FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- In celebration of National Military Family Appreciation Month, the Fort Jackson community honored 16 families for their contributions to the community in its annual Families of the Year ceremony Friday at the Solomon Center.

"I'm extremely proud of each family we're honoring today. We couldn't be as good as we are here at Fort Jackson without the contributions all of our families we recognize today and others have made and the efforts (they) put forward," said Maj. Gen. James Milano, Fort Jackson's commanding general. "They're great examples for all in terms of how to give back to an Army that has made great strides, particularly in the last 10 years, in ramping up the support it provides to families."

Marilynn Bailey, Fort Jackson's Army volunteer corps coordinator, said all units and organizations on Fort Jackson are encouraged to submit families for nomination.

"Once we get all the nominations, we send those to an independent panel of five judges outside the gate, have them look at the packets, and then one family will be named Fort Jackson Family of the Year," Bailey said.

This year's winning family is the Gonzalez family, who was nominated by Company F, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment.

Staff Sgt. Steven Gonzalez, a drill sergeant, and his wife, Carisa, are volunteers with the battalion's Family Readiness Group, the Richland 2 school district and the Richland County Parks and Recreation Commission. They also provide education about Native American culture to students at Bridgecreek Elementary School and Kelly Mill Middle School.

"I can't think of a more selfless, passionate and committed family across the battalion -- and we have a bunch of great people," said Lt. Col. John Allen, commander of the 3-60th. "But this family does so much, never asks for anything, wants no recognition whatsoever, and it's always the family (participating). If we need volunteers, it's drill sergeant Gonzalez, it's his wife, Carisa, and all three girls, all the time."

Carisa Gonzalez said volunteering is second nature to her and her family.

"I like to help people, I really do. There are always blessings that are returned back to me and my family. We just like to help out as much as we can, wherever we're at," she said. "That's how we were raised, culturally and traditionally, and I try to instill it in my children."

Bailey said many families on Fort Jackson, like the Gonzalez family, face a situation in which the service members are stateside, but the training mission requires long hours.

"A lot of nominated families this year are drill sergeants and their families," Bailey said. "They are very active either in their children's activities, youth sports, etc. They just find the time to do that as a family. ... I was very impressed with the drill sergeants and their families who are nominated this year. They're actually going above and beyond."

For the Gonzalez family, volunteering is a way to spend quality time together as a family.
"That's the only time we really do have," Steven Gonzalez said. "(My wife is) involved in my work (with) the FRG and the unit, so we always try and find stuff to talk about. We always talk about our day. ... That's what keeps us together."

The family received a trophy, gift certificates and a trip to Charleston. The couple has three children, Sarina, 13, Aliya, 11, and Ariana, 9.

* Staff Sgt. Steven and Carisa Gonzalez
* Chief Warrant Officer 2 Melody and Sgt. 1st Class Alexander Arnold
* Sgt. 1st Class Sherman and Angela Crosland
* Sgt. 1st Class Sean and Bonnie Riley
* Sgt. 1st Class Sandra Myers Williams
* Staff Sgt. Joshua and Stephanie Bone
* Sgt. 1st Class Jerod and Brandee Childs
* Sgt. 1st Class Thomas and Jackie Feagin
* Sgt. 1st Class Sean and Tara Nelson
* Sgt. 1st Class Thomas and Regina Sweat
* Sgt. 1st Class Raymond and Laura Patron
* Chaplain (Maj.) Dave and Meridee Bowlus
* Sgt. 1st Class Michael and Capt.Tyshiska Reeves
* Emma and Rick Lung
* Patricia Sandgren and Sebastian Bosco
* Sgt. 1st Class Terrell Patrick and Veronica Jackson-Patrick