Dining on lunch catered by a local restaurant, more than 20 Beaufort-area Marines and sailors exchanged smirks and knowing looks Wednesday as Rotarians seated nearby chowed down on ready-to-eat meals, some more adept than others at preparing the individually packaged field rations.
The service members, each hailing from one of the area's three military bases, were invited to the Beaufort Rotary Club's monthly meeting on Lady's Island for its annual Military Persons of the Year awards, which honor those who excel on- and off-base.
For more than 20 years, the club has reached out to local base commanders, seeking nominees for the honor. This year for the first time, it also contacted officials from the S.C. National Guard's 131st Military Police Company for a nomination. The reserve unit is based at the Beaufort Readiness Center near Marine Corps Air Station.
Sgt. Christopher Hooper, 34, drove to Beaufort Wednesday from Camp Blanding, Fla., where the unit is training this month, to become the club's first Guard honoree.
Also receiving awards Thursday:
A former Marine, Hooper has been a member of the National Guard for about 12 years and was recognized for being a model service member and for his volunteer work with the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life and other local charities, according to Rotarians.
"I think this is a real honor," Hooper said. "Especially since I'm the first person (in the unit) to receive this award. There are a lot of people out there who want to help but aren't able to for one reason or another. I have an opportunity to help people and make a difference, so I do."
An award honoring the contributions of Beaufort's National Guard, a unit that was first recognized in 1776 during the Revolutionary War, was long overdue, said Greg Dyson, club spokesman.
"It's about time that we recognize all four of Beaufort's military commands," Dyson said.