VFW honoring East Freedom woman

An East Freedom resident and Air Force veteran active in VFW activities will be honored today in Louisville, Ky., where she will be recognized at the organization’s national conference.

Sandy Showalter, who recently wrapped up a year as commander of the state’s 22nd VFW district made up of 23 posts in Blair, Clearfield and Centre counties, has been named an All-American Commander, based on achievements in membership growth and efforts to help veterans and their communities.

“The title of All-American Commander is the most prestigious honor given by our organization,” VFW National Commander John Hamilton said last week in an announcement of the award. Forty VFW commanders worldwide were selected for the honor.

The honor recognizes Showalter for leading a district that added 90 members between July 1, 2012, and June 30. Her district also raised money to help two injured soldiers, took on efforts aimed at preserving veterans benefits and hosted a women’s veterans retreat in March in Altoona.

“She did her job 100 percent,” said Tom Spingola of Clearfield, who succeeded Showalter as 22nd VFW District commander on July 1.

Spingola said he and two other Clearfield area VFW members will be at the national convention, where they expect to see Showalter among the 40 district commanders worldwide receiving the honor of All-American Commander.

“She’ll definitely have a cheering section,” Spingola said.

Showalter, 44, said she was very pleased to learn that she received the award, which caps off a busy year of VFW activities. She said she became involved with VFW activities as a way to help veterans and to retain ties to the military.

The Woodbury native said her service with the Air Force, from 1987 to 1994, provided her with the opportunity for traveling and training. She signed up while she was a senior at Northern Bedford County High School.

“I was active in a lot of school activities, and my parents paid for a lot of things,” she said. “But I didn’t want them to have to pay for college, so I started talking to the guidance counselors, then the recruiters.”

Three months after graduating, Showalter was part of the Air Force and assigned to the Prime Readiness in Base Services unit, which handles cooking, laundry, housing and supportive services for military and civilian personnel.

The first three years of military service, she said, gave her a chance to travel to Germany, Italy and Canada. During Operation Desert Storm, she was twice deployed to Saudi Arabia, in late 1990 through early 1991, then again in late 1993 until early 1994.

After an honorable discharge in late 1994, Showalter lived in Minnesota, then Georgia, then moved back to Blair County in May 2003. Three years later, she joined the Martinsburg VFW Post 43 and began taking on leadership roles, initially as the commander of that post, followed by the junior vice commander and senior vice commander roles for the 22nd VFW District.

A year ago, she became the district’s commander and chairwoman of the state VFW Women’s Veterans Committee, a post she said she will retain for the 2013-14 year.

“I could have stayed another year as the district commander, but with my boys, and the work involved, and the women’s veterans work, I didn’t want the [district commander] post for a second year,” she said. “Really, I’ve been on the fast track since 2006.”

Spingola said he understood Showalter’s decision and appreciated her support in his abilities.

“I told them I didn’t want to replace her, that I couldn’t replace her,” Spingola said. “But she told me she knew I could do the job, and that she’d be there to help me. But I know it’s going to be hard to fill her shoes.”

Showalter, who works as an office manger at Partnering for Dental Services Pediatric Clinic at the Greater Altoona Career at Technology Center, said last week that she was looking forward to attending the convention expected to draw 10,000 members.

“Getting this honor is one of the top highlights of my life,” Showalter said.