Soldier, Airmen Win $17,000 in Prizes with Exchange ‘Proud to Serve’ Essay Contest

DALLAS – Maj. Chris Hormel, Tech Sgt. Nicholas Lakey and Airman Nicholas Wedlow all have a way with words. Their passion for writing helped them win the top prizes in the Army & Air Force Exchange Service’s “Proud to Serve” essay contest. 

Hormel, who serves with the 18th Military Police Brigade at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria, took home the grand prize—a $10,000 Exchange gift card. He received his prize during a presentation March 11 at the Grafenwoehr Exchange. BoY Winner MAJ Hormel (8)

In his essay, Hormel talks about his grandfather’s service during World War II. 

“On his headstone it reads simply: Husband, father, PV2 World War II,” Hormel wrote. “Of all the contributions of his life, he chose to be remembered for the short time he spent fighting for our nation in the Pacific.”

Hormel, who has served nearly 16 years in the Army, says he’s always humbled to visit cemeteries and see veterans’ ranks listed on the gravestones. 

“They want to be remembered for their service—and that’s the story I was trying to tell with my essay,” he said.

Lakey, who serves at Aviano Air Base, Italy, took second place and a $5,000 Exchange gift card.

In his essay, Lakey recalled seeing yellow ribbons tied around trees in his neighborhood in 1991 during the Gulf War. He was only 6 years old. His father explained that the ribbons were to honor the troops serving in the war.

“I asked if everyone got to come home and my heart sank when I found out that many people gave their lives to achieve victory,” Lackey wrote.

That moment from Lakey’s childhood came full circle, when, as an Airman at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, he volunteered with Iraqi children, playing games and giving them gifts. 

“The sight of their smiles and joy reminded us all of why we there,” he wrote. “Somewhere back home there was a yellow ribbon waiting for me, but on that day I was exactly where I needed to be.”

The third prize—a $2,000 Exchange gift card—was presented to Creech Air Force Base Airman Nicholas Wedlow during a ceremony at the Nellis Air Force Base Exchange. 

Wedlow entered the contest after encouragement from his wife. He said he’s always enjoyed writing, and English was his best class in school. 

“I serve because of the great men and women before me who have set such a great example by giving their lives for this country and what they believe in,” Wedlow wrote. “I would be doing myself an injustice if I didn’t follow my intuition and pick up where our late veterans left off.”

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Sean Applegate, Exchange Senior Enlisted Advisor, praised all three winners.

“The Exchange is honored to recognize these three service members for their dedication and sacrifice,” Applegate said. “They poured their hearts into these essays, and their pride for America and their service.”

The “Proud to Serve” essay contest was part of the Exchange’s Because of You campaign, a yearlong effort to recognize and reward service members’ sacrifice and dedication our country.

The three winning essays can be found at 

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The Army & Air Force Exchange Service goes where Soldiers, Airmen and their families go to improve the quality of their lives through goods and services provided. Exchange earnings provide dividends to support military morale, welfare and recreation programs. The Exchange is part of the Department of Defense and is directed by a Board of Directors, responsible to the Secretaries of the Army and Air Force through the Chiefs of Staff. To find out more about the Exchange history and mission or to view recent press releases please visit our Web site at or follow us on Twitter at


 Media Notes:

For more information or to schedule an interview with an Exchange representative please contact Julie Mitchell, 214-312-3327 or [email protected]