SANDSTON, Va. — A Virginia National Guard family was recognized as the Army National Guard Family of the Year and a volunteer was recognized as Regional Volunteer of the Year in an announcement published Feb. 13, 2017, by Maj. Gen. Kevin L. McNeely, the Director of J1 Manpower and Personnel at National Guard Bureau.
The Merritt family of Brian, Teresa and Ava Merritt and Andrew and Emma Ross were recognized at the Army National Guard Family of the Year for demonstrating outstanding and exceptional service to Family Programs. Brian Merritt is a staff sergeant in the Virginia Army National Guard working full time as a recruiter.
Michaela Claywell from Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team was recognized as one of 10 Regional Volunteers of the Year for demonstrating outstanding and exceptional service to Family Programs.
“We are so incredibly thankful for our family volunteers, and their support is absolutely essential to the success of the Guard’s mission,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy P.. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. “The Merritts and Michaela Claywell are outstanding examples of the amazing work of our volunteers, and we are so proud to see that hard work recognized at the national level. They set the example for others to follow, and those of us in uniform couldn’t do what we do without the contribution these volunteers make.”
According to their nomination packet, the Merritts “are a fixture across Family Programs and a comforting and familiar sight to departing or returning Soldiers and their families during camps and Yellow Ribbon events. This family’s reach extends well beyond just the military community, as Boy Scout leaders, supporters and participants, as well as being involved in and in support of the arts, local sports and church organizations. The Family Programs message and intent goes with them wherever they are volunteering their time and efforts.”
The Merritt family volunteered their time in a number of different positions at the annual Youth Camp and other event, and “each family member has stepped up on multiple occasions to apply their leadership abilities to situations assisting in the accomplishment of the task and improving the organization. They are constantly flexible to adjust and wear whatever volunteer hat may be needed at any given event.”
The Merritts demonstrated their commitment to volunteering when the whole family participated in the Virginia National Guard Youth Camp just six days after Ava was born.
Claywell has been volunteering for more than seven years, and volunteered more than 1,000 hours in the last year as a company Family Readiness Group leader for Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
According to her nomination packet, “She is a volunteer in the truest sense. Her spouse is not a member of the unit’s command team, and she has no obligatory pressure to serve as the unit’s FRG leader. She simply believes in serving the families of our Soldiers and is dedicated to helping the unit take care of our Soldiers and their families.”
Claywell attended numerous unit training events over the course of her time as the Headquarters Company FRG Leader, to include unit family days, unit holiday parties, as well as multiple Yellow Ribbon events and departure and homecoming ceremonies for the units’ federal active duty service. She even filled in as the battalion FRG leader during vacant periods when no battalion-level leadership was present.
“Her dedication to the unit’s FRG program has been simply unmatched,” wrote Maj. Brandon Price, the Headquarters Company commander. “She has remained an active and dedicated FRG leader to the largest company in our battalion for the past seven years straight, and has helped Soldiers and their families through two separate deployments, one of which was a difficult short-notice mobilization. She has gone above and beyond the minimum requirements for her position. She has mentored numerous other FRG leaders during her tenure, and at times even filled in as our BN FRG leader.”
Price summarized her service when he wrote,” Our battalion’s FRG program’s success can be directly attributed to her enduring dedication to the families and Soldiers of our unit. She contributes so much to the unit and to our families, and this award would be fitting recognition of all that she has done over the past seven years, and continues to do, for the families of our Soldiers.”