GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - Parents, spouses, children, neighbors, business owners, teachers, etc., may all play a significant role in supporting our Soldiers.

It's a role top military officials, as well as those serving in combat, appreciate.

It's a role Lynn Heirakuji, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Manpower and Reserve Affairs (Personnel Oversight) paid tribute to March 12 in Grafenwoehr.

Heirakuji spoke to Soldiers and spouses of the 2d Stryker Cavalry Regiment before presenting Freedom Team Salute awards.

The Freedom Team Salute program is a way for Soldiers to show appreciation for the support they receive while in combat.

The Freedom Team Salute program shows appreciation with a personal certificate and letter from the Secretary of the Army and the Army Chief of Staff, a lapel pin and a decal - or bumper sticker for parents.

In this way the program honors individuals while building stronger ties to the community and support for the Army Family, according to Rich Breen, retired Army Colonel and the outreach leader for Freedom Team Salute Europe.

"That commendation packet might just be the pat on the back that an Army supporter needs so they know that what they're doing is making a difference," Michelle McLaughlin, a Freedom Team Salute honoree and a program ambassador, said. "It might also be the pat on the back that an Army spouse or child needs to make it through another day during a deployment."

Freedom Team Salute is an Army program that allows Soldiers and other individuals associated with the Army to recognize and thank those people who make sacrifices and commitments for Soldiers.

"The program was designed so Soldiers or individuals can nominate supporters by completing a simple online form," Breen said.

There are specific categories for nomination - parents, spouses, employers (for Guard and Reserve Soldiers) and veterans, but there is also a new category that allows anyone who supports the Army mission to be honored. The commemoration is free and can be mailed directly to the nominee or may be presented at an appropriate ceremony.

"Freedom Team Salute can become part of any Soldier recognition or gathering - promotions, awards, retirements, changes of command/responsibility, Soldier/NCO competitions, appreciation or organization days, FRG (Family Readiness Group) activities and even events like the Month of the Military Child and Military Appreciation Month which are coming up," Breen said.

While Breen said he sees every commendation and event as a success story, his goal is to strengthen relationships.

"The Ambassador Program is what really brings the program together.

"The Ambassador Program consists of volunteers who raise local awareness by coordinating events and commendations ceremonies," Breen explained.

Breen said he is hoping that FRG leaders and Family Readiness Support Assistants in the U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr footprint will become ambassadors and help organize unit level events.

"There is an ambassador in Hohenfels, Karen Cooper, and Michelle McLaughlin of Grafenwoehr," he added.

McLaughlin, a mobilization and deployment specialist for Army Community Service, was familiar with the Freedom Team Salute program after being honored by her husband during his third deployment.

"I was touched that he could take the time to do this during his hectic schedule downrange," McLaughlin said of the Salute.

McLaughlin's husband was deployed four times in the past nine years and she said she remembered how tough things could get while raising four children, working and volunteering full-time.

"After meeting with Mr. Breen and finding out that I could volunteer to 'get the word out' about this program and help to recognize people, I felt I had to," she said.

Information about Freedom Team Salute, the Ambassador Program and nomination process is available at the Web site.