The VIP Program, administered by the National Military Family Association, recognizes exceptional volunteers worldwide who are chosen for their outstanding service which contributes to improving the quality of life in their military and neighboring communities. Active duty, guard, reserve, and retired members of the seven uniformed services and their family members and survivors are eligible to receive the award.
"Karen Comish is a volunteer who has changed lives," according to the Schweinfurt Installation Volunteer Program which nominated her for the VIP award. "Her efforts have enabled hundreds of Army families to adapt to today's military environment and to thrive despite the many challenges they face," commented Candace Couture, Installation Volunteer Coordinator.
Ms. Comish has been instrumental in providing soldiers and their spouses, new to a foreign country, the knowledge and self-confidence not only to take care of themselves, but also to reach out and act as advisors and mentors to others. Her impact on the community has been multiplied by her enhancement and encouragement of volunteer service by others.
In 1999, she initiated the Welcome Center and gathered the furnishings necessary to make it a place where newcomers could arrive in a friendly, homey atmosphere. She conducts orientations for Center volunteers, coordinates schedules, and often fills in to greet newcomers when they arrive. Units are informed about new arrivals and any needs they might have for extra assistance in adjusting. This Welcome Center concept has been implemented throughout bases of the 98th Area Support Group (ASG) and is now the template for all US Army Europe (USAREUR) installations.
Additional volunteer activities include her work as Chairperson for Schweinfurt's Boy Scouts of America. With the help of other volunteers within the community, the inactive Schweinfurt Boy Scouts program was reactivated and is now flourishing with over 100 active young participants.
As chairperson of the Schweinfurt Officers' and Civilian Spouses' Club Craft Bazaar, Ms. Comish worked diligently to make sure every detail was organized and coordinated. She volunteers countless hours as Nursery Coordinator, Sunday School teacher, and mentor and counselor for members of her church. She attends meetings and sits on several committees working to improve the quality of life at Schweinfurt.
Ms. Comish recorded over 1,800 volunteer hours this year as she touched every segment of the Schweinfurt community: the soldiers, their spouses, the youth, Department of the Army civilians, and local residents.
Other recipients of the Very Important Patriot Awards are:
- Ms. Cindy Whitney of Camp Keyes, Maine (spouse, Maine Air National Guard)
- Ms. DaLisa Stearns of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (spouse, USN)
- MSgt Mark C. Long of Randolph AFB, Texas (USAF)
- SGT Laura R. K. Jernigan of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii (ARMY)
Each of the five VIP recipients and a companion is flown to Washington, DC. During their stay in the Nation's Capital they receive a --> ,000 cash award, meet with senior leaders of their individual services, visit with their elected officials on Capitol Hill, attend the NMFA Annual Meeting and Luncheon, and meet the generous sponsors of the VIP Program.
The Very Important Patriot program also recognizes five Award of Honor and five Award of Merit recipients for their outstanding volunteer work
The recipients of the Very Important Patriot Award of Honor and $250 include:
- Ms. Victoria Aboagye of ISC Portsmouth, Virginia (spouse, USCGR)
- TSgt Kimberly R. VanGorder of Keesler AFB, Mississippi (USAF)
- MSgt Buck Zehringer of Randolph AFB, Texas (USAF, retired)
- Ms. Janet E. Hammes of Camp Pendleton, California (spouse, USMC)
- SSgt Valorie J. Whitehill of RAF Mildenhall, England (USAF)
The recipients of the Very Important Patriot Award of Merit and --> 00 are
- HMCM Eugene Crabtree of Hampton Roads, Virginia (USN, retired)
- Lt Col William R. Ritchie, III of MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina (USMC)
- Ms. Mary Frances (Frances) Merritt of Kirtland AFB, New Mexico (spouse, USAF, retired)
- SSgt Samuel M. Jones of Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona (USAF)
- Ms. Donna DiRoma of Aviano Air Base, Italy (spouse, USAF)
Coca-Cola Foods conceived the VIP Program in 1995 to promote wider recognition of the countless uniformed service family members who volunteer time and talent in service to others. Over the years the list of sponsors has grown and now includes The Minute Maid Company (formerly Coca-Cola Foods), the Kellogg Company, The Clorox Company, Keebler Company, H.J. Heinz Company, and Tyson Foods. VIP sponsors contribute the funds for travel, expense allowances, and cash awards.
VIP sponsor companies, which are suppliers to the commissaries, and NMFA have a mutual interest in ensuring the preservation of the commissary benefit and in saluting volunteers who enhance the quality of life in their communities. Preserving the value of the commissary benefit as a savings for uniformed service families and a contribution to their quality of life has been a long-standing NMFA goal. NMFA staff continues to work closely with the management of the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA).
NMFA particularly applauds DeCA's current Customer Appreciation Program which encourages activities such as Very Important Patriot recognition. The Association is grateful to the sponsors for their generous support and is proud to be a part of this exciting program.
The National Military Family Association is a non-profit, predominately volunteer organization with membership from the seven Uniformed Services, active duty, retired, reserve component and their family members and survivors. NMFA is the only national organization whose sole focus is the military family and whose mission is to serve those families through education, information, and advocacy.
Visit the association's web site for further information about the VIP Program and the National Military Family Association.