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'Dedicated to serving': Veterans group salutes helpers

Tribune-Democrat - 1/5/2019

Jan. 05--A diverse group of individuals and organizations who help and honor local veterans were recognized for their contributions during Veteran Community Initiatives' 26th annual Holiday Appreciation Breakfast on Friday.

Businessman Jack Babich and Josh Hauser, Cambria County director of veteran services, were named co-veterans of the year at Asiago's Tuscan Italian, located atop the Johnstown Inclined Plane.

Two former legislators -- U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus and state Rep. Bryan Barbin -- received thank-you recognitions for their efforts. Johnstown Elks Lodge and Martin-Baker America were honored with the civic/community recognition award and veteran organization of the year, respectively.

Sandy Schrum was named the VCI board member of the year, while John Brown received a milestone board award for his 15 years of service.

And Sarah Stohon, a student at Westmont Hilltop High School, was presented a veteran youth achievement award for organizing a Wreaths Across America event at Grandview Cemetery.

"It's amazing," VCI Director Tom Caulfield said. "This is just a microcosm of all of the people that have been helping us since our inception 26 years ago. We can't recognize everyone specifically in the community by events like this, but we want them to know that we appreciate everything they do."

In 2018, Hauser's office assisted with 500-plus claims that led to veterans acquiring a total of more than $8 million in benefits. He operated outreach programs, helped organize the Cambria County Hero Hike and played a major role in identifying the more than 200 county residents who died during World War I and were honored during a Veterans Day ceremony at 1st Summit Arena @ Cambria County War Memorial.

"It was pretty unexpected," Hauser said. "I've been out of the Marine Corps a number of years right now, and, ever since, I've just been dedicated to serving my fellow veterans.

"To be honored by this group of veterans that have been doing this job for so long and helping others means a lot to me. It's really encouraging that I'm on the right path."

Babich, a Navy veteran and senior vice president at Ameri-

Serv Financial, was instrumental in helping VCI exceed its fundraising goal of $450,000 that was set more than two years ago.

"Jack was so essential in our fundraising program," Caulfield said. "He knew so many people. He had contacts. He has been well-respected in the veteran community.

"He just put them all together and was able to get additional funding that we certainly would not have had if he wasn't here."

Babich called the recognition "awesome."

"It's just a first-class operation," Babich said, "and to be recognized as the veteran of the year from their perspective means a lot. One of the things that people like from being in the military is recognition.

"Whether you're a veteran or whether you're active duty, that doesn't go away. People like to be patted on the back."

Stohon organized her event, which attracted about

200 people to Grandview to place wreaths on veterans' graves during the holiday season.

"I really felt it was important to honor the veterans, and now I realize how important it is and how hard the military works for our country," Stohon said.

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.


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