The past two years for Capt. Sam Vona and his wife, Kristen, have been somewhat typical for a military family — expecting the unexpected.
Vona kicked off 2020 with a historic rapid deployment to Iraq along with the 82nd Airborne Division, as paratroopers were called upon to respond to attacks on the U.S. embassy there.
He and his wife welcomed the birth of their second daughter, Kathryn, last year.
Then Capt. Vona was part of the division’s historic short-notice deployment to Afghanistan in August to help with the American withdrawal from the country.
On Friday night, the Vonas received more unexpected news.
Capt. Vona, Kristen, Presley, 4, and Katy, 1, were named the 2021 Fort Bragg Family of the Year.
“It’s truly an honor, and to be chosen is really special for our family,” Vona said.
Units across Fort Bragg nominated 21 families who were interviewed by a panel of community members, said Lauren Foti, a sports specialist for Fort Bragg’s Child Youth Services and the evening’s emcee.
Foti said the families were nominated based on being active in their unity and community and demonstrating strength and resilience and cohesion as a military family.
Vona said the announcement Friday night and his family being selected to light the Fort Bragg Christmas tree was unexpected.
“I think the big thing we’ve done is the two no-notice deployments, first to Iraq and then to Afghanistan,” he said. “My wife has been the rock at the house, but also she’s been a family readiness group leader for both of these organizations. So she’s put all the other families first.”
Vona’s specific unit under the 82nd Airborne Division is the Juliet Company, 2nd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team.
Kristen Vona, who served in the Army and Reserves for 10 years, said taking care of fellow military families is her passion.
“I’m prior service myself, and so I think that’s really good to have in my background to help people understand things, and I think it really helps our family dynamic, as well,” she said.
Her husband, who is originally from Florida, joined the Army in 2014 because he “wanted to help people”
The family arrived at Fort Bragg in 2019.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Kristen Vona said she also was involved in the Fort Bragg Protestant Women of the Chapel group.
Like her husband, she said being recognized as the Fort Bragg Family of the Year is humbling.
“It means a lot because the command was definitely responsible for this, and our families are amazing and definitely representing them is really awesome,” she said.
Lt. Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, commander of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, thanked all of Fort Bragg’s families.
“We have many things to be thankful for despite all the current challenges going on — that’s living in the greatest country in the world right now, our freedom, our good health, our friends and family, the commitment of our soldiers and their families and the support of an awesome and incredible Fort Bragg community,” Kurilla said.
Col. Scott Pence, Fort Bragg’s garrison commander, said all of the 21 nominated families represent “the best of the best” at Fort Bragg.
Other Fort Bragg families named as runners up out of the 21 on Friday night were:
2nd Lt. Michael Guzick, wife Audra and Micah; Staff Sgt. Dillon Meister, wife Sarah and children Jack, Finn and Rhett; Staff Sgt. Christopher Ogden, wife Jesica and children Hunter, Carter and Tucker; and Staff Sgt. Luke Pulido, wife Amber and children, Micah, Mason and Myles.
Staff writer Rachael Riley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-486-3528.
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