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Honoring those who protect nation, serve community

Thu., April 19, 2012

The Spokane community Wednesday recognized two soldiers and two airmen as Armed Forces Persons of the Year for service to their country and their community.

The awards were announced at the 56th Annual Let Freedom Ring Luncheon, held by Greater Spokane Incorporated.

“It’s all about the people who are protecting and serving this nation and the professionalism they exhibit,” Rich Hadley, president and CEO of Greater Spokane Incorporated, said about the luncheon.

A committee selected one area winner from each of the following categories: Junior National Guard, Senior National Guard, Junior Active Duty and a Senior Active Duty. Nominees were chosen, in part, based on their responsibilities and accomplishments, leadership qualities, education and training, decorations, awards and honors, and community involvement.

Sgt. Andrew Patrick, of the Washington Army National Guard’s 341st Military Intelligence Battalion, won the Junior National Guard category.

Patrick is a counterintelligence team leader and a civil operations sergeant with the guard’s counterdrug task force and has extensive military training in counterintelligence, substance abuse and violence prevention, and law enforcement.

“Whether in an Air Force or Army National Guard uniform, he epitomizes the ‘citizen soldier’,” said Sandy Kates, chair of the Armed Forces Person of the Year Committee, who announced the winners.

He works with a number of community organizations, including Educational Service District 101, the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council, 4-H and Operation Military Kids, where he has presented substance abuse prevention programs to more than 1,500 children.

Staff Sgt. Trevor Gaia, of the Washington Army National Guard’s 161st Infantry Battalion, won the Senior National Guard category.

Gaia is a tank commander and combat veteran in his role as a soldier, and an advocate for the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program as a civilian. He was specifically chosen to teach counterinsurgency operations to Royal Thai Marine Corps personnel.

“A conversation with Sgt. Gaia soon shows his remarkable sense of humor, a factor that is naturally displayed and that surely fosters good camaraderie in all that he does,” said Kates. “Sgt. Gaia is a great example of a dedicated person who after two deployments continues to give his all to his companions and certainly to his country.”

Gaia is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in public safety and emergency management and is active in the Spokane Veterans Task Force.

Senior Airman Ariella Lewis, a bioenvironmental engineering apprentice at the U.S. Air Force’s 92nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron, won the Junior Active Duty category.

She has associate degrees in accounting and bioenvironmental engineering technology, a bachelor’s in international business and is pursuing a master’s in business administration.

“She is described as a perfectionist, constant role model, and has become the epitome of the Air Force’s wingman culture,” Kates said.

Senior Master Sgt. Dawn Altmaier, 1st sergeant with the U.S. Air Force’s 92nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, won the senior Active Duty category.

A highly-decorated veteran, Altmaier was a distinguished graduate of both the noncommissioned officer and senior noncommissioned officer academies. She volunteers in her off-duty time with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, her church, Girl Scouts of the United States of America, Bloomsday and Susan G. Komen for the Cure. She has a bachelor’s degree and three associate degrees and was the fifth member of the Air Force to receive the Outstanding Volunteer Service Award.

“She epitomizes the Air Force core values and is known for having a smile and sharing it freely,” Kates said. “Senior Master Sgt. Altmaier believes in leading from the front and never asks others to do what she isn’t willing to do herself.”

The keynote speakers were Ezra Eckhardt, a West Point graduate and president and COO of Sterling Bank, and Lt. Col. Dale Storr, an A-10 Thunderbolt pilot who was shot down over Kuwait in 1991 and was a prisoner of war in Baghdad for 33 days.

A number of community leaders attended the luncheon. Mayor David Condon issued a proclamation declaring the month of April as Let Freedom Ring Month.

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