Service members from Naval Air Station Jacksonville (NAS Jax), U.S. Coast Guard, Blount Island Command and the Florida National Guard were honored during the annual Clay County Military Appreciation Luncheon presented by the Clay County Chamber of Commerce and VyStar Credit Union May 24.
The luncheon began with presentation of the colors by the Marine Corps League, singing of the national anthem, invocation and a short tribute to POW/MIAs.
Clay County Chamber of Commerce Chairman of the Board Bob Olson thanked those in attendance for their service.
“Today we honor the service of not only the great men and women who currently serve in our armed forces from the Northeast Florida region, but also those who have served our country so boldly and so honorable at pivotal moments in our history,” said Olson.
He then asked all veterans and those who serve publicly to stand for a round of applause.
VyStar Credit Union President and CEO Brian Wolfburg also offered his gratitude to the service members. “We are honored to be part of this event to recognize the contributions you make. We truly appreciate everything you do, every day, to make our lives better. Thank you for your service,” he said.
NAS Jacksonville Com-manding Officer Capt. Michael Connor was the keynote speaker for the event.
Connor, stressed the importance of realizing what a huge impact the military plays on the local community.
“It’s a great honor to be here today to recognize these outstanding service men and women,” said Connor.
“I want to tell you that I absolutely have the best job in the U.S. Navy because I get to lead a base that is in the most-military friendly city in nation. .”
“Also, I get to lead the finest naval air station - the third largest in the Navy,” he continued.
“I get to work with outstanding Sailors and civilians who work hard every day supporting our mission and warfighters. And, I get to fly the P-8A aircraft, although my roots are in the F/A-18.”
Connor went on to discuss some of the demographics about the station.
“Going back to how supportive Jacksonville is in supporting our military, NAS Jax is the only installation within the Department of Defense where a community has gifted their property for a military installation,” he said.
“Talking about our strategic impact, economically we put approximately $2.7 billion back into the local area with about 20,000 people working here. So obviously it’s great benefit to the local community.”
Connor also talked about some of the facilities and tenant commands including Outlying Field Whitehouse which provides carrier landing practice to military aircraft and the Pinecastle Bombing Range in the Ocala National Forest.
The highlight of the event was when Olson and Wolfburg announced AD1 Patrick Paquet of Fleet Readiness Center Southeast as the recipient of this year’s VyStar Award for Military Excellence.
They also recognized another nine Sailors from NAS Jax and its tenant commands, as well as Marines from Blount Island Command, Soldiers from Camp Blanding Joint Training Center and a Coastguardsman. Each was presented plaques and gifts from Clay County area businesses recognizing their outstanding service.
“I would really like to thank Clay County Chamber of Commerce, VyStar Credit Union and all the other sponsors for recognizing us today. This is the first place I’ve been stationed that the community really shows their appreciation for the military. I’m so appreciative to be selected for this award,” said Parquet, after the event.
HM1 Kirby Boudreaux of Naval Hospital Jacksonville added, “I think it’s awesome that we are recognized outside of the command setting and its great to feel part of the community.”