Chamber honors EC's 'citizen soldiers'
By Jon Hawley
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Elizabeth City officials celebrated “citizen soldiers” on Wednesday, hailing U.S. Coast Guard members for exceptional service, whether it be in the seas or skies or through volunteer work right at home.
“These active-duty service members are true citizen soldiers,” said event keynote speaker Lt. Col. Don Mercer during the annual Military Awards Luncheon at the Chief Petty Officers Association building on Cardwell Street in Elizabeth City. The Elizabeth City Area Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee hosts the event, which honors the military and organizations that support it.
Underscoring that he also knows about community service, Mercer noted he served 34 years in the Alaska National Guard before retiring back home in Elizabeth City. He praised the Coasties in attendance at Wednesday’s event for supporting the Salvation Army, Food Bank of the Albemarle, Habitat for Humanity and other nonprofit groups.
“These active-duty service members are true citizen soldiers,” Mercer said. “They served as mentors, role models, coaches, neighbors, church members. … They lead by example for students and residents, showing Coasties are involved in the community.”
Base Elizabeth City Cmdr. Randy Meador introduced the award winners and highlighted their accomplishments. The Enlisted Person of the Year from each local Coast Guard command include:
* Andrew Paiyarat: Paiyarat is a health services technician second class at Base Elizabeth City. According to the Coast Guard, Paiyarat has “demonstrated exceptional professional knowledge and outstanding technical competence,” evidenced in part through work on a new medical radiology contract that will save the Coast Guard “countless hours and taxpayer money.”
* Salvatore Leone: Leone is an avionics technician first class at the Aviation Logistics Center. Meador credited Leone with identifying and fixing more than 100 “abnormal discrepancies” for aircraft and providing many hours of flight instruction. He's also a member of the Coast Guard's morale committee, and served as a leader in the Cub Scouts.
* Zachary Atchison: Atchison is an avionics electrical technician first class at the Aviation Technical Training Center. According to the Coast Guard, he counsels students and staff through crises and provided “train the trainer” sessions for all Coast Guard air stations to ensure aircraft are maintained safely. He's also organized athletic events for the base, volunteered to coach soccer, and worked with law enforcement to speak to youth about drug abuse.
* Brandon Turner: Turner is an aviation maintenance technician second class at Air Station Elizabeth City. Involved in flight exams and flight standards for the C130J, Turner improved processes to get more training for air crews, “significantly increasing the amount of instruction per flight hour,” according to the Coast Guard. He also volunteers a lot, including for a non-profit coffee shop and to feed needy families.
* Zoltan Peter: Peter is an avionics technician second class for the Asset Project Office overseeing the Coast Guard's HC-27J aircraft. He worked through numerous challenges in restoring the 13 inactive aircraft for Coast Guard use, often working in extreme heat in Tucson, Ariz., the Coast Guard said. Notably, Peter was on deployment, so his wife, Cara, accepted the award on his behalf.
* Jeffree Craigwell: Craigwell is a yeoman first class at the National Strike Force Coordination Center. Craigwell helped respond to last summer's major hurricanes, coordinating response teams and auditing over 400 sets of travel orders, according to the Coast Guard. That audit discovered errors that led to reassigning more than $200,000 associated with a response team to Puerto Rico.
* Aaron Reese: Reese is a boatswain third class with Coast Guard Station Elizabeth City. According to the Coast Guard, he responded to a sinking sailboat in November, and “his skilled boat driving and quick actions” saved everyone on the boat. He also shows superior work ethic, and Meador noted he would be promoted to boatswain mate second class this year.
The luncheon also recognized two other organizations. Military Affairs Committee Chairman Marcus Cutrell recognized the Quality Inn as the Military Supporting Organization of the Year, detailing it accommodated Coast Guard evacuees during last year's hurricanes. It also allowed use of its banquet room for the Coast Guard to plan evacuee assistance.
Cutrell also recognized the honor guard of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6060 as Community Members of the Year. He said honor guard members donate their time to ensure proper military honors at various ceremonies — particularly funerals for veterans. They've performed at services in Virginia and as far south as Wilson, and sometimes performing three services a day, he said.
Chamber President Holly Staples thanked the luncheon's sponsors, Sawyer's House of Furniture and Twiford Funeral Homes.