Keesler award winner will join Palazzo at State of the Union address
BILOXI -- Each U.S. congressman gets only one extra ticket for the annual State of the Union address, and it is usually offered to a person of significance.
Rep. Steven Palazzo has traditionally invited the winner of the Thomas V. Fredian Community Leadership Award, which is presented to a member of the Air Force at the Coast's annual Salute to the Military dinner.
The latest winner is Master Sgt. Becky Patterson and she follows in the footsteps of her co-worker, Master Sgt. Nicole Dismute, who was the previous honoree.
President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech will be Tuesday night.
Patterson said she is thrilled to get to go to Washington for the first time.
"I'm super-excited," she said.
Laura Chambers Crist, who is with Palazzo's office, said it is an experience most people who work at the Capitol don't get.
"It really is a truly unique experience for someone to be able to sit in chamber while it's going on," Crist said.
Patterson will also get to tour the White House and Capitol building during the trip.
"It is truly an honor to extend this opportunity to Master Sergeant Patterson in recognition of her exceptional military and civilian service," Palazzo said in a press release. "In addition to her responsibilities at Keesler Air Force Base, her extensive volunteer efforts exemplify the core Air Force value of service before self."
Both Patterson and Dismute worked together at the Archibald Mathies Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Keesler Air Force Base.
"I watched (the State of the Union address) last year because I wanted to see my co-worker on TV," she said. Patterson said it's amazing she will now be the one in dress blues sitting in the balcony in House chambers.
"Following her footsteps is very difficult; she is amazing," she said of Dismute.
She said she was utterly stunned to win the service award, and had resolved to relax and enjoy the event when her name was called.
"I was completely surprised," she said. "All the nominees were phenomenal."
As superintendent of curriculum, Patterson supervises the faculty at the academy and organizes the graduation ceremonies and community service events.
She has been in the Air Force for 15 years and works in public health when not on special assignment, like at the academy.
She is passionate about volunteering, whether it's construction with Habitat for Humanity, park restoration or walks for breast cancer.
She has logged almost 3,000 volunteer hours and raised $120,000, according to Palazzo's statement.
Patterson said she wants to be like a 90-year-old she met at Gulfport's Armed Forces Retirement Home who was still helping out and planning dances.
She said her co-workers spend a lot of time together and are like an extended family.
"It's a lifestyle. You come to work, and then you spend some more time at work and then you volunteer for work," she said.
"And you do it because when you're away from your family, your community becomes that."
View photos from the 2014 State of the Union here.