their first Navy Distinguished Unit award.
The evening’s Master of Ceremonies was Mr. Dale Mastley, VP of Youth Programs, the Parade of Colors was provided by Kennesaw Mountain High School NJROTC unit, the Pledge of Allegiance was lead by LT William Golden and the Invocation and Benediction were provided by CAPT Wayne Radloff, U.S. Navy (Ret).
Go to ATLnavyleague.org/Gallery to see pictures taken throughout the event.