By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneDecember 11, 2009
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--Max Bennett will be the first to point out that he isnAca,!a,,ct a one-man show.
Although he was recognized as the 2009 Veteran of the Year by the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition during its annual Veterans Day Dinner, Bennett said the real credit goes to the members of the Redstone Arsenal Chapter of the Warrant Officers Association and other organizations who have worked alongside him in serving veterans and providing support for community initiatives.
Aca,!A"This is a very personal award, and I am honored and humbled to receive it,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"But this award really reflects the hard work that members of the Warrant Officers Association do in this community.Aca,!A?
Bennett, a retired chief warrant officer 4, is the president of the Warrant Officers Association. As such, he leads his organizationAca,!a,,cs efforts to build wheelchair ramps for the handicapped through the Care Assurance System for the Aging and Homebound, ring the bells for the Salvation Army, serve as parade marshals at the Veterans Day Parade for the Redstone-Huntsville Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army, conduct trash pickup at a Redstone Arsenal park and provide support for the coalitionAca,!a,,cs Operation Christmas Bear. For the past three years, Bennett has also co-hosted WAFF-48Aca,!a,,cs broadcast of the Veterans Day Parade.
Aca,!A"I do the things I do because we love doing them. Everything I do is with the warrant officers,Aca,!A? said Bennett, switching back and forth between Aca,!A"IAca,!A? and Aca,!A"weAca,!A? as he referred interchangeably to himself and the Warrant Officers Association.
Yet, as much as he does within this organization, Bennett received a lot of direct attention during 2009 for a project that he took on without hesitation when he received a call for help.
Aca,!A"This award this year is recognizing someone who has done work within the community. The one thing that put me over the edge was my work with burials for indigent veterans who, for the most part, donAca,!a,,ct have family representation,Aca,!A? he said.
In spring 2009, Bennett was contacted by television journalist Lee Marshall of WAFF-48 concerning a story about a deceased veteran who was buried in a pauperAca,!a,,cs grave. At BennettAca,!a,,cs request, the Warrant Officers Association had the body exhumed and, with the help of the Patriot Guard Riders, the veteran was buried in the veterans section of Twickenham Memory Gardens.
Following that situation, Bennett worked to make funeral homes more aware of veteran burial rights. He also made himself available to assume responsibility for ensuring proper burial for indigent veterans. He developed a program for these special veterans that includes a Patriot Guard Riders escort, a graveside eulogy and prayer, a headstone and a military representative.
Aca,!A"It is a very impressive show of military support when you have the Patriot Guard Riders involved,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"All of us involved in this realize how important it is to stand up and say goodbye to these veterans in the proper way.Aca,!A?
After the first burial, Bennett received many calls from families of veterans who wanted his help in burying their deceased. But Bennett has focused his efforts on deceased veterans who died as paupers or who donAca,!a,,ct have family to arrange a funeral.
Aca,!A"I had another funeral home call me who had kept the body of an indigent veteran for six weeks. They were going to have to bury it in a pauperAca,!a,,cs grave, but they didnAca,!a,,ct want to,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"In four days, I had a donated van from Serra Toyota, a donated casket from the funeral home and enough donations to pick up the body, put an American flag on its casket and drive it to the Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo for a proper burial.Aca,!A?
For yet another funeral that Bennett arranged for an indigent veteran, he was able to locate members of the veteranAca,!a,,cs estranged family who attended the burial at the stateAca,!a,,cs national cemetery.
Aca,!A"Doing something like this can get addictive because you know you are making a difference,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"The warrant officers and Patriot Guard Riders who have helped with this absolutely get it. We donAca,!a,,ct know these guys. But these funerals really touch us.Aca,!A?
Bennett and the Warrant Officers Association have been recognized for their work in the Huntsville area. The chapter has won outstanding chapter of the year three times at its national conference, including the 2009 award.
Aca,!A"We set an example for 82 chapters,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"We have 110 members with about 20 that are very active. ItAca,!a,,cs hard for us to say Aca,!EoenoAca,!a,,c when we are asked to help or provide support. As long as we have the time in our schedules, weAca,!a,,cll do it. Much of our success is because we team up with other organizations that are also successful. We like working with groups like the Association of the U.S. Army, the Patriot Guard Riders, the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition and CASA because they do things that are very worthwhile to us.Aca,!A?
BennettAca,!a,,cs life has been filled with plenty of success. A native of Indiana, he enlisted in the Army in 1985, serving 23 years in communications and electronics maintenance. He retired from Redstone Arsenal in 2005.
Aca,!A"I was the youngest of seven children. All four of my brothers were in the military and they were all Vietnam era veterans. My dad was a Marine. My mom got the key to our hometown for having four sons in the military,Aca,!A? he said.
Aca,!A"I didnAca,!a,,ct join the Army right out of high school. Instead, I got my technical certificate and worked one cold job after another. Then, I decided I needed something more and the Army offered it. I went from a private first class to a staff sergeant in six years.Aca,!A?
It wasnAca,!a,,ct long after that, while assigned to NATO in Turkey, that Bennett celebrated his acceptance into warrant officers school with his commanding officer and the NATO staff he worked with.
Aca,!A"ThatAca,!a,,cs the day that made my life,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"I rose to staff sergeant in six years. I made it to warrant officers school in six years.
Aca,!A"I really loved the discipline of the military. My dad was a Baptist preacher and we were raised in a Christian school. The ArmyAca,!a,,cs discipline was like a warm blanket to me because I understood authority. The Army gave me a structure that was just absolutely comfortable. I was in for 23 years and I had a ball.Aca,!A?
In his current position as a training site manager for a local defense contractor, Bennett is still enjoying his work with Soldiers.
Aca,!A"IAca,!a,,cm affecting Soldiers now more than ever before,Aca,!A? he said.
His second career has also given him more time with his family Aca,!" including wife, Nese, and three children, Shannon, 25, a paralegal and legal secretary; Kevin,19, who attends the University of Alabama-Huntsville on an academic scholarship; and Alex, 15, who attends Bob Jones High.
Bennett is in his fourth year as the president of the Warrant Officers Association. Presidents are limited to two two-year terms, and BennettAca,!a,,cs term ends in summer 2010. But he has been granted an extension of his second term due to a major event for the organization.
Aca,!A"Two years ago, at the Warrant Officers 2007 annual meeting in Aberdeen, Va., I pitched bringing the 2010 annual meeting to Huntsville, Ala.,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"I had a video to Aca,!EoeSweet Home AlabamaAca,!a,,c and I showed them all our amenities. We got the bid and we will host the international annual meeting of the Warrant Officers Association in November. I wanted to extend my term because of this meeting.Aca,!A?
Bennett hopes it will be one of the largest annual meetings for his organization. Besides Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville is located close to warrant officers stationed at Fort Rucker, Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort McPherson, Fort Gordon and Fort Benning, all in Georgia. He described the location as Aca,!A"a perfect stormAca,!A? to create a big event.
Bennett also has plans for what he will spearhead once his warrant officer presidency does end. He has been nominated to the board of the North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition as its assistant finance officer. His nomination will be voted on in December. As his warrant officer duties decline, he hopes to pick up more responsibilities within the coalition.
BennettAca,!a,,cs volunteer work keeps him close to the military he loves.
Aca,!A"I donAca,!a,,ct miss being in the military. But I do miss what the military represents,Aca,!A? he said. Aca,!A"Being in the military is the hardest, most dangerous work in the world. Now, IAca,!a,,cm working to support Soldiers in my volunteer work and in my professional career.Aca,!A?