NORFOLK -- The Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce announced for the first time since 1955, the Samuel T. Northern Military Citizen of the Year (MCOY) competition has two winners during the award ceremony at the Waterside Marriot in Norfolk, Oct. 7.
This year's winners are Construction Mechanic 1st Class James Simons and Information Systems Technician 1st Class James Halleran.
Simons, a Journeyman Instructor Training Course Manager for the Center for Personal and Professional Development, coordinated 34 teachers from different school districts to spend their off time in tutoring more than 250 students in the local community. He also rewarded the students by organizing monthly trips to entertainment venues such as The Tides baseball games. Simons created a group called the Chesapeake Tigers, conducting more than 20 weekly physical conditioning clinics attended by more than 300 children from the ages of 5 - 18 in the local community and conducted a free basketball and cheerleading camp touching the lives of more than 350 children.
"I really was surprised," said Simons of the award. "It wouldn't be possible without the community I volunteer with and the people that are around me that help me out – my wife, my three sons and God.
Halleran, a Course Supervisor/Instructor for the Center for Information Dominance Learning Site Norfolk, spent more than 400 hours acting as Veteran Outreach Coordinator at The Mission Continues leading the development of programs and service projects that challenge Wounded and Disabled Veterans to serve their country by serving their communities. He also assisted a local non-profit Wounded Wear, which provides free clothing and clothing modifications to wounded warriors, by packing 250 kits that were delivered to wounded combat veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. and National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md.
"I was shocked because everyone in the room had contributed so much," Halleran said about receiving the award. "It was an absolute honor."
The MCOY from 2010, Chief Mass Communications Specialist Bleu Moore, was on hand and had a little advice for the winners.
"Stay Calm," said Moore. "It was one of the best experiences of my life. I am happy I had the title, but I'm happy to turn it over also."
It was not a simple task to choose who would win, it was that reason there was a split verdict.
"It's like a fantasy football league, except each and every name is attached to a blue chip player," explained J.C. Kreidel, Chair, Armed Forces Committee, Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. "By the end we were completely blown away, we didn't know what to do and we couldn't pick just one. So we didn't. We didn't pick a winner. For the first time ever we picked two. I think it says not something about the caliber of the award but of the caliber of awardees."
The award, which honors military service men and women who have greatly impacted the community through volunteer service, was created by Samuel T. Northern, a local businessman who devoted a large portion of his life to strengthening the relationship between the local community and local military. Since 1955 the award has been given annually recognize the military service member who has given the most service to the community.
"I have never experienced the kind of support for what we do and for our families throughout our country today, but in particularly what we enjoy here in Hampton Roads," said Rear Adm. Tim Alexander, Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic. "Across the board they reach out to us and understand what our challenges are and do what they can to support us. Those of us who wear the uniform should never take that for granted."
Commands around Hampton Roads fielded 21 nominees for the auspicious award with nominees' service ranging from large scale trash collection to make the community more attractive to construction for habitat for humanity to long stints of service to the local food bank and more.
Each of the 21 nominees had something that made them stand-out and be recognized by the organizations they served and the commands that they worked for and each is deserving of recognition for their volunteerism.
9/11 attack survivor Senator Brian Birdwell (Army Lt. Col. Ret.) spoke at the ceremony relating his struggle to overcome the horrific adversity of having more than 60 percent of his body consumed by burns during the Pentagon attack. He left off with some words of wisdom.
"I'm not here for you to champion me, I'm here to champion you," said Birdwell. "There is something that 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 that 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 event marked the start of Fleet Week Hampton Roads which celebrates the sea services in area and runs through Oct. 15.