The Evan Williams Kentucky Bourbon American-Made Heroes program is opening up submissions from the public to nominate more military heroes, who can then receive a gift of thanks. Nominees may also be chosen for next year’s program. For more information, go to americanmadeheroes.com.
Evan Williams Kentucky Bourbon is recognizing 10 veterans for their service in the military and their community, and one of those selected lives in Ludowici.
Lori McCampbell retired from the Army as a sergeant first class in 2015 after serving in the National Guard since 2001, first in Kentucky and later in Georgia. She worked as a heavy-vehicle mechanic and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and participated in training in the Republic of Georgia.
While her deployment to Iraq was memorable, McCampbell said her best experience was going to the Republic of Georgia in 2007.
"Working with those guys, experiencing their culture, seeing their country and, really, I was pretty young, so it was a really good opportunity to kind of prove myself," she said.
To qualify for the mission, McCampbell first had to be allowed to go because she was still an E-4, which can be either a corporal or specialist, and her unit was taking only E-5, or sergeants, and above.
"But I had a lot of support behind me, and they could speak to my credibility as far as what I knew about my job and why I was a good candidate to go," she said. "So having that experience, it really kind of pushed me in front of my peers as far as promotions in the future. And as soon as I came back from Republic of Georgia, I got promoted to E-5."
During her deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, McCampbell was medically evacuated out of the country because of a shoulder injury. She rehabilitated at the Fort Stewart Warrior Transition Battalion and transitioned in 2011 to becoming cadre at the unit until she retired in 2015.
"I mean if I was still in good enough physical condition, I’d still be doing it," she said about her military career.
On top of working for her bachelor’s degree in business administration and sociology from Georgia Southern University online, McCampbell is on the board for United Way of Liberty County.
In her community, McCampbell says she tries to help soldiers and veterans transitioning into civilian life. She sees the recognition from Evan Williams as a way to inspire hope for other soldiers.
"It doesn’t stop when you take off the uniform. There’s still great things you can do," she said.
McCampbell heard about the contest from a Military Times advertisement looking for soldiers or veterans who serve in their community.
"I thought, ‘Well, I do a lot of that, so let me just throw my name in there.’ And one thing after the other, I got emails and phone calls and interviews, and was ultimately selected," she said.
Only later did McCampbell find out it was Evan Williams behind the contest.
"And I’m very familiar with Evan Williams because I’m from Kentucky. So I know a lot about Kentucky bourbon, so I was very excited to be selected for their program, being that that’s my home state," she said.
This is the first year Evan Williams is producing the American-Made Hero edition bottles, featuring the faces and biographies of the veterans.
"My face is on a liquor bottle, it’s surreal. I’m still trying to get used to this," McCampbell said.
Evan Williams Bourbon is a family and American-owned and operated company that has supported the military in the past, according to Lauren Cherry, communications coordinator with Heaven Hill Brands, who spoke on behalf of Evan Williams and the program.
The contest received more than 2,000 entries with the help of Military Times, according to Cherry.
"The reason why we did these bottles and have these 10 different bottles is we wanted to make the program really personal and be able to show and tell people about these great stories and these 10 different veterans," she said.
"It’s really easy to just write a big check to a military or veteran organization, which is great, but this was kind of our way of being able to get their stories out there," Cherry added.