Plaque parade

Ocean Shores VFW awards top cop, firefighter, teacher and veteran

On Monday evening, a police officer, a firefighter, a teacher and a veteran were honored at the VFW Post 8956 in Ocean Shores.

Each person was nominated by officials at their respective organizations and agencies as the top performers in their roles. This year’s winners were recognized for the experience, creativity, versatility, and empathy they bring to their jobs.

Each received plaques, handshakes and photographs — as well as a ham and potato dinner — at the VFW post Monday.

While the top service positions in the city have been honored in the past, the ceremony was the first time the VFW officially hosted the affair. The award ceremony will likely become a yearly tradition at the post, according to Veteran of the Year Mike Harris.

Veteran of the Year

The veteran of the year was Mike Harris, a 15-year member of the VFW post in Ocean Shores.

When Harris was nominated for the award, he said, he was embarrassed and didn’t know what he was going to say. That’s why he had VFW Adjutant Jimmy Cummings act as a ghostwriter for his acceptance speech.

Harris was in the U.S. Navy from 1967-1969, serving in the Western Pacific, including Vietnam. For many years, he said, he has worked to connect veterans to health services across Grays Harbor County. He is a member of the Grays Harbor County Veterans Advisory Board, which reports to the Board of County Commissioners on veterans issues.

Harris said one of his favorite parts about helping veterans is seeing “people get what they deserve,” saying many veterans are unaware of the resources they have access to.

“My sons summed it up better than I can,” Harris said. “‘I do what I do. It’s not a hobby; it’s more of a calling.”

Harris said he’ll have a chance to receive the State Veteran of the Year Award later this year, for which award recipients from their local posts are nominated.

Police Officer of the Year

The Police Officer of the Year award went to the longest-tenured cop Ocean Shores has on staff.

Sgt. Chris Iversen has served with the department since 1993 and became a full-time officer in 1997. He’s no stranger to awards and has won the Medal of Merit four times for his “courageous acts performing surf rescues.”

“I cannot speak enough about Sgt. Iversen’s selfless acts he is continuously doing for this community, of which never get talked about, and he asks for no recognition,” said Ocean Shores Police Chief Neccie Logan in a statement.

Even though Ocean Shores is a small town, Iversen said, there are plenty of opportunities to improve people’s lives.

“Like most cops I got into the job to help people, and we’re able to do that here in many different ways,” he said.

The soft-spoken Iversen was humbled after receiving his award.

”I feel very honored,” Iversen said. “These guys are all veterans of foreign wars, so it’s very meaningful. “

Firefighter of the Year

When she joined the Ocean Shores Fire Department, Kara McDermott broke down a barrier by becoming the department’s first female firefighter.

She joined the department as a volunteer in 2018, and became a full-time firefighter in 2020, just before the pandemic.

“She was extremely eager to learn as much as she could, she was determined to learn and be an asset to the Ocean Shores Fire Department and help the citizens of Ocean Shores,” Ocean Shores Fire Chief Mike Thurier said in a statement.

With a background in media (she formerly worked for the National Public Radio affiliate in Seattle), McDermott brought a unique skillset to the department, working on public information and public education projects. Thurier said those skills have been an “asset” to the department

“Every person gets to find their niche at the department,” McDermott said. “That was kind of the cool thing about getting hired.”

McDermott said the experience of receiving her award was “unbelievably humbling.”

“You walk into a room of literal heroes, and then they say nice things about you,” McDermott said. “There’s a cognitive dissonance to it.”

Teacher of the Year

Shawn Iliff was the teacher of the year, not the veteran of the year, but you might not have known that at first glance.

He walked into the VFW Monday evening wearing a vest from his time in the U.S. Navy — he was stationed in California from 1999-2003, and served in Iraq, Afghanistan and North Korea.

Before becoming a teacher four-and-a-half years ago, Iliff worked in nonprofits and ran restaurants.

Iliff teaches culinary arts at North Beach Junior Senior High School. He teaches regular cooking classes, and he said students are coming up with recipes to compete in the upcoming Razor Clam Festival.

“It’s cool to be able to see them come through and not know anything, and by the time they are done they are doing some cool stuff,” Iliff said of his students.

He said the school has had a good relationship with the local VFW post.

“It was a cool experience,” he said after receiving his award.

Contact reporter Clayton Franke at 406-552-3917 or

Courtesy of Ocean Shores VFW
 Firefighter Kara McDermott receives “Firefighter of the Year” award from Ocean Shores VFW Post 8956 Commander Sam Nations.

Courtesy of Ocean Shores VFW Firefighter Kara McDermott receives “Firefighter of the Year” award from Ocean Shores VFW Post 8956 Commander Sam Nations.

Courtesy of Ocean Shores VFW
 Mike Harris receives “Veteran of the Year” award from Ocean Shores VFW Post 8956 Commander Sam Nations.

Courtesy of Ocean Shores VFW Mike Harris receives “Veteran of the Year” award from Ocean Shores VFW Post 8956 Commander Sam Nations.