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VFW honors paramedic, firefighter and law enforcement officers of the year

VFW Post 5184 Commander Bill Jackson (far left) presents awards for Law Enforcement Officer of the Year to Clint Holcombe, Firefighter of the Year to Collin Garrison and Baylor Bradford (accepting the award on behalf of their brother-in-law/father, Rhett Bradford), and Paramedic of the Year to Chris Watkins. Photo by Kellie Singleton.
VFW Post 5184 Commander Bill Jackson (far left) presents awards for Law Enforcement Officer of the Year to Clint Holcombe, Firefighter of the Year to Collin Garrison and Baylor Bradford (accepting the award on behalf of their brother-in-law/father, Rhett Bradford), and Paramedic of the Year to Chris Watkins. Photo by Kellie Singleton.

Members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5184 are considered heroes for the sacrifices and contributions they have made to this country, but for the past eight years, the VFW has made a point to honor other local heroes at their annual Veterans Day reception.

This past Sunday, the VFW honored local paramedics, firefighters and law enforcement officers and named firefighter/paramedic Chris Watkins as the Paramedic of the Year, fireman Rhett Bradford as the Fireman of the Year and Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Clint Holcombe as the Law Enforcement Officer of the Year for 2014.

VFW Post 5184 Commander Bill Jackson presented Watkins and Holcombe with certificates and engraved knives. Bradford was unable to attend the reception, but his daughter, Baylor, and brother-in-law, Collin Garrison, accepted the award on his behalf.

“It’s always a special thing for us to be able to do this for those of us who protect our city and county each and every day,” Jackson said.

“These men that received these awards are dedicated to what they do and are obviously well thought of by their peers.”

Even though the VFW presents the awards, the honor is voted on by fellow firefighters and law enforcement officers, which, for Watkins, is something that makes the honor even more special.

“Knowing that this was something that was voted on by the guys that I work with means a lot to me because every single one of them is an important part of what we do as a department,” Watkins said.

“It takes all of us working together to do our jobs, and I just appreciate them for thinking enough of me to vote for me to receive this award.”

Watkins has been in the emergency medical services field for the past 10 years and has been a firefighter/paramedic with the Russellville Fire Department since August 2011. He said he first got into the field as a way to help others and as a stepping-stone for a career as a firefighter and a paramedic.

“I knew I wanted to be a firefighter, but I also wanted to be a paramedic because I wanted to have all the skills I could in order to do my job to the very best of my ability,” he said.

“It is a great feeling to be able to help other people through my job, and knowing that I have the potential to really make a difference in someone else’s life is the best part about what I do each day.”

“I truly appreciate being recognized for doing something I feel like I’ve been called to do, and I appreciate the VFW for all they have done and for presenting me with this award.”

Russellville Firefighter Rhett Bradford has been a firefighter with the Russellville Fire Department for the past 10 years.

Bradford said his decision to be a firefighter was different than most people’s because it wasn’t something he had necessarily wanted to do from a young age.

“I was working at the park and rec department and I happened to see a posting for a job opening at the fire department,” Bradford said.

“I thought I would give it a shot because it would be a good career, but it has become so much more than that for me.

“That posting was a blessing in disguise for me and my family, and I couldn’t be prouder to do what I do as a firefighter. This is a job you can make a difference in. When we deal with people, it’s usually on one of the worst days of their life, and just knowing that I can be there for someone at a time like that and help them through it is fulfilling and rewarding.”

Even though Bradford couldn’t be there to personally accept the award on Sunday, he said he appreciated even being considered.

“Receiving this award was a shock, but I am very honored by it,” he said. “I don’t do what I do for the awards or recognition, but it’s nice to be appreciated. My uncle fought in the Korean War, so receiving this award from an organization like the VFW is very special for me. I also appreciate my captain, Randy Seal, for arranging to have my daughter accept the award on my behalf since I couldn’t be there. That means a lot to me.”

Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Clint Holcombe graduated from the Northeast Alabama Law Enforcement Academy in March 2012 and worked for the Red Bay Police Department before transferring to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office in October 2012.

Holcombe currently serves as an investigator with the Franklin County Drug Unit and also serves as the chaplain for the Franklin County Jail.

“Being in law enforcement is something I always wanted to do,” Holcombe said.

“I finally made the decision to pursue a career in law enforcement because I wanted to teach my sons that if they have goals and dreams, they can pursue them and achieve them if they want it bad enough.

“Being in this profession has been an honor and I am thankful for the opportunity to serve my community in this capacity.”

Holcombe said he enjoys being in law enforcement and is humbled to be recognized for the jobs he does.

“There is an ever-growing need for somebody who will stand between the law abiding citizens of this county and the crime that is out there,” he said.

“I am proud to have that responsibility and it is something I take very seriously.

“It is an honor and very humbling to receive this award, and I appreciate it very much.”

Russellville Mayor David Grissom said Sunday’s reception was one of the highlights of the year.

“I am so appreciative of these groups of people – the VFW, the firefighters, paramedics and our law enforcement – and I just want to thank them for their service to our country and to our community,” Grissom said.

“Each one of them are heroes and deserve the recognition they received.

“I want to say a special thanks to Bill Jackson and the rest of the VFW Post 5184 for hosting this reception.

“It is a true testament to the character of the members of this organization that they would take time out to honor others during a time like Veterans Day where they are the ones who should be receiving the honor.”

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