Bradenton Herald salutes veteran photo contest winners

vmannix@bradenton.comJuly 24, 2013 

The photo of Staff Sgt. James Miller was taken outside the base near the Hindu Kush Mountains in northern Afghanistan last winter.

The former Palmetto High School linebacker is in full combat gear, smiling as he gestures toward a pair of camels.

"The local mode of transportation," said Miller, 27, whose nine-month deployment ended July 13.

A light moment in a protracted war, the picture received 3,917 votes for first place in the Bradenton Herald's "Salute to Our Servicemen and Servicewomen" photo contest.

Other winning photos:

• Second place (2,707 votes) -- Sgt. Major Richard Atkinson with children, Caleb, Emily and Nicholas.

• Third place (1,132 votes) -- Sgt. Ryan McRoberts during his tour of duty in Iraq.

• Fourth place (1,012 votes) -- U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrew Vetter in his dress blues on his wed

ding day.

Their prizes are, respectively:

1. Bradenton Marauders season tickets for two.

2. YMCA annual adult membership, a $540 value.

3. $250 Visa gift card courtesy of Veteran Air.

4. $100 Visa gift card and U.S. flag courtesy of the American Legion.

A University of Central Florida graduate, Miller was attached to the 345th Combat Support Hospital in Camp Marmal. He served in a similar capacity in Iraq in 2010.

"It was a good first-time leadership experience," he said of his recent tour. "We provided medical mission support for the northern portion of Afghanistan."

An Army reservist, Miller wants to make it a career.

"I like serving," he said.

His family also likes having him home. Miller lives in Ocala with wife, Ashley, and daughter, Sarah.

"I'm extremely happy for our entire family," said Miller's mother, Kim Holbrook, who submitted the winning photo.

The second-place photo, submitted by Stephanie Atkinson, was taken a year ago when her husband deployed to Washington, D.C., for Operation Noble Eagle -- military operations related to homeland security.

"Not only is he a full-time soldier, but he is also a husband and a dad," she said. "We love him and his service to his country."

The 24-year Army veteran returned home happily to Palmetto last Thursday.

"Anytime you're away from your family is tough," said Atkinson, 42.

As for Sgt. Ryan McRoberts, whose third-place photo was submitted by his wife, Dani, he was also due to return home last week from Operation Noble Eagle, but he blew out a knee playing basketball.

So the 28-year-old's homecoming has been delayed.

"We're looking forward to his return any day," Dani said.

The couple were Manatee High School sweethearts, have two children -- Aaden and Annabelle -- and have been married eight years.

McRoberts, who's in the National Guard, served in Iraq in 2007.

"My soldier," his wife said of the photo. "It's a side of his job I don't get to see a whole lot."

Petty Officer Andrew Vetter's wife, Michelle, is closer to her husband's job site than the other spouses.

He's posted at the U.S. Coast Guard Station Cortez and been in that service branch 11 years. He is a machinery technician first class.

The couple, who have no children yet, were married 1 1/2 years ago. "It's one of my best photos of him," Michelle said.

Vetter is a machinery technician first class.

"It's more than just his job," she said. "It is his life and love and I am very proud to call him my husband."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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