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Base honors top volunteers

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Keesler honored its top volunteers April 17 at its annual volunteer recognition luncheon at Vandenberg Community Center. 

Four individual and two group annual winners were recognized, and three nominees were announced for the National Military Family Association's Very Important Patriot awards. 

Winners are: 

Michele Hirata, wife of Capt. Jeff Hirata, 2nd Air Force, volunteer of the year. She's volunteered 4,000 hours and donated $25,000 in handmade purses, shawls, hats, scarves and dress sets to raise money for cancer awareness and other charities. She designs and creates "chemo beanies" for patients going through chemotherapy or hair loss illnesses. 

Mrs. Hirata sold pins at festivals to raise $200 for breast cancer research and made and sold purses to benefit Keesler Spouses Club projects. She's also one of the organizers of Hearts with Hope, a cancer awareness music festival scheduled for May 6 in Ocean Springs. 

Capt. Nicole Mitchell, 403rd Wing, outstanding individual volunteer. Captain Mitchell, a Hurricane Hunter and a meteorologist with The Weather Channel, has been involved in programs in the Atlanta area, including working with abused and neglected children as a court appointed special advocate, serving as a Big Sister to a 9-year-old girl and volunteering with the "Jingle Mingle" for Toys for Tots. 

Kurt Higgins, 338th Training Squadron, volunteer excellence award. Mr. Higgins is a leader and coach with the Biloxi Soccer Organization and Little League. He's vice president of Keesler's African-American Heritage Commit-tee, mentors at-risk youth at Jeff Davis Elementary in Biloxi and is secretary of the Michel Middle School Parent-Teacher Organization. He's directed Tabernacle Baptist Church's restoration following Hurricane Katrina and coordinated housing and feeding for volunteers. 

Pamelia Tunstall, 81st Comptroller Squadron, volunteer excellence award. Mrs. Tunstall manages Keesler's Federal Women's Program. She's on the African-American Heritage Committee and coordinated the group's artwork contest, organization day, education heritage day and gospel fest. She's secretary-treasurer of the New Community Missionary Baptist Church in Biloxi. 

The 332nd TRS, outstanding large group. The squadron's main project for the year was rebuilding an Air Force widow's home from start to finish, contributing more than 2,500 hours. They also worked with the Harrison County Humane Society and other organizations along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. 

The 335th TRS weather training flight, outstanding small group. The flight's major project was working with Habitat for Humanity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Flight members collected more than $50,000 in relief and reconstruction supplies for the Salvation Army and participated in three major beach cleanups. 

VIP nominees are Tech. Sgt. David Hollyman, 81st Transportation Squadron; Staff Sgt. Janet Presley, 335th TRS, and Mrs. Hirata. 

Sergeant Hollyman was involved with Habitat for Humanity, Make a Difference Day, Special Olympics, Project Cheer, Toys for Tots and Operation Keesler Cares, a drive that collected clothing and toys for Iraqi children. 

Sergeant Presley participated in humanitarian relief efforts following Hurricane Katrina, coordinated a base bone marrow registration drive and three blood drives and directed restoration efforts for the hurricane-damaged weather school.