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North Alabama veterans coalition selects Downs as ‘Veteran of the Year’

MADISON – Retired Major Jean Downs has been honored as “Veteran of the Year” by the North Alabama Veterans & Fraternal Organizations Coalition or NAVFOC.

The coalition presented the award at a Veterans Day ceremony at Redstone Arsenal’s Summit on Nov. 10. NAVFOC is an alliance of 35 organizations in North Alabama.

For the past two years, Downs has served as Vice Commander of Madison American Legion, Post 229 and activated the American Legion, Post 229 Auxiliary unit. She was elected and re-elected twice as Auxiliary President.

Downs actively participates with Post 229 Honor Guard with involvement at more than 100 funerals. As Historian 229, she drafts articles in local newspapers and publishes on social media.

Her service continues with headstone cleaning of veterans’ graves, and, for Girl Scouts, was Troop Leader, Camp Trico caretaker, recruiter for help with American Legion projects and mentor for Gold Award candidates.

Downs managed a softball competition, led Girls State delegates, coordinated cadet awards for JROTC units and organized social events to foster comradery between veterans.

“Jean embodies American Legion’s pillar of Americanism in her devotion to law and order, raising wholesome youth, an educated and law-abiding citizenship and respectful observance of patriotic holidays and remembrances,” Post 229 Commander Larry Vannoy said.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, Jean thought outside the box. As poppy sales lead, she solicited and secured corporate sponsorship in lieu of our usual collection of donations while handing out poppies,” Vannoy said.

For the Auxiliary, “she stood up the inactive unit and continues to grow membership,” Vannoy said. “She also started a Junior Auxiliary unit.”

Downs has been associated with Girl Scouts troops for 10-plus years. She served as mentor/facilitator for 10 projects for Girl Scouts to qualify for the Gold Award. Two projects were veteran-centric in 2021 — Madison Veterans Park revitalization and drop-off boxes for flag retirement.

During 20 years of U.S. Army service, Downs was stationed across the United States and Central America and completed combat tours in Iraq and Saudi Arabia with 1st Calvary Division.

“Jean has taken her passion for today’s youth and fellow veterans and combined them in a way that has impacted many in our community,” Vannoy said. “American Legion is dedicated to God and country, with a membership of military veterans who take deep pride in the U.S. flag and all that it means. She continues to devote countless hours each week to help veterans in our community, youth education and honoring military service.”

“There is no one more deserving of the ‘Veteran of the Year’ than retired Major Jean Downs,” Vannoy said.

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