The 2012 Spirit of America Audie Murphy Patriotism Award will be presented to
Laura Ayers was selected for the Audie Murphy Patriotism Award because of her volunteer work in support of soldiers and their families as well as to individuals with disabilities. She began her volunteer work as a tutor for a disabled child 28 years ago, and later joined FAST (Future Assets, Student Talents) FAST is a non-profit organization that seeks to motivate and prepare talented students with disabilities and help further their education. As an engineer in industry, Laura began working with soldiers and their families in 1995. Her desire to help soldiers would quickly intensify soon after she became a U.S. Army Department of Defense civilian engineer on September 10, 2001. Ayers continues to be devoted to the cause of soldiers and their families.
Laura Ayers is a co-author of the Reintegration Action Plan (RAP) workbook for returning soldiers. The RAP workbook is endorsed by the State of Alabama, the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as other state and local municipalities. A free copy can be viewed at www.AlabamaReturningVeterans.org
- Greengate School, Trustee / Board Member (school for children with dyslexia)
- Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Redstone- Huntsville Chapter, VP Awards Program
- North Alabama Veterans and Fraternal Organizations Coalition, Board Member
- Alabama Returning Veterans, Co-founder, Co-Chairman
- North Alabama Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) Committee – North Alabama Chapter
RMEF is leading a conservation initiative that has protected or enhanced habitat on over 6 million acres—an area larger than Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Glacier, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain and Great Smoky Mountains national parks combined. RMEF also is a strong voice for hunters in access, wildlife management and conservation policy issues. Because of her leadership they routinely sponsor hunting trips for wounded warriors.)
- State of Alabama Returning Service Members, Veterans and Their Families Policy Academy Committee; Appointed by Alabama Governor, to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) panel
- Still Serving Veterans, Co-founder, former Board Member
- Huntsville Madison County Veterans Memorial Time Capsule Team
- Co-chairman for the Needy Soldier program for the last three years working with the Madison Cheer Brigade to provide destitute Army Reserve and National Guard soldier and their families food, clothing and money at Christmas time.
- She routinely helps Soldiers who have financial problems. (This is significant because National Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers not on active duty aren’t directly supported by the Army support agencies.)
Example of recent activities include:
- Beginning in 2003 Sending Care packages to deployed units soldiers and to the families. The first 3 units were soldiers deployed from Ft Campbell were only give 2 weeks to notice of the deployment. The soliders left thinking they would only be gone for 3 months. She would coordinate with the FRG leaders and the unit commanders to learn of needs on the home front and in the field. She would call upon friends to help meet the needs and they always went above and beyond to make sure they could support their mission. She and her friends sent care packages almost every month through all current conflict deployments to Iraq. When the deployments started in Afghnistan she and her friends supported several of the North Alabama Deployments.. Ayers tells the story of a unit deploying just before Thanksgiving, and getting an email from a Chaplin asking for help in getting Christmas decorations. She ended up buying 5 trees before getting one that given the shipping size would make it to the unit by Christmas. She describes it as the time she shipped the “Charlie Brown Christmas tree”. The 600 plus soldiers were so thankful for the tree and the ornaments they held a big tree lighting event. The tree was lit by a 3 star general, and they got the 82ndBand to travel to come and play Christmas music. So far from home, a small tree seemed large. Ayers and her friends sent over 160 packages at Christmas, every Sgt First Class and below got an 18 lb gift bag.Sending of care packages also included sending gifts on behalf of soldiers to their families. She would coordinate with the solider and learn of an anniversary, birthday of a child, and other key events. Ayers always acted as requested by the soldier, and at no cost to the soldier. She says picking a card for people you do not know, and then signing them on behalf of the solider was interesting (nicknames). She never shares the details.
The most interesting requests include a new motor for a family car, a refrigerator, and new lawn mowers. Yes , the family car did get a new motor, the refrigerator got a new motor and as for a lawn mower, someone was found to cut the grass at no charge until the soldier returned. Family needs were always done through Family Readiness Group leaders and with the request that she and her friends remain anonymous.
- Soldiers began coming home from deployment with disabilities and the families who had already been used to asking for her help continued to ask for help.. Ayers used the skills gained while helping children with disabilities. Her compassion and caring heart made it easy for them to work through the needs. She would do a pre-coordination to identify the right person to meet the need, while always adhering to strict medical guidelines. She would then walk the family through the process to get the help needed. It was often getting PTSD treatment, other types of counseling, or support through a legal issue. She always handled the needs with respect, and provided the soldier or veteran or the family member with the dignity.
- Ayers also helped an Army Reserve soldier whose wife was recently diagnosed with diabetes and he had no insurance. Medical bills were depleting the savings and he had just received notice his civilian job was being cut due to the weak economy. She worked with them to locate resources and work on his resume.
- Funding transportation for a Soldier to go home to see sick family member.
- Personally adopting a young Marine Reservist and his family who recently fell on hard times. Upon answering a request for assistance, she immediately said that she would contact the individual, evaluate the situation and respond accordingly. She then provided the family with food and supplier and also paid for the family to travel back to their parents for a visit.
She has helped many families for years and has always preferred to remain anonymous.
Ayers is a Department of Defense civilian engineer currently working for the U.S. Army, Headquarters Army Materiel Command at Redstone Arsenal. She has worked in govennment and industry for 33 years and has a B.S in Electrical Engineering, an M.S. in Aerospace Engineering, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Education: The University of Alabama in Huntsville
- Doctor of Philosophy , Mechanical Engineering (Rotorcraft Platform), in process
- M.S.E, Aerospace Engineering (Missile and Rotorcraft Platforms)
- B.S.E, Electrical Engineering, Cum Laude