May Is Military Appreciation Month!

by Jen McDonald

volunteer_medalAs a nation, we most often equate military tributes with those we remember each Memorial Day.  We celebrate with parades and public speeches to express our gratitude for those who have fallen. But you may not realize that May is also known as Military Appreciation Month.

Military Appreciation Month was instituted by Congress initially in 1999 in effort to mobilize American citizens’ appreciation for past and present service members’ contributions and sacrifice. Both Houses of Congress deepened the legislation in 2004 to ask the President to make an annual proclamation asking citizens to take part in celebratory activities such as ceremonies and various patriotic events. 

Although it’s important to continue to remember our past service members, it’s also beneficial to take a moment to recognize members of our military that contribute beyond their uniformed hours and help their local communities thrive and prosper.   

The Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal (MOVSM) is awarded to members of the military who volunteer their after work hours to worthy causes in their communities. Active duty, Reservists and National Guardsman are all eligible for this award after demonstrating significant impact and measurable outcomes from their chosen activity.  volunteer_service_ribbon

The Manual of Military Decorations and Awards doesn’t restrict volunteer activities, but they must represent the military and the Department of Defense positively. Although there is not a required amount of time donated, it is suggested the service member maintain a regular time period such as a three-year commitment, or 100 total hours.  

There are many, many service members who have received this award. These are brief stories of only a few of the recipients.  

  • Master Sergeant Bill Wiseman of the Iowa National Guard led a group of Special Olympians to participate in 2013 Special Olympic Winter Games in South Korea. Wiseman has intimate knowledge of the care involved for a special needs child, as his own son has Downs Syndrome.  With more than a decade of volunteer time dedicated, he ultimately coached his Floor Hockey Team to win Olympic Gold.

  • Beginning in 2011, Coast Guard Operations Specialist 2nd Class Lindsey Neumann gave many hours to charitable causes throughout the Wilmington, North Carolina area. She completed a ten-month leadership program sponsored by the city and set out to spend time with local organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, and Adopt-A-Highway. Neumann also was heavily involved with the beautification of the Yahweh Center, a home for abused children. In addition to her MOVSM award, the Navy League named her the 2013 Coast Guardsman of the Year. 

  • While serving during frigid Afghanistan winters, Staff Sergeant Clay C. Usie noticed the need for warm coats for local children and began Operation Good Samaritan to collect winter gear. His efforts produced 500 donations which were distributed by troops in the area. Usie also dedicated his time to a New Orleans, Louisiana, Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter in effort to secure military honors for deceased service members. In 2004, Usie was namedArmy Times Soldier of the Year.

It’s not a coincidence that we celebrate Memorial Day and Military Appreciation Month in May. Both serve as a reminder of the sacrifices, hardships, and contributions our military members have experienced. The month also holds the distinction of commemorating other military achievements.

  • May 1: Loyalty Day recognizes the struggles for American freedom.

  • May Friday before Mother’s Day: National Military Spouse Appreciation Day acknowledges the dedication and commitment spouses make to their families and communities.  

  • May 8: Victory in Europe Day (VE) celebrates the end of World War II.

  • May 16: Armed Forces Day establishes one day to recognize all branches of the U.S. military.

Modern Memorial Day remembrances have roots dating to three years after the Civil War ended. On May 5, 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic created Decoration Day for the nation to honor the fallen by laying dead flowers on their graves. The largest observance of the day took place at Arlington National Cemetery.  Although this occurrence is the most documented, smaller towns claim their observances happened earlier.

Towns across the U.S. participated in some variations of the tradition, and there are records of Civil War tributes held in the spring from localities in Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. Ultimately in 1966, President Johnson and Congress declared Waterloo, New York, the official birthplace of Memorial Day. There flags were flown half-staff and Civil War Veterans were honored throughout the community on May 5, 1866.  

After World War I the government moved to make Memorial Day inclusive of all American wars to honor veterans. Congress officially announced Memorial Day as a national holiday in 1971 to be celebrated on the last Monday of each May.  

Much later in 2000, Congress again passed another law evoking The National Moment of Remembrance Act and created a commission to ensure all fallen soldiers were not forgotten. The act was designed to ask all Americans to take a moment at 3 p.m. on Memorial Day to remember those who have died.