Duane K.L. France, a retired Army sergeant, combat veteran and mental health counselor, was named El Paso County’s Veterans Service Office’s 2019 Veteran of the Year during a ceremony last week.

France retired from the Army in 2014 “and immediately began the next chapter of his life by supporting veterans that are impacted by mental health concerns at the local, state, and national level,” a county news release says. He serves as director of veteran services at the Family Care Center and executive director of Colorado Veterans Health and Wellness Agency.

France’s wife, Connie, accepted the award on his behalf during a ceremony at the Veterans Monument in Bear Creek Regional Park. Katie Civiletto, program manager for Give An Hour, read an acceptance speech for France.

More than 100,000 veterans live in El Paso County “who have honorably served our country while protecting our freedoms,” Mark Waller, chairman of the county commissioners, said during the ceremony.

“We greatly appreciate the veterans in our community and the sacrifices they’ve made — whether it meant moving themselves and their families within the continental United States or serving abroad,” Waller said.

“Many of our veterans returned to El Paso County and made it their home. Our veterans are involved in every aspect of our county and our community lives. They run small businesses. They serve in elected office. They work in local government, and they raise their families here. And most importantly, they volunteer to make our community a better place for all of us to live and work.”

France tweeted Thursday that he was “grateful and humbled” to receive the award.

“I see it as not just recognition for past accomplishments, but a down payment for future efforts to help my brothers and sisters, and those who care for them,” he tweeted.

France has been recognized by the George W. Bush Institute of Service Initiatives, the release says. He also has published three books: “Combat Vet Don’t Mean Crazy,” “Head Space and Timing” and “Changing Your Point of View about Memorial Day.”

Three other finalists for the award attended the ceremony: Joe V. Aldaz, Nanette Brédé Mueller and Charles G. Watkins.

Ellie is a general assignment reporter. She's a proud Midwesterner, stationery hoarder and Earl Grey tea enthusiast. After interning at The Gazette in 2015, she joined the newspaper's staff in 2016.

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