The following biographies for each of the recipients highlight their significant contributions to our country.
Retired veteran Ramiro Hernandez: Army veteran Ramiro Hernandez proudly served in the U.S. Army for four years as a 12B 1P Combat Engineer Paratrooper and in the Idaho National Guard for sixteen years, where he served as a combat medic as well as in chemical reconnaissance before his retirement. Veteran Ramirez had the unique opportunity on his second deployment to Iraq to serve as part of the Personal Security Detail for dignitaries and entertainment celebrities, including former Speaker of the House of U.S. Representatives, John Boehner, and the late U.S. Senator John McCain.
Army National Guard Sergeant First Class Sam Browning: Idaho National Guard DET 3 Platoon Sargent and Fire Support Non Commissioned Officer (FSNCO) Sam Browning began his valiant service as a member of the Army Reserve 1016th unit out of Pocatello shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan on separate occasions. During his deployment, SFC Browning operated on the front lines as a 13F Forward Observer, working to find enemy positions and call in support on designated locations, and advise his Battalion Commander on fire support options and assets. SFC Browning is highly decorated, having earned the Army Achievement medal, Army Good Conduct medal, Army Reserve Component Achievement medal, Iraq campaign medal, Armed Forces Reserve medal and many others. SFC Browning credits a former drill sergeant for the encouragement he needed to pursue higher education under the GI Bill.
Army Reserve Servicemember Donavan Hammond: Donavan Hammond, from Lewiston, Idaho, has served as a member of the U.S. Army Reserve for the past three years. From a young age, Donavan has dreamed of having the honor and opportunity to serve his country as a soldier. During his junior year of high school, he enlisted in the Army Reserve and spent the following summer working to achieve that goal by completing military basic training, more commonly known as boot camp. Donavan has donned his uniform proudly and hopes to re-enlist as an active duty servicemember next year and make a difference serving his country.
Air Force National Guard Member Layne Short: Layne Short is a member of the Idaho National Guard, and previously served in the United States Air Force on active duty for 14 years. Born and raised in Mountain Home, Short deployed multiple times and served as a Munitions Systems Specialist. Commonly referred to by airmen as AMMO, this career field is tasked with protecting, handling, storing, transporting and assembling of non-nuclear munitions. Short currently resides in Mountain Home with his wife and seven kids, running a BBQ business to “bring Idaho an experience they would never forget.” He says, “Giving back to Idaho and our local community is the heartbeat of our business.”
Army National Guard Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Robert D. “Bobby” Earley: CSM Bobby Earley has served as a member of the Army National Guard since December 2022. He has served as a part of the 1-148th Field Artillery Regiment and the Field Artillery Master Gunner Division. CSM Earley is a Battalion Command Sergeant Major and responsible for the health, welfare and morale of all battalion soldiers, as well as a senior advisor to the Battalion Commander. He is also a security guard at the Idaho National Laboratory. Earley has been deployed to Iraq twice--in 2004 and in 2010--and has received various awards and medals, including the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal and Combat Action Badge. One of his most special and recent memories occurred in December 2021 when his grandfather, a member of the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and his father pinned his new rank of CSM during his promotion ceremony. He describes both men as the biggest influences in who he is today. CSM Earley also credits his mother and grandmother for their love and support along the way.
Retired Army Veteran Paul Andrew Espinoza: Veteran Sergeant First Class (SFC) Paul Espinoza retired from the U.S. Army after twenty years of service from 1985 to 2005. He served in the 82nd Airborne Division located at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, as well as in the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington. SFC Espinoza deployed several times for missions in South America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He has received numerous awards for his service, including the Special Forces Tab, Meritorious Service Medals, Army Commendation Medals, Army Achievement Medals, Combat Infantry Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, among others. As a Special Forces Engineer MOS-18C assigned to the Operational Detachment Alpha Team, SFC Espinoza was responsible for performing and teaching tasks in demolitions, explosives, field fortifications, and employing warfare tactics and techniques in infantry operations. He says the best part of his service in the Army was being able to work with the most professional individuals all dedicated to country, unit and team.
Marine Veteran Corporal (CPL) Luke Ellsworth: Veteran Luke Ellsworth served in the United States Marine Corps from September 2015 to September 2019. CPL Ellsworth served as a member of the 7th Marine Regiment based at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California. Following his separation from the Marines, he was recognized by his Regiment, and received an award reading, “You were always the go-to guy when tasks were difficult.”
Major (MAJ) Christopher Lavelle: Major Lavelle has been a member of the Idaho National Guard for 22 years. He is currently serving as the Executive Officer for the 116 Brigade Engineer Battalion, headquartered in Twin Falls. He has completed three deployments and received numerous awards for his service including the Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal. Lavelle said memories that stand out the most about his service are the homecomings from long military schools, training, or deployments. “There is nothing better than coming home to the people that you care about most, that had to take a second seat to the job that you have to accomplish in the course of military service,” he said.
Veteran Jesse Coyne: Veteran Army Second Lieutenant (2LT) Jesse Coyne served in our nation’s military for 13 years, from 2004 to 2017. He joined the Army Reserves as an enlisted PsyOp Soldier before transferring to active duty in 2007. In 2009, Coyne was commissioned as Infantry 2nd Lieutenant. During his time in the Army, he deployed twice two Iraq and once to Afghanistan. He has received numerous awards including a Bronze Star Medal, Army Commendation Medals, Army Achievement Medals, an Afghan Campaign Medal and an Iraq Campaign Medal. “I never lost a Soldier in combat,” Coyne said. “On every deployment, everyone who left with me, came home with me. I am more proud of that fact, than of any medal the Army ever gave me.”
Veteran Mark Knapp: Veteran Mark Knapp served in our nation’s military for 4 years from 2004 to 2008. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2004, and now resides in Rathdrum, Idaho. Knapp served in active duty for two years and joined the Reserves following his active duty. Knapp deployed with his unit to Iraq, even though his deployment caused him to serve past his end of active service date.
Veteran Eric Bolich: Veteran Eric Bolich served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, from 1992 to 2012. During his time in the Army, Bolich deployed three times, once to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan. He has received numerous awards including two Meritorious Service Medals, four Army Commendation Medals, five Army Achievement Medals, an Afghan Campaign Medal with two stars and an Iraq Campaign Medal. “As a Combat Heavy Engineer, my job was a heavy construction equipment operator, building roads, parking lots and the like. During my first Afghan deployment, I worked in retention, helping fellow soldiers make decisions about their military careers and arranged for reenlistments. During my last deployment, I worked in the intelligence department, worked as the SOG, and supervised 19 local national interpreters,” Bolich said.