A room full of green, white, and black uniforms greeted organizers Hank Whitter, Executive Director of Vets Helping Vets and Steve Tweedle of Hiers-Baxley Funeral Services as they opened the second annual Hometown Heroes Breakfast. Police departments, sheriff’s offices, and fire departments from Alachua, Citrus, Lake, Levy, Marion, Putnam and Sumter counties were represented. The event celebrated First Responders who see “the good, the bad, and the ugly of people,” said Major General James S. “Hammer” Hartsell (Ret.) of the United States Marine Corps, the keynote speaker for the event.
An enticing breakfast was served buffet style, and attendees enjoyed presentations and heartfelt words of encouragement from Senator Dennis Baxley; former Ocala Mayor Craig Curry; Representative Stan McClain; Whitter; and Tweedle. A solemn bagpipe player in full regalia with kilt and spats played “Amazing Grace” after a moment of silence to recognize fallen responders.
Nominees included Agent Luis Camacho and K-9 Babbo along with Detective David Rodriguez of the Ocala Police Department (OPD); School Resource Deputy Kevin Morton of the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office; and Lieutenant Ron Lewis and Mr. Tim Davis of the Alachua County Fire Rescue.
Hometown Heroes Award were presented to over a dozen officers, deputies, and emergency responders from all seven counties: Patrolman First Class Casey Polidori, Belleview Police Department; Officer Olivia Jones, Dunnellon Police Department; Officer Joseph Gentile, Citrus County Fire Rescue; Deputy Julie Gironda, Levy County Sheriff’s Office; Paramedic and Firefighter Jonathan Campbell, Levy County Fire Rescue; Sergeant Jason Matthews, Lake County Sheriff’s Office; Lieutenant Michael Basile, Sumter County Fire Rescue; Lieutenant Robert Glenn, Alachua County Fire Rescue; and Detective William Gill, Putnam County Sheriff’s Office.
Act of Valor Awards were given to Emergency Telecommunicator Breanna Parson, Marion County Fire Rescue; Deputy Shaquille Thomas (MCSO); Officer Roger Wissinger, (OPD); Captain Michael Clayton Anderson, Ocala Fire Rescue; Co-Winners Firefighter Elliot Nieves and Captain Lance Potter, Citrus County Fire Rescue; Co-Winners Deputy Christopher Roesel and Deputy Anthony Lee, Sumter County Sheriff’s Office; and Deputy Kenny Brown, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
Vets Helping Vets is a not-for-profit organization that assists veterans and their families, and provides social services and information to help improve their lives and maintain independence. They served over 4,800 veterans in 2018.