LOMPOC - Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, today honored Specialist 4th Class Ralph O.Widener (retired) of the U.S. Army as the 2012 Veteran of the Year for the 33rd Assembly District at a special Armed Forces Day celebration in Lompoc. As part of his efforts to honor veterans and active duty military personnel, Achadjian has authored Assembly Concurrent Resolution 122 to designate May 19 as Armed Forces Day in California.
"As an immigrant who has realized the American Dream of freedom and opportunity, I am deeply grateful for the chance to honor our Armed Forces and their dedicated service to our nation," said Achadjian. "I salute our Veteran of the Year, Specialist 4th Class Ralph O. Widener, and all our nominees for their service and courage. They represent the values that we hold dear as Americans."
Specialist Widener was nominated by the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 570, Lompoc. He served in the U.S. Army from January 1966 to February 1969, when he was honorably and medically discharged for wounds he incurred while serving in Vietnam. Specialist Widener was awarded the Silver Star and three Purple Hearts for his extraordinary heroism and service. He currently serves as Quartermaster and Service Officer at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 570.
Specialist Widener will also be recognized in the coming weeks in Sacramento, along with Veteran of the Year honorees selected by all 80 California Assembly Members.
"I thank Assemblyman Achadjian for saluting our Armed Forces and recognizing me as his Veteran of the Year," said Specialist Widener. "I really appreciate this personal honor, but I can't forget those who gave their lives for our country and never got a chance to enjoy a day like this. We should always remember their sacrifice, as it is a sobering reminder that freedom is not free."
In addition to Specialist Widener, Achadjian honored 14 other veteran nominees chosen by local military organizations and veteran groups, and praised them for their service to our country. He also honored three community members for serving our veterans. The others honored include:
Senior Airman Tammi Aronce
Nominated by the 30th Medical Support Squadron, Vandenberg Air Force Base
Senior Airman Aronce is the Supply Custodian, Physical Fitness Training Leader at Vandenberg Air Force Base. She is a regular volunteer at several Vandenberg Air Force Base family and youth centers. She arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base in September 2011, and was awarded a Commendation Medal for her service at Andrews Air Force Base.
Lieutenant Colonel Nicole Balliet
Nominated by Army National Guard, Camp San Luis Obispo
Lieutenant Colonel Balliet joined the National Guard in 1988, and has commanded both the 110th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and the 224th Special Troops Battalion. She also served as the Garrison Commander for Contingency Operating Base Adder in Tallil, Iraq.
Corporal Cleborn Benge (retired)
Nominated by American Legion Post 220, Templeton
Corporal Benge joined the United States Army in 1948 and was transferred to Fort Bliss, Texas, under the 777th Triple "A" Anti-Aircraft Unit. He served two years in England during the first year of the Korean War. He has been an American Legion member for over 20 years, and the Post Chaplain for the last four years at the Templeton American Legion Post 220.
Sergeant Frank P. Campo (retired)
Nominated by American Legion Post 56, Santa Maria
Sergeant Campo was stationed at several US military bases and completed a three year assignment in Bavarian Germany during the Cold War. He has been awarded numerous awards including the Army Commendation Medal and is the father of two sons currently serving in the military.
Master Sergeant Charlie Jefferson (retired)
Nominated by James E. Haleski, Vandenberg Air Force Base
Master Sergeant Jefferson served honorably as a Security Forces member in Operations Provide Hope, Southern Watch, Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom. He is now an integral part in preparing CES personal to military operations throughout the world and has created a Unit Development Manager Continuity book.
Senior Airman Chanel Little
Nominated by the 30th Medical Support Squadron, Vandenberg Air Force Base
Senior Airman Chanel serves as a Pharmacy Technician in the 30th Medical Group, Medical Support Squadron. She helped support the 2009 Humanitarian Expedition to Honduras, providing medication for over 7,000 patients. She is also in training to become a Ceremonial Guardsman.
Chief Master Sergeant Norman Marous (retired)
Nominated by Chief Master Sergeant Archie Mitchell
Chief Master Sergeant Marous enlisted in the Air Force in 1962. After 42 years of service as a avionics and weapons technician, he was the longest oldest and longest serving Noncommissioned Officer actively serving in the Air Force. He is the Director of the Vandenberg Joint Military Members Center and serves in the Ceremonial Honor Guard.
Staff Sergeant Carlos Morales
Nominated by the Atascadero Veterans Memorial Foundation
Staff Sergeant Morales joined the Marine Corps at age 17 after graduating high school. He left the Marines to raise a family, but enlisted in the Army National Guard at age 42. He supported NATO peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and American forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is a successful advocate for the California National Guard Members, and helped construct the Central Coast's Faces of Freedom Veterans Memorial.
Senior Airman Julian Newby
Nominated by Jeremy Rose, Vandenberg Air Force Base
Senior Airman Newby is serviceman in the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron at Vandenberg Air Force Base. He is a Physical Training Leader and has committed over one hundred hours of volunteering in the local community. Julian received the Four Star General of Space Commands coin as a top performer, and is involved in the Base Honor Guard, Spill Team and Civil Engineers Activity Council.
Captain John O'Connell (retired)
Nominated by Todd Frederick, Marine Corps League
Captain O'Connell is an avid supporter of the Toys for Tots program and he is a dedicated commander of the local Marine Corps League Community. He also helps wounded soldiers with his involvement in Operation Surf. John is also on the Board of Directors for the Grizzly Academy, a school for troubled youngsters, and is the Operations Coordinator for the Central Coast Leatherneck Honor Guard.
Sergeant Dennis H. Perozzi, Jr. (retired)
Nominated by American Legion Post 66
Sergeant Perozzi, Jr., is a self-described "country boy," and joined the Army in 1951 and bravely served as a rifleman in two campaigns in Korea. He was involved in two significant battles, the Battle for Hill 266, "Old Baldy," and the Battle for Hill 255, "Pork Chop Hill." He won numerous citations including the Bronze Star Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and the Sharpshooter Rifle Medal. He is a dedicated champion for the local community and youngsters.
Sergeant Tom Torgerson (retired)
Nominated by the Central Coast Leatherneck Honor Guard
Sergeant Torgerson served in the Marine Corps from 1948 to 1952, and was soldier in the First Marine Brigade sent to Pusan, North Korea, to assist United Nations forces. He received the Purple Heart in 1950 for wounds suffered in the Korean War. He is an active member in the Honor Guard, and volunteers to help with Toys for Tots.
Staff Sergeant Leslie "Les" Vrieze (retired)
Nominated by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10978, Nipomo
Staff Sergeant Vrieze served in the United States Air Force from 1951 to 1955. He is currently the Service Officer for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Nipomo. As commander of the post, he reinstated the Voice of Democracy and Patriot's Pen Programs, which awards college scholarship money to students who write award winning essays on patriotism.
Senior Master Sergeant Lee Wise (retired)
Nominated by Vandenberg American Legion Post 125
Senior Master Sergeant Wise entered the United States Air Force in 1954, and began a 26 year career as a weapons and aircraft technician. He sponsored many youth programs through American Legion Post 125 and has chartered two Vandenberg Air Force Base scout units. He also started an Eagle Scout project which resulted in placing bronze "United States Veteran" markers on unmarked veteran's graves in Lompoc Cemetery.
Cheryl and Robert Tolan and Lenny Jones
Special Community Recognition
These three individuals are recognized for their leadership in founding Welcome Home Military Heroes which provides outreach to local returning troops on R&R or permanent return. They organize welcome events to thank every returning military personnel and assure them of our pride in their service.
Assemblyman Achadjian proudly represents all of San Luis Obispo County and part of Santa Barbara County, including the cities of Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Paso Robles, Grover Beach, Guadalupe, Lompoc, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria and surrounding communities.