PHOTO: Essex County Annual Veterans Day Observance at Veterans Memorial Park

by The Village Green
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From Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr.:

During the ceremony, the County Executive presented Essex County Community Star Awards to nine Essex County employees who have served or continue to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, including (from left) Officer Victor Vazquez (Marines) from the Essex County Correctional Facility, Mark R. Bittner (Army Reserves) from the Prosecutor’s Officer, Tina Tyler (Army) from the Division of Family Assistance and Benefits, Sgt. Richard Calo (Air Force) and Detective Vernice Leon-Rodriguez (Army) from the Essex County Sheriff’s Office, Vincent Mays (Army) from the Division of Family Assistance and Benefits, Mitchell G. McGuire, III (Marines) from the Prosecutor’s Office, Kevan Kelly (Army) from the Hospital Center and Officer Joseph Morgan (Marines) from the Essex County Correctional Facility. (Photo courtesy of Essex County)

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. hosted the 12th Annual Essex County Veterans Day Observance in Essex County Veterans Memorial Park in Newark on Tuesday, November 9th. During the ceremony, the County Executive presented Essex County Community Star Awards to nine Essex County employees who have served or continue to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces, including Tina Tyler (Army) and Vincent Mays (Army) from the Division of Family Assistance and Benefits, Kevan Kelly (Army) from the Hospital Center, Mitchell G. McGuire, III (Marines) and Mark R. Bittner (Army Reserves) from the Prosecutor’s Officer, Detective Vernice Leon-Rodriguez (Army) and Sgt. Richard Calo (Air Force) from the Essex County Sheriff’s Office and Officer Victor Vazquez (Marines) and Officer Joseph Morgan (Marines) from the Essex County Correctional Facility.

“Throughout our country’s history, brave men and women have put their lives on hold to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces at home and abroad. Our Essex County Veterans Memorial Park was created to provide our veterans with a place to find serenity and comfort and provide a constant reminder to the public about their contributions and sacrifices,” DiVincenzo said. “We are proud to stand with our veterans at this important occasion, give them our respect and thank them for representing our country with valor and bravery. Our honorees this year demonstrate their commitment to public service by working as County employees and helping us continue Putting Essex County First,” he added.

Mark R. Bittner is a Captain in the U.S. Army Reserves. He is a Legal Assistant Judge Advocate based at Fort Dix with the USARLC Fourth Legal Operations Detachment. He previously mobilized with the 36th Infantry Division with the Texas National Guard in support of Operation Spartan Shield where he was stationed in Kuwait. He joined the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office as an Assistant Prosecutor in 2019. “I thank everyone who has served their country. I get the best of both worlds: to serve my country and to serve our community,” Bittner said.

Richard Calo joined the Air Force in 2019 and has been involved in multiple large-scale construction projects at McGuire Air Force Base and in New Mexico and Florida, and was recently stationed at Osan Air Base in South Korea. He currently serves as a Sergeant with the Essex County Sheriff’s Office. “This is an unexpected surprise. I appreciate the recognition,” Calo said.

Kevan Kelly is an Army veteran who served for six years. He has been a food service worker at the Essex County Hospital Center for nearly 30 years. “It was a privilege and honor to serve my country in the Army and it’s been a privilege and honor to serve the patients at the Hospital Center,” Kelly said.

Vernice Leon-Rodriguez is an Army veteran. She was deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. She currently is a Detective with the Essex County Sheriff’s Office. “It was an honor and privilege to serve in the Army,” Leon-Rodriguez said.

Vincent Mays is an Army veteran who served from 1971 to 1973. He was stationed in Oklahoma as a Data Processing Specialist and received an honorable discharge with the rank of Specialist 5 Sergeant. He is a Family Service Worker in the NJ Family Care Office with the Division of Family Assistance and Benefits. “I’ve never experienced something like this. It makes me happy and proud,” Mays said.

Mitchell G. McGuire, III is a Marine veteran. He joined the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office in 2011 and currently serves as Chief of County Detectives with the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office. McGuire was thankful for the recognition and said it was an honor to serve his country.

Joseph Morgan is a Marine veteran who currently works as a Corrections Officer at the Essex County Correctional Facility. “I want to thank everyone for their support,” Morgan said.

Tina Tyler is an Army veteran who served from November 1994 to November 2011. She was stationed at Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Ga., for 10 years before being deployed to Bosnia and Korea. She is a Family Service Worker in the NJ Family Care Office with the Division of Family Assistance and Benefits. “It’s an honor to be recognized, especially when service people leave their children and families behind to keep everyone safe,” Tyler said.

Victor Vazquez is a Marine veteran who currently works as a Corrections Officer at the Essex County Correctional Facility. “I accept this award on behalf of all veterans,” Vazquez said.

Joining the County Executive in giving accolades to the men and women who served our country were NJ State Senator and Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz, NJ State Senator Cleopatra Tucker, Assembly members Eliana Pintor Marin and Thomas Giblin, Essex County Prosecutor Ted Stephens, Sheriff Armando Fontoura, Commissioner President Wayne Richardson, Commissioners Patricia Sebold and Len Luciano, Deputy Chief of Staff William Payne and Irvington Mayor Tony Vauss.

Rev. Dennis Hughes, Director of the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center, gave the invocation. Essex County West Caldwell School of Technology student Samantha Arias sang the National Anthem. The Essex County Sheriff’s Honor Guard presented the colors at the beginning of the ceremony.

John Cusick performed the “Armed Forces Medley.”

Essex County Veterans Memorial Park became the first new Essex County park developed in Newark in 80 years when it opened in September 2009. It was created on the site of an antiquated parking garage that opened in the 1960s and had become a community eyesore. The 2.7-acre park has about 400 trees, shrubs and perennials, two small meadows, the Armed Forces Memorial, walking paths and decorative metal archways at the entrances. The Armed Forces Memorial includes a circular water fountain surrounded by 10 flagpoles and a short granite wall. The flags of the seven branches of the military – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Army National Guard and Air Force National Guard – fly from 25-foot poles while the New Jersey State flag and Essex County flag fly from 30-foot poles and the American flag flies from a 35-foot pole at the center of the display. At the base of each flag pole on the granite wall is the official agency or government seal.

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