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GIVING BACK: Meet our 2022 Michigan Military & Veterans Gala Award Winners
November 04, 2022
You don’t have to be a veteran to be passionate about supporting veteran families, as many of our 2022 award winners so aptly prove.
Six of the eleven winners of our 2022 Michigan Military & Veterans Gala Awards did not serve in the military but go above and beyond to serve Michigan veterans.
Here’s more on each of the winners:
2022 VETERAN OF THE YEAR
Residence: Holland, Michigan
Military service: Marine veteran (2012-2018)
Employment: Student. Currently serving as president of “Laker Vets,” the Student Veterans of America Chapter at Grand Valley State University, and completing a bachelor’s degree in communications in spring 2023.
Thoughts on serving: “Serving in the Armed Forces meant being a part of something far more significant than myself, serving a purpose, being an asset to my community and giving back, in gratitude for the freedom I have the privilege of enjoying. I also wanted to honor those who served before me and fought for that freedom.”
Hobbies: Backpacking, traveling, film photography, writing and performing music, reading.
Thoughts on this award: “To have the support of those who have gathered around our mission and this cause is an incredible blessing. I’m immensely grateful and look forward to continuing to advocate for our veteran brothers and sisters."
VA EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR
Military service: N/A
Employment: Community Engagement & Partnership Coordinator at the Ann Arbor VA Healthcare System.
Thoughts on serving: “I did not serve in the Armed Forces but being able to serve those who served is a tremendous honor. I appreciate the freedom and safety that the U.S. military provides for its citizens, and I hope to continue to serve our military community by bringing awareness to their important jobs and sacrifices. I also will continue to work to improve access to services and community opportunities to service members, veterans and their families.”
Family: Husband Philip Harris and daughters Jayla and Adrianna Harris.
Hobbies: Writing murder mystery party kits, painting, reading, jogging.
Thoughts on this award: “I am honored to have been selected for this award, especially since I know about the incredible work that is being completed by my peers. I am grateful to the stakeholders that I have had the opportunity to collaborate with this past year. In my 7-year career at Ann Arbor VA, I have learned so much from the veterans that I served, and in the past year, I have learned even more about the strengths, resiliency, needs and opportunities that exist within our communities and health care systems. I am grateful for this role, in which I have had the pleasure of working to implement initiatives to end suicide in the military community. I look forward to continuing this important work in the coming years. Thank you to those who reviewed the applications for this award, to the Hillsdale and Jackson County Coalition Members who have helped me implement this work, and to Ann Arbor VA for allowing me to work in this important role.”
MVAA AND TRUST FUND EXCEPTIONAL SERVICE AWARD
Military service: N/A
Employment: Veteran Resources Assistant, County Veteran Services
Family: Husband is disabled Army combat veteran; daughters Cyian and Danika and son Logan; granddaughter Ayiona.
Hobbies: Gardening, working out, kayaking, boating
Thoughts on this award: “What an overwhelming honor to realize that my job has allowed me the privilege of assisting men and women who have served our country. it feels amazing to be the one to facilitate helping families with the resources otherwise unknown to them. Putting financial assistance into the hands of veterans is priceless. Thank you to my husband Daniel for the recommendation for this job and Michael Baauw for encouraging me to take my job in assistance to the next level. Our Muskegon County team is an amazing group of caring individuals.”
Veteran Friendly Volunteer of the Year
Peter Ruppert and John Irwin (nominated jointly)
Residence: Grand Rapids (both men)
Military service: Neither served
Employment: Peter, Fusion Education Group; John, retired regional bank president
Family: Peter: wife Jessica and children Jack, Pierce, Grace and Ben; John: wife Martha (married 33 years); two grown daughters; three grandchildren.
Hobbies: Peter, golf, exercise, history, spending quality time with family; John, competitive age group triathlete and avid pianist.
Thoughts on this award:
Peter: “I’m extremely honored to be chosen to receive this award along with John Irwin. Our Armed Forces Thanksgiving event started with an idea and has turned into a powerful event each May. We’re thrilled to be able to honor our military members for their service, to expose and educate numerous high school students about the sacrifices our military members make/made, and to raise money for veterans’ support throughout West Michigan. As the son of a Marine who always credited the military for his success in life, I’m proud that in some small way we have been able to give back to all those who have given so much. I’m very excited but feel this is also an award deserving of our entire Armed Forces Thanksgiving Board. So, I will be sure to pass this along to them.”
John: “It is an honor for Pete and I to be recognized. I have had the privilege of being involved with many events and causes over my career. None have meant more to me than Armed Forces Thanksgiving. We have been able to educate high schoolers about the military, say thank you to veterans and raise money to assist veterans. All three are things we should be doing with more vigor.”
VETERAN SERVICE PROVIDER OF THE YEAR
Military service: N/A
Employment: Alger County Veteran Service Officer
Family: Mom of two college-age boys who live in Alabama; newlywed to husband Todd
Hobbies: Hiking, camping, snowshoe and anything else outdoors. “I love winter!”
Thoughts on receiving award: “Extremely humbled to be nominated by Alger County Veterans. As an ex-military spouse of a retired soldier, I’ve seen firsthand the sacrifice and toll of military service. My greatest joy as a county Veteran Service Officer has been assisting veterans and family members obtain benefits. I’ve seen lives changed, hope restored and sometimes even wrongs righted. I’m not bashful in saying I have the best job helping veterans and chewing the fat with them daily! It is truly a great honor to be considered for Veteran Service Provider of the Year.”
DMVA EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR
Military service: N/A
Employment: Administrative Assistant at Camp Grayling Joint Maneuver Training Center
Family: Father served in the Air Force for 10 years and the Michigan Air National Guard for 10 years. Husband Jim (married 24 years); sons Jacob and Nicholas; and granddaughter Cadence.
Hobbies: Trail riding in our Jeep, photography, spending time with my family and friends, and volunteering.
Thoughts on receiving award: “I am overwhelmed with gratitude to have been selected to receive the DMVA Employee of the Year Award. I am honored to receive this prestigious award at the Michigan Military & Veterans Gala. It means so much to me that the work I am passionate about also resonates with others. This accomplishment is not something that I did alone, and there are many others who I am sure are just as deserving of this award. I would like to thank all of my co-workers and leadership; I truly appreciate your continuous guidance and encouragement. I am grateful to work with you every day and be a part of such an amazing team! I would also like to thank my family, especially my husband, for their support of my career that has taken me on many new adventures. Additionally, I want to thank Col. Brian Burrell and Col. Scott Meyers for being so inspirational. I appreciate your guidance, your motivation and your spot-on advice. I am lucky to have you both in my corner! Last, but not least, thank you to DMVA for offering recognition to employees like me. I hope this recognition of my work can serve as inspiration to others in this organization and lead them to believe and act upon the notion that if my work can make a difference, so can theirs. I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes, by Albert Einstein: ‘Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.’”
COMMUNITY OUTREACH AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT (CORE) AWARD:
Military service: Retired Senior Chief Petty Officer, U.S. Navy
Employment: MVAA Veterans Engagement Officer
Family: Wife Melissa (married 27 years); sons Garrett (19) and William (16)
Hobbies: Snowmobiling, remote control airplanes, cornhole
Thoughts on receiving award: "I’m very honored and humbled to represent the MVAA CORE team employees and volunteers in receiving the Community Outreach and Regional Engagement (CORE) Award. The CORE Team is made up of so many thoughtful and caring individuals who are making a difference in the lives of veterans and families every day. I’m especially thankful to MVAA, in their “thinking-outside-the-box” approach in implementing the CORE program, which is a model for other states to emulate. Our veterans and families in Michigan deserve the very best. Together we are all making a positive difference as we continue to connect them to the benefits and resources they have earned. Thank you again for the opportunity to represent this great team!”
NAACP ROY WILKINS RENOWN SERVICE AWARD
Residence: Kalamazoo and Lansing
Military service: Chief Warrant Officer 3, Michigan Army National Guard
Thoughts on serving: “Fulfilling an American dream of duty, honor and service to my country while making my ancestors proud and being an example to my sons and daughters.
Family: Husband: David Taylor; Children: Combined we have three sons (one on active duty at Fort Lewis), two daughters and six grandchildren.
Hobbies: Visiting with grandchildren and creating experiences with family. Also enjoy making, crafting and designing items with my Cricut machine.
Thoughts on receiving award: “I’m so honored and humbled to receive this award as my part is a very small part of the work that’s being done in this world and the work that has yet to be done."
Michigan Air National Guard Recruiter of the Year
Jenna L. Gleason
Military service: Staff Sergeant, 127th Force Support Squadron, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, Michigan Air National Guard
Thoughts on serving: “It gives me a deep sense of pride to be able to serve alongside my family and friends, a privilege that is not afforded to everyone.”
Family: One of six children and fourth to serve in the Air Force, following in father’s footsteps who served 29 years.
Hobbies: Going to the gym and spending time outdoors on my 20 acres. Spending time with family and my two yellow Labradors.
Thoughts on receiving award: “To receive this award in my ‘Rookie Year’ is both an honor and a privilege. I am thankful for all of the support and mentorship I have received so far in my military career to make this achievement possible.”
MICHIGAN ARMY NATIONAL GUARD RECRUITER OF THE YEAR
Military service: Staff Sergeant; recruiter at Howell Armory for the Bravo Company “Banshees” of the Recruiting and Retention Battalion.
Thoughts on serving: “Service to my country is very important to me and has now become a family tradition.”
Family: One daughter and one son, Spec. Travis Brunger, who has followed in my footsteps and is an infantryman in B Company, 125 Infantry Regiment.
Hobbies: Owns and operates a mini animal farm.
Thoughts on receiving award: “With hard work you can achieve your goals regardless of how lofty they are.”