HONOLULU, Hawaii - (May 20, 2009) A celebration of Soldiers returning from war was the theme of this year's Hawaii Chamber of Commerce 24th Annual Military Recognition Luncheon at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

The luncheon occurred in conjunction with the Memorial Day and Military Appreciation Luncheon.

"This luncheon is to celebrate the military's presence in the islands and a way to extend our deepest appreciation for its vital contributions to the social, cultural, and economic well-being of Hawaii," said Jim Tollefson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hawaii Chamber of Commerce said.

Tollefson also said the event was "especially meaningful as we welcome home many of our Soldiers who have been abroad fighting for our freedom and the freedom of others."

After a presentation of colors by a joint service color guard, members of the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Coast Guard and civilian members of the community who contribute significantly to Hawaii's military community throughout the year were welcomed by Tollefson.

"Along with their service to their country, these military members are an integral part of Hawaii," said Tollefson. "Their contributions are invaluable."

Lt. Gen. Keith Stalder, commanding general, Marine Forces Pacific, keynote speaker, addressed the history of the U.S. military's relationships in Hawaii and stressed the importance of volunteer programs, such as the Adopt-A-School program, throughout the island.

Stalder recognized the recent efforts of the Soldiers of the 8th Special Troops Battalion, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, who replaced flags at Webling Elementary School. The Soldiers outfitted each classroom with a new American flag, and replaced the school's American and Hawaiian flag.

Allen Doane, chairman and chief executive officer, Alexander and Baldwin, Inc., expressed similar sentiments regarding the voluntary efforts of Hawaii's military.

"Our communities are strengthened by the efforts of military volunteers, who spend countless hours helping to improve schools, churches and many local service organizations," he said.

Luncheon attendees expressed not only a feeling of appreciation from the luncheon, but from the people of Hawaii themselves.

"I've always felt very welcome here in Hawaii and this event compounds that," said Spc. Christopher Schwauer, U.S. Army, Pacific, who attended the luncheon with his wife.

The luncheon culminated with an awards presentation recognizing the outstanding service members of the year.

Staff Sgt. Jacob Ferrara, 94th Army Air Missile Defense Command, was awarded Outstanding Noncommissioned Officer of the Year for the Army. An assistant operations sergeant, Ferrara is also the U.S. Army, Pacific 2008 Non-Commissioned Officer of the year.

The luncheon sponsored this year by a collaborative effort of several local businesses as well, to include First Hawaiian Bank, Alexander and Baldwin Inc., Matson, Tesoro and Kilauea Military Camp Joint Service Recreation Center.

Among those in attendance were also U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle , Admiral Timothy J. Keating, commander, U.S. Pacific Command, Lt. Gen. Benjamin R. Mixon, commanding general, USARPAC and many other significant political, military and business leaders of Hawaii.