COLUMBUS, Ga. – Maneuver Center of Excellence and Fort Moore leaders recognized volunteer ambassadors during an appreciation dinner held at Columbus State University’s Cunningham Conference Center here Aug. 15.
“Ambassadors represent all that is good about America,” said Kris Mitchell, chief of the MCoE International Military Student Office. He noted the program has been cultivating lifelong connections for over 100 years, and international students often return home and speak fondly of their time in America and their ambassador relationships.
The IMSO’s Ambassador Program pairs partner and allied international military students with volunteers from across the Chattahoochee Valley area to introduce them to American culture.
All community ambassadors in the program were recognized for their service. The night’s presentations included two Meritorious Public Service Medals, eight Public Service Commendation Awards, 22 Patriotic Public Service Certificates, four Battalion Certificates of Appreciation, and 30 IMSO Volunteer Awards.
Brig. Gen. Michael J. Simmering, U.S. Army Armor School Commandant, presented the awards and reinforced the importance of the Ambassador Program. “Each of these (international students) … are carrying the message of what America stands for because of your efforts,” Simmering told them.
Nearly half a century ago, Eva Aiken, began her journey as an ambassador offering support to foreign students and their families who attended military courses at then Fort Benning. Having immigrated from Germany, she took her volunteer duties seriously.
“I know how they feel. They want to find a place to feel at home. I invite them to be a part of my family, and if they need something, I help,” said Aiken, who received the Meritorious Public Service Medal.
Over the years, she has hosted and cared for more than 400 international military students from over 40 countries. The students she has sponsored frequently return to visit her and have extended invitations for her to learn about their cultures in their respective countries, Aiken said. She shared that her home is filled with many photos, souvenirs, and mementos of her ambassador experiences.
“You don’t need to be rich, or have a big house, you just have to be open, and people don’t forget,” she added. “Get involved and you’ll see the world differently. All it takes is to reach out and to not be afraid to learn something new. You can communicate with anyone; it takes only a smile (to find out) they are just like us.”
Ambassadors may choose to connect with more than one student, and monthly activities can range from casual meetups for coffee to community events, visits to local markets, or preparing a meal together.
IMSO’s Ambassador Program is always looking for new volunteers, Mitchell said. To learn more about the program or sign up to volunteer as an ambassador, contact the IMSO at firstname.lastname@example.org