Five Marines received awards for their acts of heroism or exceptional duty performance during the 13th annual American Eagle Awards, at Sywanyk’s Scarlet and Gold in Jacksonville, Jan.17.
“The American Eagle Award was formerly the American Hero Awards, but we had to change the name since not everyone nominated is selected for an act of heroism,” said retired Army Master Sgt. John Reed, CEO of Main Street and host of the event. “Sometimes they are nominated for simply going above and beyond the call of duty. We are here to recognize five service members who exemplify the uniform.”
Reed coordinates the awards ceremonies and is also the CEO and executive director of Main Street, a locally owned business development program that, along with its sponsors, helps to support Marines and Sailors.
“Marines are selected by each of the command sergeants major from the major commands: 2nd Marine Division (2nd MARDIV), 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (2nd MAW), 2nd Marine Logistics Group (2nd MLG), U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), and Marine Corps Installations East (MCIEAST),” said retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Joe Houle. “Of the five who were nominated, one will get the John A. Lejeune Award.”
While MCIEAST did not name a nominee two nominees were selected from 2nd MLG. The five Marines honored were Sgt. Ken Tolentino and Cpl. Nicholas Caltabiano, 2nd MLG, Sgt. Christian Morel, MARSOC, Gunnery Sgt. John Emerich, 2nd MAW and Staff Sgt. Dayton McConnell, 2nd MARDIV. McConnell would go on to receive the John A. Lejeune Award.
“It was such an honor to even be nominated,” said McConnell. “It was completely unexpected and truly I think it is more a reflection of my Marines. They make me look good because they all work very hard … This is a complete surprise. I feel like I was only ever doing what I was tasked with. It is my job to support my Marines. I never expected to be recognized for it. It is truly humbling.”
McConnell was nominated for his leadership, character and dedication. His command noted his various accommodations and provided examples of his exceptional duty performance.
For Reed, the ceremony is about more than recognizing one service member.
“I do these programs because I don’t want to see these young Marines and Sailors get treated like we did when we came back from Vietnam,” Reed said. “Awards like these are important to show people all the good work that these nominees have done and all the good the military does.”