The Spirit of Service Award, now in its 13th year, is given to outstanding military professionals in each of the five service branches who are actively committed to volunteer community service during their off-duty hours.
Each service member is selected by his or her command office.
NOTE: Information below in italics was taken from literature from the American Legion. All other information was gleaned from my own interviews with the award recipients.
It was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to meet and interview each of these great Americans. Each of them was equally engaging, easily approachable and excited to be able to talk about the various charities and organizations with which they volunteer. This "assignment" was definitely one of the highlights of my time at the American Legion convention.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Tyler J. Arrowood is active both at his installation at Kings Bay, GA, and in the surrounding community. He has been a vital part of the Kings Bay Drug Education for Youth program and camp since its inception, helping elementary school children get active and live responsibly; and was selected to be the director of this year's camp. Arrowood also assists an area high school's NJROTC unit and participates in parades and military ceremonies.
Petty Officer Arrowood told me that Drug Education for Youth program is a worldwide program for military children. He has been involved in the program since it's inaugural year at his installation. One day he was walking into the Base Exchange and saw people recruiting children for the program. He stopped to inquire about the program and offered to be a volunteer. Since then Petty Officer Arrowood has been an assistant camp director as well as camp director for the program.
The Drug Education for Youth program is a one year commitment by each of the youth who join. One of the many positive features of the program is that if a youth joins at one Navy or Marine installation and their parent(s) is assigned to a new duty station, the youth is transferred into the program at the new duty station.
Each of the youth attends a one week camp in the summer. Each month for the remainder of the twelve months until the next camp the youth attends a workshop one Saturday of each month.
Petty Officer Arrowood is also actively involved with the Sea Cadet program.
Coast Guard Petty Officer Tyler J. Arrowood in Sunday's Parade
American Legion National Commander Wong, Coast Guard Petty Officer Arrowood, LG John F Kelly and J R Martinez
Navy Petty Officer Alving G. Balthazar was described as "very seldom asked to volunteer since his is usually the command lead or co-lead for each and every volunteer project" around his posting at Pearl Harbor, HI. he serves as base coordinator with the Ronald McDonald House; is active with the local Kahiki Elementary School, coordinating its back-to-school drive and honoring students of the month; and has spoken at Black History Month and Juneteenth events.
Petty Officer Balthazar is the President of the Junior Enlisted Association for the U S Pacific Fleet Command in Hawaii. The association is comprised of E-5 and below and currently has approximately 200 Sailor and Marine members. One of the many projects the association organizes is an annual drive to raise back to school items for the Kahiki Elementary School. The Junior Enlisted Association matches any funds or items raised for the children of this school each year.
Petty Officer Balthazar also donates his time once a month at the Ronald McDonald House. He is the base coordinator for this project. He told me he (and others who join him for this project) may do anything from cleaning bathrooms to painting to landscaping - whatever needs to be done they do.
In addition to his participation in Black History Month and Juneteenth events, Petty Officer Balthazar has become involved in multi cultural events. I asked Petty Officer Balthazar if there was any one thing he would like for me to share with you all. He asked me to share the following quote.
"One small act of random kindness can lead to a more loving world where selflessness will run in abundance." Petty Officer Balthazar
Navy Petty Officer Balthazar in Sunday's parade
American Legion National Commander Wong, Navy Petty Officer Balthzar, LG John F Kelly and J R Martinez
Army Sgt. Joshua J. Boudreaux committed many hours from 2010 - 2012 in the Aberdeen Proving Ground (MD) League of Dreams program for special-needs children, coaching a baseball team. He is active in Habitat for Humanity, repairing older homes as well as building new ones. Boudreaux also spends a significant amount of time supporting special military and civilian events from Special Olympics to a Morale, Welfare, Recreation chess tournament; and has served on several honor guard missions.
Even before his military career SGT Boudreaux was making a difference in his community. He has a cousin who is a few months younger than he is who has been wheelchair bound most of his life. SGT Boudreaux grew up aware that those with disabilities can, often, do anything those without disabilities can do; they just may need a little extra encouragement or assistance. SGT Boudreaux was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age. With the help and encouragement of others he has overcome the obstacles of dyslexia. SGT Boudreaux started volunteering at his church long before he decided to join the Army. As a senior in high school he volunteered to teach children how to play chess.
Since joining the Army he became actively involved with volunteer work. He joined B O S S and, eventually, became the Secretary for his chapter. From their website, "The BOSS committee may elect to participate in community programs or projects that make a difference in the lives of others, in the community, and ultimately, in themselves."
SGT Boudreaux is also very active in both The League of Dreams and Habitat for Humanity. When I asked why he was involved in Habitat for Humanity he replied, "because I love to build things and it interested me."
Army SGT Boudreaux in Sunday's parade
American Legion National Commander Wong, Army SGT Boudreaux, LG John F Kelly and J R Martinez
Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris T Pearson has donated 1,500 hours in the last year at and around Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington. Many of his activities center on children - he has served as head coach of the Pop Warner football team and as a TAPS Good Grief Camp counselor, working with the children of deceased service members. Pearson has also devoted a significant amount of time to cleaning and restoring areas war memorials including those for Vietnam, Korea and World War II.
Staff Sgt Pearson became actively involved in volunteer work at his first duty station, Tinker Air Force Base. He and several of his buddies worked together to build a playground at a local elementary school. After working on that project there was no stopping Staff Sgt Pearson.
When he was assigned to his current duty station in the Washington, DC area he learned that our nation's national monuments and war memorials are often in need of cleaning. I was personally shocked to learn that the National Park Service doesn't do this. Volunteers do this. Staff Sgt Pearson and his fellow Airmen volunteer on a regular basis to clean the monuments and memorials. They most often accomplish their work by pressure washing the monuments and memorials but their work may require any manner of tasks.
Staff Sgt Pearson is also actively involved in coaching Pop Warner football. He coaches ages six through eight.
He has participated in the Wreaths Across America by helping to lay the wreaths and assisting in removing them. Staff Sgt Pearson and a fellow Airman, Staff Sgt Chaquila Brown, are in the process of starting a new project at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling to collect toys and stuffed animals for children's hospitals.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Pearson in Sunday's parade
American Legion National Commander Wong, Air Force Staff Sgt. Pearson, LG John F Kelly and J R Martinez
Sgt. Vallejomunoz's mother moved to the United States from Ecuador in 1999. She chose to make this move in hopes that her children would be able to follow her for better educational opportunities. In 2002, Sgt. Vallejomunoz started classes at Crystal Lake, Illinois High School. After graduation he chose to join the Marine Corps.
Sgt. Vallejomunoz has been active in volunteer work most all of his life. He told me that he doesn't really think what he is doing is "volunteer work" - that it is just being kind to others. Sgt. Vallejomunoz says that an act of kindness such as simply helping someone across a street can mean more to the person you helped than you might think. As a young lad Sgt. Vallejomunoz observed his mother assisting in a local orphanage. He, too, began spending time at the orphanage to help out.
It was a natural progression for Sgt. Vallejomunoz to begin volunteering at a local orphanage on Okinawa when he was assigned there. He spends his time playing games of all sorts with this children but tries to focus more on games that will encourage and assist in their development. I asked him for an example and he said any type of game that might involve math is one he often engages them in. Sgt. Vallejomunoz has been successful in getting other members of his unit to join him at the orphanage.
Sgt. Vallejomunoz also participates each week as a guest on a radio show. The premise of the show is to encourage interaction between the Hispanic and Japanese communities on Okinawa.
Sgt. Vallejomunoz wanted me to be sure to share with all of you that we all have the capabilities to do great things for others.
Marine Corps Sgt. Vallejomunoz in Sunday's parade
American Legion National Commander Wong, Marine Corps Sgt. Vallejomunoz, LG John F Kelly and J R Martinez