Decorated military men and U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman gave a boost of confidence Monday night to about 60 local high school graduates who are enlisting in the military during Our Community Salutes, the first event of its kind held in Fredericksburg.
About 100 people attended the event in Dodd Hall at the University of Mary Washington. Fredericksburg parent Toni Stinson organized the event. Her son, Josh Stinson, is enlisting in the Marine Corps and gave the Pledge of Allegiance.
Our Community Salutes is a national program designed to recognize young enlistees and it all started in New Jersey, said Randy Plunkett, who is retired from the Air Force and serves on the Our Community Salutes board of directors.
"I can tell you the brightest and best folks are sitting before us," Plunkett said to applause.
Wittman, who was recently in Fredericksburg for Memorial Day, returned to speak to the graduates and their families. The community should admire the service these young people are about to embark on, he said. Serving the country is the highest calling, especially in the challenging times the country is in today, he noted.
"It always astounds me at the commitment these men and women have who serve this country," he said.
Marine Corps Brigadier Gen. Joseph Osterman is a decorated Marine who now serves as the commanding general of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command in Quantico. He said he knows exactly what the parents are dealing with because he has two of his own children in the military. He thanked the families for trusting the military to bring out the best in the enlistees. Of the more than 60 enlistees, more than 40 are joining the Marines.
"You're capable of incredibly great things," he told the enlistees.
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Scott Fuller is the command chief for the Air Force District of Washington. He also thanked the families for trusting the military with their children. Five enlistees are joining the Air Force.
"They are going to be in great hands," he said. "They are going to travel. They are going to get an education. They are going to do a lot of neat things."
After the guest speakers finished, each of the graduates walked on stage to accept a congressional record of their enlistment from Wittman. At the end, Wittman also presented Toni Stinson with an award for organizing the event.
Stinson thanked all of the volunteers, UMW, the speakers and the sponsors for helping with the first Our Community Salutes program.
"We wouldn't be able to do this tonight without you," she said.
Stinson then looked out to the crowd and thanked the military families for raising such fine men and women. Then she looked in the first few rows at the enlistees, also where her son was sitting, and held back tears to say, "You will certainly make this community proud. Train hard. Stay safe."
Gene Hunter, and his wife Chanel, were there to support the enlistees. Gene Hunter is a retired Army Air Corps veteran from World War II.
"I like to see young people going into the service," he said. "I wouldn't miss this for the world."