More than 70 people gathered at the Westminster American Legion Post 31 on Wednesday for the seventh annual Business Advocates for Veterans luncheon honoring Carroll County veterans and police officers.
At the luncheon, Cpl. Michael Fitzgerald was named the 2018 Carroll County Police Officer of the Year, Landon R. Becker was named Veteran of the Year and Koons Westminster Toyota was named Veteran-Friendly Employer of the Year.
“There’s a lot of people in this room that I do a lot of work with,” said Todd Mitchell, the event’s organizer and sponsor. “It’s camaraderie of people, it’s a fraternity. A lot of people happen to see each other, and recognize, and give each other a reason to keep doing what we are doing. This kind of renews people’s spirits.”
Fitzgerald is described by his commander, Capt. David Stem, as the unsung hero of the department.
“Cpl. Fitzgerald is an invaluable asset to the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office,” wrote Stem in a statement. “Through his position with the Sheriff’s Office, he works tirelessly for the benefit of the community.”
Stem also wrote that although Fitzgerald has a Monday-through-Friday job, he is often working Saturday and Sunday to help when there are staff shortages — and he adjusts his schedule from daytime to nighttime shifts if need be. He also has organized and coordinated numerous national nights out, carnivals, firehouse expos, emergency management expos, touch-a-truck events, back-to-school events and Fourth of July fireworks displays.
“I’m very humbled. I told them when I got hired, the HR department, that I served my country for 20 years, and now it’s time for me to serve my community,” Fitzgerald said after the luncheon.
“That’s what I’m doing. I’ve got great leadership, and I’ve been there 11 years now.”
Becker retired after 22 years of service in the U.S. Army and earning numerous awards. They include: a Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal with seven Oak Leaf Clusters, Airborne, Air Assault and Team Leader Course during his tenure. Following his retirement, he serves veterans in his community as the two-year VFW Post 10076 commander and post service officer.
“I'm really impressed to get to know Landon here,” said Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, at the awards ceremony. “Landon, I'm so appreciative to have been able to talk with you. I want to recognize your contribution to the county.”
Koons Westminster Toyota won its award for supporting the Carroll Hospital and Carroll Hospice, and trying to hire veterans.
“It’s definitely an honor to accept the award,” sand Angie Boerner, controller at Koons. “We’re very fortunate to live in a community that has the businesses and public all step up to help people in need. And we are very fortunate as a business to be able to provide that assistance.”
The event’s guest speaker, Michael Yaggy, is a Vietnam veteran who has been awarded the Bronze Star with a Combat V for Valor and a Purple Heart for wounds received from a land mine. When he returned, he went to college through the G.I. Bill and became an attorney.
Yaggy lost his son, a pilot and officer in the Marine Corps, in a training accident in 2008.
“I don’t want the people who serve to be forgotten. That to me is critical — not just in Vietnam where I was, but other battles. I want them to be remembered and this is just a way of doing that,” Yaggy said before the luncheon.
“When I was younger I was in the draft and there were a lot of people. Now there isn’t a draft and there are also less people. I think there’s this under-appreciation. It’s a lot they’re taking on and I don’t want them to be forgotten.”
Also at the luncheon were Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, and Commissioner-elect Ed Rothstein, R-District 5.
Rothstein said after winning the election Tuesday uncontested, he is officially looking forward to working on veterans’ issues in the county.
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“As a 31-year veteran serving our country, it’s always an honor to be a part of a community that honors our military and veterans,” he said. “I just want to continue to serve.”