Story by PO2 Vaughan Dill on 07/20/2019SPOKANE, Wash. Service members from each branch of service were awarded the American Legion Department of Washington Spirit of Service Award (SOSA) during the annual Washington American Legion convention held at the Centennial Hotel in Spokane, Wash., July 19.
The awardees, as well as their senior supervisors, attended the ceremony where they were presented the award by the American Legion State Commander Wayne Elston and Spirit of Service Committee Chairman Jake Cabuag. Later in the evening, the service members were honored again during a formal banquet.
This year's SOSA award recipients were Army Sgt. Jin C. Lim, assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord; Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Jeremy S. Pogue, assigned to Marine Corps Security Force Batallion-Bangor, Culinary Specialist 2nd Class Lareisha Johnson, assigned to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Air Force Airman 1st Class Nicholas A. Loew, assigned to Fairchild Air Force Base, and Coast Guard Yeoman 1st Class Rita M. Martinez, assigned to Coast Guard District Seattle.
"It's an honor - I'm in awe right now, but it means a lot," said Johnson. "It's the most humbling thing I've experienced in the military so far."
The American Legion gives the Spirit of Service Awards annually to enlisted service members at the rank of E-6 and below in recognition of their exemplary military professionalism and active volunteerism in their local communities.
"Of course, we want the supervisors to look for military professionalism in their duties," said Cabuag. "But, the main quality we're looking for is what they do for the community and the service that they present to the community they're stationed with."
Award recipients are selected by each member's respective service, with the American Legion not being involved in the selection process.
"This is a great honor and privilege to be here to see my daughter get this award," said Ytonja Keys, Johnson's mother. "I'm glad the Navy appreciates her. I miss her and I'm just really glad they appreciate her."
The recipient service members were escorted alongside their particular service flag down the center aisle to the podium while their branch anthem was performed by the legion band.
"It's an honor to be here representing not only [Naval Air Station] Whidbey Island, but to represent the Navy," said Chief Culinary Specialist Nicolas Minard, Johnson's senior enlisted leader. "It's important that we are here, and that we remember what the members of the American Legion have done. They are all also veterans and we are all stewards of the community."
While up on stage, Loew, Air Force's nominee, received more than just his award. He was surprised to find out his mother had traveled from Michigan to attend the ceremony. With the assistance of the American Legion, she took trains and a shuttle to get to the award ceremony earlier that day.
"I took a train from Grand Rapids to Chicago and another train from Chicago to Spokane where the Centennial Hotel sent a shuttle that picked me up at 2:40 in the morning. I rested until this award ceremony at 9:30 this morning," said Laurie Loew. "I had a family reunion this weekend, but I chose to be here because I want to support the things that he does and affirm that. Being in the nursing profession, I see a lot of 21-year-olds that are not making the right decisions, things that are probably very hard on their mothers, and he's doing the right things so I want to say good job'. It's worth it for me to come here and travel to support that."
According to Cabuag, the American Legion is the nation's largest organization of wartime veterans with a current membership of 2.3 million veterans nationwide with over 30,000 located in Washington. Legionnaires work for the betterment of their communities through more than 14,000 posts across the nation.
"It feels great to get all of the service members together here," said Cabuag. "When I see the service members together with our legionnaires, interacting, it's an incredible feeling."