By Lisa Ferdinando
WASHINGTON, October 16, 2015 — The recipients of this year's Spirit of Hope Award epitomize the legacy of entertainer Bob Hope, selflessly taking care of the military's "most precious resource" -- its people -- the Coast Guard commandant said today.
"They're the ones who instill hope in those who serve and those who continue to serve," Adm. Paul F. Zukunft said in tribute to the five individuals and one organization recognized at the Pentagon with the 2015 Department of Defense Spirit of Hope Award.
The award is named for Hope, an actor and comedian who entertained U.S. troops for decades and was named an honorary veteran in 1997, Zukunft said, calling the award an emblem of Hope's character, integrity and statesmanship.
Hope, who performed for troops with USO shows around the globe, was 100 years old when he died in 2003.
The award recognizes Americans who share Hope's "enthusiastic patriotism, and compassion and admiration for the men and women who support and defend the Constitution of the United States," the admiral said.
This year's honorees contributed a tremendous amount of time and resources and supported members of the military and their families, helped wounded warriors and their loved ones, and strengthened their communities through their dedicated service, Zukunft said.
Recipients Humbled, Honored
Every year, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff -- as well as the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard -- each nominate one individual or organization whose patriotism and service represents that exemplified by Hope.
"It's just very humbling," honoree Air Force Tech Sgt. Rebecca Martin said.
Martin -- an active duty airman, wife, mother of three and a full-time student -- was recognized for volunteering more than 1,100 hours of her time and using her personal resources and energy to help service members and their families.
"That's just what we should represent as service members. It's something that as humans, we need to do," she said. "It's just important."
Her sense of service was instilled by her father, she said, an Army veteran who served during the Korean War and who was in attendance at the Pentagon ceremony.
The Coast Guard's honoree, Suzanne Maas, said she saw a need for morale boosting in that service, so over the past eight years, she has donated resources totaling $1.3 million through the Maas Family Foundation. The donations, funded solely through the foundation, include thousands of electronic devices and related gift cards sent to deployed Coast Guardsmen and to crews and families of units that lost members.
"I get these wonderful, wonderful letters," Maas said, including one from a young man who was able to see the ultrasound image of his yet-to-be-born son thanks to a donated device. "That really just brought me to tears," she added.
Both Maas and Martin said they were humbled and honored to have been selected, especially because so many others deserve recognition for their work on behalf of service members and their families.
Other honorees of the 2015 Spirit of Hope Award are country music star Toby Keith, who was nominated by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff and whose award was accepted by a representative; Dana Hinesly, who was nominated by the Army; the Quantico Injured Military Sportsmen Association, nominated by the Marine Corps; and Sandra Lehmkuhler, who was nominated by the Navy.
Volunteers Help in Challenging Times
Because of the selfless service of U.S. military members, the nation can enjoy its freedom, Zukunft said. But the country has been at war for the last 14 years, he said, and "we don't see any end in sight."
The work of volunteers is especially critical in these challenging times, Zukunft said, with the services stretched thin with finite resources to meet many global challenges.
"We live at a point in time in history like no other," he said. "Our military remains on point and on guard to defeat threats that challenge our security at home and our interests abroad, and that is more difficult now than ever."
Recipients of the 2015 Spirit of Hope Award are:
Toby Keith, Nominated by the Office of the Secretary of Defense
Toby Keith frequently visited American soldiers at forward operating bases in international war zones and entertained troops at military bases across the globe. He has participated in 11 USO tours, performed more than 200 shows in 14 countries and aboard four ships at sea, and selflessly lifted the spirits of over 250,000 brave service men and women. Keith’s talent and support extend beyond the stage, when he created Pros 4 Vets, a nonprofit organization that focused solely on the well-being of veterans and their families. This organization not only created greater awareness of the challenges faced by American service members, veterans and their families, but also brought together the talents and skills of wide-range of professionals in support of service members. Keith served as advocate for veterans and worked tirelessly to ensure that their needs get the help and support that they deserve.
Dana Hinesly, Nominated by the Army
Dana Hinesly worked with six nonprofit organizations that supported service members and military patient care. Her care for the men and women of the military was showcased as they awaited Operation Iraqi Freedom and change-of-duty-station flights in the Bob Hope USO at Los Angeles International Airport. Hinesly worked the “red eye” shift at the lounge, making meals for service members and caring for their children so they could sleep between connecting flights. She also volunteered at the recreational therapy department in the spinal cord injury unit at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center of Long Beach, California, with the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, and at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Sandra K. Lehmkuhler, Nominated by the Navy
Sandra Lehmkuhler served as the founder and president of the board of directors for the Warrior Foundation-Freedom Station. Through her leadership, this organization improved the quality of life of more than 1,400 service members and their families. It provided travel support to more than 350 parents of injured service members, purchased 325 plane tickets for wounded warriors traveling home for the holidays, and acquired mobile devices loaded with specialized software that assisted 13 warriors with the impact of traumatic brain injuries. The foundation procured special sunglasses for those injured by improvised explosive device blasts, as well as service dogs, modified combat boots for prosthetic limbs and lightweight wheelchairs to increase the mobility of injured service members. Lehmkuhler opened Freedom Station, a 12-unit recovery transitional center and housing complex designed to serve medical retired warriors with the acclimation time, guidance and resources to successfully transition to civilian life.
Quantico Injured Military Sportsmen Association, Nominated by the Marine Corps
The Quantico Injured Military Sportsmen Association provided combat-wounded and other seriously injured and ill military veterans undergoing treatment at area military hospitals the opportunity to experience hunting and fishing adventures in the company of fellow veterans and sportsmen. The nonprofit, volunteer program operated on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, conducted more than 840 individual hunting, fishing or outdoor adventures with wounded warriors and provided more than 3,300 prepared and catered meals to the injured and their families.
Air Force Tech Sgt. Rebecca V. Martin, Nominated by the Air Force
Tech Sgt. Rebecca Martin donated more than 1,100 hours of her time, personal resources, and energy working with 18 community and base organizations and committees to help service members and their families. She volunteered for various events and catered to the well-being of unaccompanied airmen living in base dormitories, newly assigned military members and families with deployed spouses. Martin served as the sole registration school lead for the 2014 Joan Mann Special Sports Day, a Special Olympics event that is sponsored by U.S. service members in the United Kingdom. Her efforts enabled 411 British special needs athletes and providers to attend, which was the largest turnout in the event’s 33 year history. Martin's service extended to leadership roles supporting the RAF Mildenhall Child Development Center, Women and Child Domestic Violence and Safe Houses, airmen food pantries, hospice charity shops, and orphanages in Lithuania and Croatia.
Suzanne Maas, Nominated by the Coast Guard
Over a span of eight years, Suzanne Maas donated resources totaling $1.3 million that allowed the men and women of the Coast Guard with opportunities to break away from the stressors of life and to find some rest, relaxation, and enjoyment. She has donated thousands of tablets and iTunes cards to deployed crews in additional to crews and families of units that tragically lost shipmates. During the response to Hurricane Katrina, Maas funded a morale picnic for hundreds of Coast Guard responders. She “adopted” the units stationed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, by boosting morale with barbeques, climbing walls and most recently, resurfacing their basketball court.