HARRISBURG, Pa., Feb. 25, 2012 / -- The Pennsylvania National Guard awarded the first two recipients of its new Major Octavius V. Catto Medal today during a ceremony at The Union League of Philadelphia.
The first Pennsylvania Army National Guard recipient is 1st Sgt. Kevin Bittenbender of Lewisburg, Union County. He was recognized for volunteering a modestly estimated 500 hours of his time for various organizations since 2005.
"Despite the demands of being a traditional Guardsman, father and husband, he gives very generously of his free time—hundreds of hours every year—to help coach the U.S. Paralympics biathlon team," said Col. George Schwartz, commander of the Pennsylvania Guard's 55th Heavy Brigade. "First Sgt. Bittenbender and his wife, Molly, even host athletes in their home during training periods. He is also very proud of the fact that several of the athletes he works with are disabled veterans."
The first Pennsylvania Air National Guard recipient is Maj. Jonathan Bell, a chaplain in the Pittsburgh-based 171st Air Refueling Wing. The Pittsburgh resident was recently recognized as the Chaplain of the Quarter for U.S. Central Command and was nominated as 2011 Air National Guard Chaplain of the Year for his service overseas.
"We are so proud and humbled to have Chaplain Bell in our unit. He epitomizes what the Catto medal stands for and really puts light on the term citizen-soldier," said Col. Steven Painter, vice commander of the 171st Air Refueling Wing. "He just returned from a seven-month deployment and yet he remains a constant figurehead in the community. He is always helping out the community in any way he can."
Maj. Gen. Wesley Craig, adjutant general of Pennsylvania, spoke at the ceremony and pinned the recipients.
"There is no doubt that these individuals are deserving of the honor bestowed upon them today," said Craig. "They have distinguished themselves from among their peers and—through their acts of military and civic leadership—exemplify the best that our National Guardsmen have to offer."
Catto was a Civil War-era Pennsylvania militia officer who was killed in Philadelphia in 1871 while on duty defending African-Americans at polling places by those who opposed their right to vote. He was a professor at the Institute for Colored Youth and a community leader who led desegregation efforts in Philadelphia in the 1860s.
"It was my privilege to be able to honor the memory of a great Pennsylvania military officer who was killed while defending liberty," said Craig. "The spirit of Major Catto is alive in today's Guard members, and this new state medal allows us to formally recognize our soldiers and airmen for their outstanding community service and support."
The medal was originally created in the 1880s, but no records show that it had ever been awarded before it disappeared. It was approved for re-introduction into the commonwealth's military decorations system in December 2011 and is awarded to members of the Pennsylvania National Guard who distinguish themselves as leaders through community support and public service.
Media contact: Sgt. Matt Jones, 717-861-8352 (office), 717-943-4328 (cell)