James Bendel, Executive Director of Westmoreland County Named Winner of the First Class Patriot Achievement Award

NEWS from Financial Planning Association of Pittsburgh


16 nominees and the Board of Pitt Vets celebrated at May 21 Saluting Service with Rocky Bleier at at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum

PITTSBURGH, PA  (5/21/2013) – James D. Bendel, who served as a Navy captain and was on the last US ship to set out from Guantanamo Bay, was named the winner of the Financial Planning Association of Pittsburgh’s First Class Patriot Achievement Award during Saluting Service on Tuesday, May 21 at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall.  Bendel is the executive director of the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County.

The Greensburg resident was selected from 17 veterans nominated for making a difference through service in any of Western Pennsylvania’s 27 counties. The 2013 nominees, who hail from Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Westmoreland Counties, were honored on stage at a free pre-Memorial Day celebration of all veterans of US military branches at Saluting Service, featuring remarks from Rocky Bleier about his own military service, and a free picnic and concert for attendees.

Mike Hepler, a Pittsburgh resident who served as a US Army Sergeant in Vietnam, received honorable mention. All nominees were honored on stage during the event in which the winner was announced.

The FPA of Pittsburgh also presented a $10,000 donation to Jared Souder, executive director of Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard (www.veteransplace.org) in honor of Bendel as the winner of The First Class Patriot Achievement Award. The unrestricted donation will support the work of Veterans Place which provides housing, employment preparation, and wellness support to homeless veterans.

In addition, Vincent Quatrini, a member of the board of The Pittsburgh Foundation, was on hand to announce an addition $2,500 gift to Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard from the Foundation.

FPA created The First Class Patriot Achievement Award in 2012 to honor past and/or present community service by veterans of any U.S. military branch, including reservists and National Guard, who reside in Western Pennsylvania. Last year, Thomas Fitzgerald, a Vietnam veteran and co-founded of Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania received the inaugural award.

James D. Bendel (Greensburg 15601)  Captain, US Navy. Awarded: Honorary Doctorate from Saint Vincent College, Athletic Hall of Fame member at Saint Vincent College, and Latrobe Area Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award and Man of the Year.  Bendel is a board member of: Union Mission Men’s Shelter (president), Westmoreland Community College Foundation (president), Wimmer Corporation (vice president), Homes Build Hope, Tri-City Life Center, Westmoreland Trust, and Mon-Yough Community Services. He has previously served with many other organizations. Bendel served for 30 years with Adelphoi Village and recently assumed the role of executive director of the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County.

Mike Hepler (Pittsburgh 15219)  Sergeant, US Army. Awarded: Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, The Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, Purple Heart, and the General Matthew Ridgway Award. Hepler is dedicated to supporting veterans and young people. He has worked for the Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania for over 43 years and the past 24 years as president and CEO. His involvement with the Veteran’s Leadership Program has been instrumental in keeping the agency viable in order to serve local veterans. Hepler volunteered the Boys and Girls camp site for their first “Stand Down” where medical and dental care, legal advice, food, clothing, personal hygiene care, and shelter was provided to homeless veterans.

The 2013 First Class Patriot Achievement Award Nominees:

Four City of Pittsburgh residents: David L. Eibling, Pittsburgh 15213; Mike J. Hepler, Hill District 15219;Michael E. McCarthy, Strip District 15222; William R. Cole, Pittsburgh, 15232; From the University of Pittsburgh: Board members of the Pitt Vets, Oakland 15213. Matt Hannan (president), Dave Coogan, Marco Attisano, Sean Rohrer, Gideon Bradshaw, Cody Bertolini, and Jake Jager.

One Beaver County resident: Calvin W. McConnell, Aliquippa 15001; One Butler County resident: Gerald Vanasdale, Valencia 16059; One Plum resident: Charles (Chuck) DeSabato (Pittsburgh 15239). One McKeesport resident:  Ernest R. Oatneal, McKeesport, 15132. Five South Hills residents: Brian L. Schill, Upper St. Clair 15241; Roger W. Heins, Upper St. Clair 15241;Edward M. Stewart, Carnegie 15106; John R. Phelps, Pittsburgh (Cedarhurst) 15243; Robert J. Ree, Coraopolis 15108.  Three Westmoreland County residents: James D. Bendel, Greensburg 15601; James Yauger, Trafford 15085; Jason H. Gerstner, Youngwood 15697.

About Financial Planning Association of Pittsburgh:
The Pittsburgh chapter of the Financial Planning Association is comprised of more than 300 experienced financial planners who are energized by member events and community service initiatives such as Saluting Service, presented for the second year in 2013. Financial Planning Association® (FPA®), the leadership and advocacy organization representing the financial planning community, is the largest membership organization for personal financial planning experts in the U.S. The membership includes professionals from all backgrounds and business models. FPA helps connect thousands of consumers to competent and ethical planners who uphold the highest standards – FPA’s Standard of Care. Contact FPA  of Pittsburgh at www.fpapittsburgh.org or via FPA of Pittsburgh, Saluting Service on Facebook. www.fpapittsburgh.org

The 15 other Nominees for the 2013 First Class Patriot Achievement Award:

William R. Cole (Pittsburgh 15232)  Sergeant, US Marines. Awarded: Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation, Iraq Campaign Medal. Cole has been active in outreach and services to homeless veterans through such programs as “Stand Down” (2012). Cole had been instrumental in the University of Pittsburgh Chapter of the Student Veterans Association (“Pitt Vets”), which honored him for his campus involvement and encouragement of membership. He was also an Internship Support Program Recipient (2012) and a 2013 Pitt Honors Convocation Honoree. He received the Sergeant James “Rip” Taylor Award from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Cole, an informal advisor to the Coro Public Allies program, has been published in The Washington Post and Pitt Policy Journal about his service and veteran support programs.

Charles (Chuck) DeSabato (Pittsburgh 15239)  Chief Petty Officer, US Navy. Awarded: Good Conduct Award, Surface Warfare Specialist, Battle Efficiency, Command Pin from Hr. Ms. Isaac Sweeks (Dutch Navy), USS Spade Fish HOV5 Conversion, USS Sea Lion Live Target Project LPO. A life member of the Disabled American Veterans, he is a past president of the Fleet Reserve Association and the Chief Petty Officers Association (East Suburban), held leadership posts in the American Legion, is an active and honored international and local Rotarian, and served on the Congressional Veterans Advisory Board. DeSabato has been a member of the Boy Scouts of America Liaison for more than 50 years, serving in many leadership roles. A sponsor and chaperone of the BSA Vision Club at Baldwin High School chapter, his group–including up to 40 students—went on four mission trips to rebuild Bay St. Louis, Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina. His company CHi Signs & Designs supports numerous organizations, including the donation of apparel to homeless veterans.

Dr. David L. Eibling (Pittsburgh 15213) Colonel, US Air Force. Awarded: First Annual Excalibur Award from the Society of Air Force Clinical Surgeons, Air Force Achievement Medal, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal (First Oak Leaf Cluster), Air Force Meritorious Service Medal (Second Oak Leaf Cluster), and many other distinguished awards in the medical field. Eibling is a professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine where he was named a teacher of the year several times. As chief of otolaryngology at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Pittsburgh, he continues to provide excellent care for Veterans with diseases of the ear, nose and throat and has designed many innovative ways of monitoring patients in the hospital.

Jason H. Gerstner (Youngwood 15697)  Sergeant, US Marines. Awarded: Combat Action Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Certificate of Commendation, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, and the Korean Defense Service Medal. Gerstner is pursuing his education to become a registered nurse in order to serve wounded veterans and also volunteers in his spare time.

Roger W. Heins (Upper St. Clair 15241)  Lt. Colonel, US Army Reserves. Awarded: the Meritorious Service Medal, 1997. Heins has turned his passion for service into his involvement with Young Life as a volunteer and committee member and Historical Society of Upper St Clair as director. He is an elder and trustee at Grace Fellowship Church.

Judge Michael E. McCarthy (Pittsburgh 15222)  Petty Officer Third Class, US Navy. Awarded: National Defense Medal, Navy Expeditionary Medal, US Navy Vietnam Service Medal, US Navy Seabee Combat Badge, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, US Navy Achievement Medal, Honorable Discharge, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, Republic of Vietnam Civil Action Color with Palm, and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. Serving in Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Judge McCarthy helped implement the Veterans’ Court, a special Court division dealing with veterans’ issues. He received the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation Judges Award (2010) for his development of the Mortgage Foreclosure Program with the 5th Judicial District, the Action Housing Award (2012), and The National Irish Voice 100 award for Judicial Leadership (2011). Judge McCarthy received The 2010 Veteran of the Year Award from Brentwood Post 1810 and Soldier & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum 2011 Friend and Patriot of the Year Award. A founding trustee of Pittsburgh Fisher House Helping Military Families, McCarthy is also active with multiple construction projects that benefit his community.

Calvin W. McConnell (Aliquippa 15001)  Major, US Army Reserves, now serving in Afghanistan. His wife Marilla accepted his certificate at the event. Awarded: Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Kosovo Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and Meritorious Service Medal. McConnell is vice president of the West Point Society of Western Pennsylvania. A member of the VFW, American Legion, and several historical societies, he also serves on the Honor Guard, which participates in funeral services for fallen veterans. He is a liturgist and usher at New Bethlehem Presbyterian Church. His family has owned its farm since 1787, a legacy that has contributed to his love of family and country.

Ernest R. Oatneal (McKeesport 15132)  Sergeant, US Army. Awarded: Vietnam Counter Offensive Phase II, RVCM-w-60 Device; Ex Badge (M-14), and 1st 0/5 Bar; 2D 0/5 Bar. As a member of Lions and White Oak Rotary Clubs and a past Rotarian of the Year, Oatneal supports his community and helps veterans maintain a vibrant lifestyle. He is an active volunteer with both Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and McKeesport Recreation Board.

John R. Phelps (Pittsburgh 15243)   Second Class Petty Officer, US Navy. Phelps is a member of the White Oak American Legion and recruits local veterans to assist in community volunteer projects. He was awarded the Bettis Corporation Excellence in Volunteer Service Award for his continued service, which includes working closely with the elderly and handicapped. For several years, he has volunteered with the district attorney’s office to help rehabilitate first-time offenders. At St. John’s Lutheran Church, he serves as a board member and president.

Robert J. Ree (Coraopolis 15108)  First Sergeant/Senior Master Sergeant, US Air Force Reserves and National Guard 911 Airlift Wing. Awarded: Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal (1 Oak Leaf); Meritorious Unit Award, Air Reserve Forces Meritorious Service Medal (7 Oak Leafs), National Defense Service Medal (Bronze Star), Iraq Campaign Medal (Service Star), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, Air Force Expeditionary Service Ribbon (Gold Border), Air Force Longevity Service (6 Oak Leafs), Armed Forces Reserve Medal with M device & 2 Hourglass Devices; Air Force Training Ribbon, 911th First Sergeant (2009, 2010, 2012). Ree is a liaison to veterans in need of financial aid and personal counsel with the Michael Novosel Foundation, which provides support to Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom vets. A member of the Honor Guard, he is also involved with VFW Post 402, Civil Air Patrol Squadron 603. Ree begins graduate school in social work at the University of Pittsburgh in Sept. 2013. He plans to counsel other veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Brian L. Schill (Pittsburgh 15241)  Lt. Colonel, US Air Force and PA Air National Guard. Awarded: Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, Global War On Terrorism Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal, Kosovo Liberation Medal, and others. He is actively involved with Rotary International and honored with Rotarian of the Year and the Club Service Award and as Paul Harris Fellow. Schill has been a volunteer instructor with Junior Achievement of Western PA. He served on the Board of Directors with Clarion University of PA Alumni, Jefferson Awards for Public Service and Local Federal Coordinating Committee, as well as public relations director for Military Affairs Coalition of Western PA. Schill is head of the chamber of commerce of Peters Twp., South Hills.

Edward M. Stewart (Carnegie 15106)   Lt. Commander, US Navy. Awarded: National Defense Ribbon, Vietnam Service Ribbon, Vietnam Combat Ribbon, Combat Action Ribbon, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Navy Achievement, Naval Meritorious Unit Award, and the Expeditionary Medal. Stewart actively assists returning veterans and their families in their adjustment to post-combat life. He was a board member of Cope /Fazio Committee for Autism and volunteered for Atria’s Hear Camp for Children and Big Brothers and Sisters. He also participates in his local community by working with the homeless shelter, coaching the school basketball and softball teams, and through community theater.

Gerald Vanasdale (Valencia 16059)  Sergeant, US Marines. Awarded: the Naval Commendation Medal for heroic achievement while serving as Squad Leader,  Rifle Badge (2d Award Expert), National Defense Service Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal, Combat Action Ribbon, Meritorious Unit Commendation, and other service ribbons. He received the Marine Corps League Distinguished Citizen Award “Bronze” and the Marine Corps League Distinguished Service Award for work in home construction projects benefitting vets. His construction company has also been honored for its community service. Vanasdale founded The Fallen Marine Memorial Run, an annual motorcycle ride raising funds for wounded Marines and the families of fallen Marines. Mr. Vanasdale has been a volunteer mock interviewer in the Semper Fi Odyssey for returning veterans.

James Yauger (Trafford 15085)  Sergeant, US Army. Awarded: Purple Heart, Army Achievement Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Driver and Mechanic Badge with Driver-W Bar, and Combat Infantryman Badge. Yauger actively supports student veteran employment. Service includes Bootcamp for Human Resource Professionals, Student Veteran Conference, and presenting the Pennsylvania Association of Adult Continuing Education on “Next Practices in Veteran Services”. Founder of a student veteran chapter at Seton Hill University in 2009, Yauger was an instrumental planning committee member for coordination of an entrepreneurial workshop for women veterans in Westmoreland County.

Board of the “Pitt Vets” (Pittsburgh 15213)

The Student Veteran Association at the University of Pittsburgh consists of the following Board members who have served in several military branches:

One US Army Sergeant, Sean Rohrer. Two who have served with the US Navy: Marco Attisan, Second Class Petty Officer,  and Jake Jager, Third Class Petty Officer. One member of the Air Force, Megan Nguyen, Second Lieutenant.  Four Marines: Cody Bertolini, Sergeant;  Gideon Bradshaw, Corporal; Dave Coogan, Captain; and Matt Hanan, Gunnery Sergeant, who is the President of Pitt Vets.

These University of Pittsburgh students have led the organization through tremendous growth and have collectively received many decorations, such as Sea Service Deployment Ribbons, Combat Action Ribbons, Operation Iraqi Freedom Ribbons, and Operation Enduring Freedom Ribbons. These seven Board leaders have responded to the challenge of making Pitt a better place for student veterans to succeed. They have also taken part in numerous community service projects such as the Veterans “Stand Down”, raising money for their Wounded Warrior Fund and other collaborations with Coro Public Allies.


Editors: Speaker, special guests, entertainment and award recipient photos provided on request prior to and following the event.

Media Contacts:
Lynette Asson  412.973.9828  lynette@newplace.us
Yvonne Hudson   412.512.0589   yvonne@newplace.us
Public Contact Information   www.fpapittsburgh.org   fpa.pittsburgh@verizon.net  412-653-1054




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