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Stillwater Honored with 'Sea of Goodwill' Award for Supporting the Troops and Their Families

The Sea of Goodwill Award recognizes the efforts to help soldiers reintegrate into civilian life when they return from combat and assist their families when they are away.

There isn’t a city in the nation that does a better job than Stillwater when it comes to supporting the troops and their families.

On Thursday, Stillwater was awarded the 2011 Sea of Goodwill Award for a medium-sized community (with a population under 100,000) by Homeward Deployed. The city of Hugo received honorable mention.

The award recognizes the efforts to help soldiers reintegrate into civilian life when they return from combat and assist their families when they are away.

"I credit this award to the work of the entire Stillwater community and especially the Stillwater Yellow Ribbon Network for their support to military families," Stillwater City Council Member Mike Polehna said. “This award is for all the hard work our community does to honor our troops.”

The awards prompted Rep. Michele Bachmann to fax a statement of gratitude to the cities of Stillwater and Hugo, congratulating the communities for supporting the men and women who answer the call of duty.

“The men and women who answer the call to serve realize it will take them away from their friends and families,” Bachmann said in a statement. “Their families will have the same burden as those who deploy … We know the No. 1 concern for troops is their friends and families. In Hugo and Stillwater we know those families will be taken care of.”

The Stillwater Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program got started two-and-a-half years ago, when Washington County Commissioner Gary Kriesel approached Polehna about starting the program in Stillwater.

“It all started with a silent vigil at the Veterans Memorial when three members of the National Guard Armory were killed on duty in Iraq,” Polehna said. “The residents of Stillwater really came out in support.”

Since that day, Stillwater has supported the troops in a variety of ways including: The Red Bull Pheasant Hunt; serving steaks at the Disabled Veterans Rest Camp; setting aside seating for veterans and their families to watch the ; Lumberjack Days parades in honor of the fallen soldiers; and hosting Skype conversation for troops in Iraq to talk with their families at Trinity Lutheran Church.

DJ Raduenz, owner of , has been a huge supporter of the effort and the Yellow Ribbon program, as has , Polehna said.

After hearing a call to action at a city council meeting, to send families on buses to Fort McCoy to say goodbye to loved ones during the last deployment.

St. Croix Valley Recreation Company is one of the few Veteran-owned businesses in Minnesota, Polehna said. And Washington County Attorney Pete Orputt instituted the to help vets who get in trouble after returning from combat.

“As we looked through the nominations, we started seeing something very special going on in Minnesota,” said Anne Westerfield, Homeward Deployed’s Director Government Relations. “I called Lisa Carey (Homeward Deployed’s COO) and she said, ‘It’s the Yellow Ribbon Network.’ And she was absolutely right.

“Clearly something special is happening in Minnesota,” she continued. “And clearly Stillwater and Hugo are the model examples of that Sea of Goodwill.”

The thing that popped out about Stillwater and Hugo is that these communities understand that picnics and parades are a lot of fun. But more importantly, Westerfield said, it is understood that there’s more that goes into supporting a vet.

“You all understand that it is something that happens everyday and that doesn’t stop when the uniform comes off and the civies come on,” she said. “That’s what popped your communities to the foreground.”

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