AMC civilian wins patriotism award
May 24, 2012
DECATUR -- They are selfless in their service to country, united by their patriotism, and humble in their lives as humanitarians, but that doesn't mean area leaders are about to let their contributions to the community go unrecognized.
Spirit of America Festival organizers announced the winners of the festival's 2012 awards in a press conference May 16 at City Hall. Laura Ayers, an engineer for the Army Materiel Command, was named the 2012 recipient of the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award, the festival's oldest and original award. Previous distinguished winners include Johnny Cash, Jesse Owens, Paul "Bear" Bryant, the New York City Police Department and Fire Department of New York City, and Homer Hickam. Ayers is the first female to win the award in its 46-year history.
"The Spirit of America is giving of yourself, and no one person I've ever met exemplifies giving of yourself and helping others as much as her," said Dave Carney, a member of the festival committee.
Ayers arrived at the event thinking organizers would be announcing her name as the recipient of the Humanitarian Award, but instead heard her name join the ranks of other recipients considered to be "an outstanding American patriot or an outstanding group of individuals who best exemplify the true spirit of America." The Humanitarian Award was just a ploy to make sure the woman who spends 40 hours a week taking care of Soldiers, in addition to her day job at AMC, showed up.
"I'm just overwhelmed," Ayers said, moments before the announcement, unaware of the honor soon to be bestowed on her. "I'm just shocked. I really am. We do everything so quietly, and when the needs from the Soldiers and families come in, we just address the need. Sometimes you call this friend, or that friend, but we make a real point to do it quietly, with dignity, with respect. For them to have nominated me and then selected me, oh my goodness."
Ayers' many ways of reaching out to the war fighter include sending care packages to deployed Soldiers and their families, and reaching out to Soldiers in financial need, such as when a Soldier needed the money to go home to see an ill family member. She is also the co-author of the Reintegration Action Plan workbook for returning Soldiers.
Wiping tears from her eyes upon the announcement, Ayers was left nearly speechless as she approached the podium.
"I'm humbled for y'all's selection, I truly am," Ayers said.
Carney also announced the winners of the Barrett C. Shelton Sr. Freedom Award, given to an Alabamian for their outstanding service to their community and state and the CSM John and Brenda Perry Award for Support for Military Families, given to an individual or group that has significantly supported military families.
Retired Lt. Col. James Walker was named the recipient of the Barrett C. Shelton Sr. Freedom Award. Walker established the Army JROTC program at Austin High School in Decatur in 1995. The program has earned 15 consecutive Honor Unit with Distinction ratings from the Army, and 21 cadets from the program have been selected to attend one of the nation's elite military academies or Ivy League schools.
"We're in good hands," Walker said. "You may see drug dealers, rapists and murderers every night on television, but I see the true heroes every day. Every day I went into a classroom of 150 kids and I see the best that America has to offer. There is no need for you to worry about this country. It's in good hands."
The Blue Star Mothers of Morgan County received the CSM John and Brenda Perry Award for their constant support of military families. The group of 34 women who proudly call themselves mothers, stepmothers or grandmothers of a servicemember not only serve as a support to each other as Blue Star mothers, but also reach out on a regular basis to the war fighter, sending care packages to troops deployed all over the world. In addition to their care package ministry, the group participates in military ceremonies, marches in local parades and holds fund-raisers throughout the year to ensure their children's sacrifice and service is not forgotten.
"We're in awe that you're recognizing us for something that we take great pride in doing," said Terasa Driggers, financial secretary of the group. "It is our great honor to continue to send packages to the men and women in our military and to be a support for the families here at home struggling with the separation of their loved ones."
The Spirit of America Festival is July 3-4 at Point Mallard Park in Decatur. The festival will include the Awards Ceremony and Miss Point Mallard Pageant, which will come together in the spirit of a USO show, as well as a fireworks show and more.
"The United States of America is the land of diverse traditions, stories, hopes and beliefs, and despite our differences we share a common bond as citizens of this proud nation, knowing that we are at our best when we work together as one," Melinda Dunn, president of the festival, said. "The 2012 Spirit of America theme is 'America: We Are One,' and it celebrates the unlimited possibilities of what can be accomplished when we work together to build a brighter future for this land."