Va. Guard family, teen honored by National Guard family programs for volunteerism

The Billmyer family, (left to right), Hannah Billmyer, Sgt. 1st Class Ellen Billmyer, Master Sgt. Jeff Billmyer, 1st Lt. Rachel Billmyer, and Ben Billmyer, were honored as the 2014 Army National Guard family of the year by the National Guard Bureau. The award is given to a family that shows outstanding and exceptional service to National Guard family programs. (Photo by Master Sgt. A. J. Coyne, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

SANDSTON, Va. — A Virginia National Guard family was recently recognized as the Army National Guard Family of the Year for 2014 while a Virginia Guard family member was honored as the National Guard Teen Volunteer of the Year.

The Billmyer family, which includes Master Sgt. Jeff Billmyer, Sgt. 1st Class Ellen Billmyer, and their children 1st Lt. Rachel Billmyer, Ben Billmyer and Hannah Billmyer, received the award, which is given to a family that shows outstanding and exceptional service to National Guard family programs.

Natalie Unmussig, daughter of Chief Warrant Officer 4 Donald Unmussig, a Virginia National Guard Soldier currently serving as a mobility officer with the National Guard Bureau, received the National Guard Teen Volunteer of the Year, which is presented to a National Guard military youth who exhibits exemplary commitment to and support of the National Guard Family program.

The Billmyer family has been a cornerstone of Virginia National Guard family programs, according to Drew Davis, lead child and youth coordinator for Virginia National Guard Family Programs.

“Both Jeff and Ellen have volunteered with the summer camp, Yellow Ribbon program and training events since the beginning of the program 10 years ago,” Davis said. “They have made room during their busy military and personal schedules in order to fulfill their commitment to both the Virginia National Guard and its families throughout the state.”

Jeff Billmyer, who recently deployed with the 529th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, has served as an adult counselor for youth ages 8 through 12 and a mentor for ages 13-17. Ellen Billmyer, who is assigned to the 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, provides first response coverage and first aid services for sick youth at youth camp each summer.

“We’ve had great leadership and that has allowed us to work in these programs,” Ellen Billmyer said. “It’s very important that everyone continues to support all of them in everything they do.”

Rachel Billmyer, a Virginia National Guard Soldier who recently completed flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala., and is now assigned to the Sandston-based 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, began as a youth counselor, teen mentor, and then adult leader. She plans on attending this year’s camp to not only volunteer, according to Davis, but to talk about her challenges as a Guard teen who has become a female pilot of a UH-60 Black Hawk.

Ben and Hannah, the two younger siblings, have both transitioned through the program from camper, to teen volunteer, to adult leaders. Ben Billmyer received the 2013 National Guard Bureau Family Program National Youth Developmental Award.

“Ben has a natural connection to campers, guiding them on making better choices as well as coaching character development and resiliency,” Davis said. “Hannah, in her first year as an adult volunteer, worked with our 13-14 year old ‘Leaders in Training.’”

“If there is any consistency as the Virginia Guard Family Program evolved throughout the years, the Billmyers define it,” Davis said. “No matter what their hectic military, professional, or personal schedule entails, the Billmyers are always committed to serving our families and youth. They work as a unit, are always helping areas where help is needed, and going above and beyond no matter where an event or training is being held in the state.

“The focal point of the Billmyers is that they have been volunteering with the Virginia National Guard Camping program since its origin. On average, over 150 youth attend camp annually, and the Billmyers have never missed a year,” Davis said. “When it comes to believing in the Virginia National Guard Family Programs, its youth and volunteers, the Billmyers are the foundation of which volunteering is built upon.”

Natalie Unmussig was selected as the 2014 National Guard Teen Volunteer of the Year.

Natalie Unmussig was selected as the 2014 National Guard Teen Volunteer of the Year.

Natalie Unmussig is unlike any other teen who volunteers, according to Davis.

“She shares the pride she has with other youth throughout the Virginia National Guard and community by talking to those who are not involved with the Virginia National Guard about what her involvement is,” he said. “Her loyalty and dedication is immeasurable.”

Unmussig is very active in her local community. In addition to swimming and coaching, she volunteers for her local emergency medical services and community hospital.

“Natalie has made the transition from youth participant to a teen leader with an understanding of what the youth are experiencing through deployment, school, or even with friends who are not a part of the Guard through her experience and involvement for four years,” Davis said.

“My wife and I are extremely proud of Natalie’s work with the Virginia National Guard Teen Panel,” said Don Unmussig. “She really benefitted from the experience.”

“With her father having deployed during both pre-teen and teen years, Natalie has a natural ability to connect with youth, helping them understand the challenges that a youth or teen may face with the absence of a parent due to deployment,” he added.

When she was younger, her father explained, coordinators and older kids in the program served as mentors to Natalie. As she got older and became a counselor herself, Natalie passed it on, “keeping up a great tradition of Guard kids taking care of their own and helping each other.”

“It has been a great experience for her as well as our other two kids that are in the program,” Don Unmussig said. “The life experiences, values, and respect for others she developed during her time with the teen panel will serve her well as she starts college this fall.”

She has expressed her desire to be a nurse for the United States Army once she obtains her nursing degree, according to Davis.

“Regardless of what her bright future will bring her, she will forever leave a legacy with the youth and families within the Virginia National Guard, and will always have a place with the Youth Program.”