Friday, July 21, 2023
Awards Highlight Opening Day of 105th Convention
The Department Color Guard advanced the colors as the entire assembly of hundreds of veterans rendered salutes.
Department Chaplain Fr. Robert Sweeney called on attendees to spiritually put themselves in the presence of God, asking the “Supreme Commander” to bless the American Legion and to bless America. He pointed to National Commander Jim Troiola’s “priority number one” to save veterans’ lives through the “Be the One” suicide prevention initiative. A little later Father Sweeney quoted a New Testament passage about feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger. “That Gospel passage is very fitting,” he said, because “it speaks of service” – which is what the Legion is all about.
County Executive George Latimer welcomed the Legion Family to Westchester County, and said he was impressed by the fact that “Legion posts have stood up for American values.”
A special guest was Gloria Gilbert Stoga, president of Puppies Behind Bars. Her organization provides Labradors for inmates to train as service dogs, and then places them with veterans and police officers suffering from post-traumatic stress.
Another special guest, National Vice Commander Paul Kennedy, quickly drew applause when he declared, “We are the greatest veterans’ service organization in the world.”
Tim Collmer, dean of American Legion College of New York, reported that for the first time, “we had over 100 registered before the April 1st deadline.” Despite some no-shows and someone who had to leave for medical reasons, the college graduated 99 members of the Legion, the Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion.
The opening day of the three-day convention also boasted a number of awards and recognition.
JUNIOR SHOOTING SPORTS
Junior Shooting Sports Chair Lawrence Behling recounted how the program has grown to become one of premier American Legion air rifle competitions in the country.
He went on to list some top shooters in New York’s tournament held at Cicero American Legion Post 787.
A team from Middletown Post 151 won the championship plaque. Team members were Magali Delarosa Cuenca, Sydney Diggs, Alexandra Bravo and Yadira Belbuena. In addition, Magali went on to become one of 15 finalists in the National American Legion Championship.
Another top performing team was Central Square Post 914’s precision air rifle members Nina Stalsonberg, Rachel Fleischmann, Jade Hansen and Cathrine Hayeswith.
Also performing well in the sporter air rifle category were both an individual and the team from James O’Neil Post in Highland Falls. The individual was Kaylynn Rhodes. The team members were Kaylynn Rhodes, Jay Waite, Carl Wojtaszek and Michael McCoy.
LEGIONNAIRE OF YEAR
Antonio Codrington, commander of Legion Post 1871, is the Department’s Legionnaire of the Year, Chair Joseph Goonan announced. He cited, among other things, Codrington’s efforts to grow membership through such things as having the membership committee do monthly “buddy checks”.
“There is plenty of good news on Scouting this year,” Chair Steve Mataraza reported. “Scout Camps are once again open. Membership numbers are starting to increase again…”
This year, scouts across the nation contributed millions of volunteer hours, and earned hundreds of thousands of merit badges, he said. “That is a huge impact on building stronger communities. These are the type of people and the type of families that become active in your post if you welcome them and then support them.”
Mataraza announced several Scouting awards.
Adult Scouter of the Year is Craig Kaplan. He is from Monroe County in the 7th District.
Scout Troop of the Year is Troop 3086, sponsored by Manny Bacon Post 1758 from Dutchess County in the 9th District.
Eagle Scout of The Year is Sam Mozzillo from Troop 43 in Cairo, which is sponsored by Post 983 in Greene County in the 3rd District.
LAW & ORDER AND FIRST RESPONDER AWARDS
Law & Order Chair Cynthia A. Nelson announced awards honoring first responders and law enforcement officers. She also honored three outstanding American Legion law-and-order chairs at the post, county and district levels (Janice Gravel from Carthage Post 789, John Compitello from Monroe County, and Robert Haumann from the 5th District).
The Law & Order / First Responder Awards included:
Firefighter of the Year – Chief Jose Medina of Brockport Fire Department in Monroe County (7th District). He was cited for his role in extricating a trapped driver just before the car was engulfed in flames.
EMT of the Year – Paramedic Ian Anile of Evans Mills Volunteer Ambulance Squad in Jefferson County (5th District). A former Army combat medic, Anile serves with three ambulance services within the county and Fort Drum. He was cited in particular for his role in saving a 16-year-old burn victim.
911 Dispatcher of the Year – Joshua Ambrose of Onondaga County Emergency Communications Department (5th District). He was cited for sensing an officer was under attack and sending police cars to his aid.
Emergency Squad of the Year – Evans Mills Volunteer Ambulance Squad in Jefferson County (5th District). The squad was cited for its comprehensive training, for serving as a training site for emergency medical technicians and paramedics, and for providing stress management to EMS personnel facing traumatic situations.
Corrections Officer of the Year – Sgt. James E. Jarnot of Wyoming County Corrections Department (8th District). He was cited for professionalism and a positive lead-by-example attitude that promoted “a great working relationship between the jail and road divisions.” He also worked overtime to cover the work of subordinates sidelined by injuries.
Law Enforcement Officer of the Year – Joshua T. Mandaville of Middleport Police Department in Niagara County (8th District). He was cited for two recent efforts. In the first, he ran into a smoke-filled house and escorted a man out before the roof was engulfed in flames. In the second, the officer performed CPR on an unresponsive adult male in an elementary school until other first responders arrived. The man was taken to a hospital, and, after surgery, he recovered.
Police Department of the Year – Cheektowaga Police Department in Erie County (8th District). The department was cited for its response to a blizzard last December that knocked out power and left roadways impassable. Department personnel set up a command post, established three warming centers that sheltered over 400 people, rescued over 200 people trapped in their vehicles, organized a fleet of tow trucks to move almost 500 abandoned vehicles to designated parking lots, and answered 5, 418 calls for assistance.
Fire Department of the Year – Kenilworth Volunteer Fire Department, Town of Tonawanda, Erie County (8th District). When a blizzard struck last December, members of the volunteer fire department were asked to stand by at the fire hall. That allowed them to respond to get people to safety from life-threatening cold and snow, and to respond to a rehab facility in a minute to stop a fire from spreading and to move patients to another wing away from the smoke.