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2012 Alumni Award Recipients Announced

Georgia Military College alumni and friendsmet onOctober 19-20 to celebrate Alumni Weekend 2012. One of the highlights of the weekend was the recognition of a select group of individuals with Georgia Military College Alumni Awards. The recipients of these prestigious awards are selected annually from submitted nominations. This year’s award recipients are: Benjamin Underwood, Distinguished Alumnus Award; Dr. Donna Johnson Lambert, Alumni Achievement Award; Braxton Cotton, Outstanding Young Alumnus Award; Merel Harrison, GMC Service Award; LTC Charles “Buck” Bennett, Community Service Award; and Maxine Goldstein, Honorary Alumna Award. These six extraordinary people are representative of the fine character and countless acts of excellence displayed by the alumni and friends of Georgia Military College. GMC is fortunate to have been a part of the lives of each of these fine people. The contributions of the 2012 Alumni Award recipients have, without a doubt, made the world a better place. Distinguished Alumnus Award Benjamin H. Underwood, FACHE, JC 1962 Atlanta, Georgia The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes alumni whose lives have embodied the ideals of Georgia Military College including discipline, moral character, and learning, whose accomplishments have made a conspicuous and positive impression on those who will follow their lead, and whose lives are examples of extraordinary accomplishment. As a well-known and respected leader in the field of addic­tion treatment and behavioral health, Benjamin H. Underwood is no stranger to recognition. In February of this year, Underwood was awarded the coveted Gold Honor Award of Excellence from the Georgia Hospital Association -- the most prestigious award bestowed on a hospital CEO and given only six times in the past. He was cited for his advancement of art and science; his service in local, state, regional and national hospital organizations; and most of all, his furthering of good public relations for his hospital, the hospital association and the healthcare industry as a whole. After junior college at GMC, Underwood attended the University of Georgia. Upon graduation, he launched his career in the healthcare industry and became the Associate Administrator of the Metropolitan Psychiatric Center in Atlanta and subsequently became the President and CEO of this organization. He later moved to the CEO position at Ridgeview Institute in Smyrna, Georgia and also served as President and CEO of Safe Centers, which operated chemical dependency programs throughout the southeastern United States. The crowning achievement of his life’s work has been co-developing and running the Talbott Recovery Program with G. Douglas Talbott, M.D. Experts cite an addiction treatment program that has been recognized as the gold standard in the treatment of addictive diseases and coexisting psychiatric disorders. Underwood’s expertise has earned him national acclaim. He has served as chairman of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) and was awarded the American College of Addiction Treatment Administrator’s Outstanding Achievement Award in 1992. On behalf of Talbott Recovery, in 2006 he accepted the prestigious James West M.D. Quality Improvement Award for clinical excellence from NAATP. In 2007, he was awarded the Georgia Hospital Association’s (GHA) Chairman’s Award, the association’s highest honor, for his dedication and professional achievements over the last 40 years in behav­ioral healthcare. In 2011, he was awarded the prestigious Nelson J. Bradley, M.D. Lifetime Achievement Award from NAATP. Underwood says, “Any contributions I have made over the years are clearly attributable to the many outstanding and dedicated men and women with whom I have been privileged to work in the mental health field.” His humble leadership and extraordinary accomplish­ments are a true credit to the GMC legacy. Ben Underwood and his wife, Sheri, have five wonderful grandchildren and reside in Atlanta, Georgia. Alumni Achievement Award Dr. Donna Johnson Lambert, HS1986 Inman, South Carolina The Alumni Achievement Award is designated for an alumnus who has attained notable success in his chosen field or profession, and whose achievement might serve as an inspiration to anyone considering entering that chosen field or profession, or might serve as inspiration to anyone to excel in his chosen field or profession because of the example set by the recipient of this award. In a world where “follow your dreams” can seem more like poetry than reality, Dr. Donna Johnson Lambert has worked endlessly hard to make her dreams come true. Lambert knew from a very early age what she wanted to do with her life. She told everyone she would be a veterinarian when she grew up and her story never changed. A focused achiever, she started in high school at GMC and worked steadfastly toward that goal through exceptional academics and athletics. When it came time to go to college, she could have her pick and was accepted at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. Her best friend went to Tech; she went to the University of Georgia for the vet school. She continued to excel in her years of college and vet school. Near the end of vet school, Lambert married her husband, Craig, and contracted to work with a vet practice in Inman, S.C., a place that would become home for the Lamberts over the years. After the birth of her second child, Lambert decided to make some changes that would better suit her growing family. She established a veterinary house-call service, allowing her to schedule her work time without interfering with family time. She continued this practice for six years, juggling work and home life, even managing to fit in homeschooling the children and the birth of a third baby. Their nest complete, the Lamberts began to plan for the ultimate expression of Donna’s dream….establishing their own veterinary practice, combining his business expertise with her veterinary skills. After several years of planning, preparation, and soul-searching, in 2008 they took a leap of faith and bought the property they then developed into “Creature Comforts.” The clinic provides individual room boarding, an animal daycare program, grooming, and of course, Lambert’s on-site veterinary services. The business has become one of the most successful veterinary boarding animal clinics in upstate South Carolina. Now in their fifth year, business at Creature Comforters is booming and has grown to 17 associates on staff, including two groomers and an additional veterinarian. The Lamberts plan to franchise the concept and market the idea to fellow veterinarians. Dr. Lambert and her husband have three wonderful children: a son, Dalton, graduating high school this spring, a daughter, Madison, in the 10th grade and a daughter, Natalie, in the 3rd grade. All three of the children have been active in running the family business. Outstanding Young Alumnus Award Braxton T. Cotton, JC 2002 Atlanta, Georgia The Outstanding Young Alumnus Award recognizes alumni who, having completed their studies at GMC within the past fifteen years, have demonstrated excellence in academics or in their chosen professions, or who have made great strides in their personal life, and who show promise of continuing excellence. Braxton T. Cotton has achieved more in a decade since leaving GMC than some people do in their entire careers. He graduated GMC a commissioned Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserves in the Infantry, went on to get a degree in Criminal Justice from Saint Leo University, was hired as a police officer at the Milledgeville Police Department and was a detective for the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office. While serving in that capacity he was also a SWAT team member, a member of the crime suppression unit and a firearms instructor. Cotton then join the Georgia Department of Public Safety and served as Class President of the 84th Trooper School for the Georgia State Patrol. After being stationed on the south side of Atlanta at Post 47 Forest Park, he was selected and assigned to Executive Protection Detail. While on this unit he served both Governor Sonny Purdue and Governor Nathan Deal. He has also been assigned to numerous visiting governors and cabinet level dignitaries from the federal government. Cotton’s accomplishments come as no surprise to the instructors and GMC leaders who know him: as a cadet, he was the Student Government President and Regimental S-3 in the Corps of Cadets. He was also the first Bulldog soccer team Captain as well as the Rifle Team Captain. He embodied the principles and discipline of GMC then, and continues his relentless pursuit of excellence today. In July, Cotton was appointed Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council where he oversees tens of millions of dollars in state and federal grant funds. He func­tions as a State of Georgia executive agency head and adviser to the Governor on issues that directly impact the criminal justice system of Georgia. In his spare time, he is completing his capstone project for his Master of Administration with a focus in public administration from Central Michigan University. He, his wife, Danielle, and their two children live in Atlanta. GMC Service Award Merel Harrison, HS1973, JC 1974 Milledgeville, Georgia The GMC Service Award is designated for an alumnus/alumna or friend of Georgia Military College who has rendered special service to the school or to any of its ancillary organizations including the GMC Alumni Association, the Bulldog Club, the Booster Club, or the GMC Foundation, Inc. Milledgeville native Ms. Merel Harrison registered in the first proud group of women to attend GMC in 1969. The strong military focus of the school prevented women from attending starting in 1934, but changing times brought them back. Harrison entered in ninth grade -- “a thrilling and unique experience” for her -- and dove head first into her stud­ies and school participation. She joined the staff of The Saber corps newsletter where she was the business manager through junior college graduation. She performed on the drill and rifle teams, was a mem­ber of the local Chapter of Association of the United States Army, and was inducted into National Honor Society and Phi Theta Kappa. After graduation in 1974, she left GMC to pur­sue a bachelor of arts degree in history/education at Georgia College where she was selected Outstanding History Major. After 13 years as a military wife, Harrison returned to Milledgeville in 1989. She soon joined the GMC Alumni Association and since that time has risen from dedicated supporter to take her place on the executive board where she has now held every position available. She is currently serving her fourth consecutive term as president. Over the years, she has given her time faithfully and selflessly to GMC, whether it is to extend an inspiring address to the graduating class or to assist in decorating the gym for the Alumni Weekend dance or auction. She has worked on charitable drives, the Will Robinson Memorial Run and a host of other efforts that have directly benefited the goals and aims of Georgia Military College. In addition, Ms. Harrison has offered generous financial support to the institution by co-sponsoring a suite in Baugh Barracks, supporting the paver campaign, and contributing regularly to both the 1879 Circle of Friends and the Steinway Society as a charter member of each. Harrison’s talents extend beyond campus through her work with a range of civic organi­zations including volunteer work with the Kiwanis Club, Relay for Life, Muscular Dystrophy, March of Dimes, and the American Heart Association. She is the former treasurer of the Milledgeville Chapter of the American Association of University Women. Ms. Harrison resides in Milledgeville and is employed at Fidelity Bank in Greene County. She has a special place of pride for her three adult children: Pacifica, Jeremy and Amanda. Community Service Award Lieutenant Colonel Charles “Buck” Bennett, JC 1985 Fort Stewart, Georgia The Community Service Award is given to Georgia Military College alumni who, through leadership, inspiration, teamwork, or hard work in the spirit of volunteerism or in their professional activities, have taken the lessons of GMC’s Character Education beyond the classroom and whose actions are characterized by a history of exemplary service resulting in unquestionable improve­ments within their community. Of the many service hours Lieutenant Colonel Charles “Buck” Bennett logs, he says the most significant is probably his time helping the Wounded Warriors and Gold Star families. “My reason for reaching out is basically the fact that I made it back without a scratch. I feel a little bit guilty about that. Surviving a significant emotional event like combat has given me the opportunity to help others.” LTC Bennett makes time for that opportunity often. He serves as Senior-Vice Commander of American Legion Post 9 where he is responsible for outreach. The post hosts Christmas par­ties at the Warrior Transition Unit for wounded soldiers at Ft. Stewart. For Valentine’s Day, his Legion group and their spouses collect candy and cards for soldiers at the unit as well as deployed units. They organized a send-off and homecoming for the 48th Brigade Army National Guard deployment to Afghanistan. The group also hosts an annual outing for soldiers on Jekyll Island. Selfless in his giving and his quest to help