Les Cochenour, former The Dalles mayor, retired Oregon National Guard officer and longtime volunteer for military organizations, received a significant medal Dec. 2 at the Fort Dalles Readiness Center.
At a ceremony that was part of the local National Guard unit’s annual Christmas party, Cochenour received the bronze medallion of the Order of St. George from the U.S. Cavalry and Armor Association. It recognizes “long and honorable service” to cavalry and armor and recognizes “the top tier of our very best officers.”
A nomination letter cited his outstanding contributions to the cavalry force, his continued service and demonstrated leadership skills.
It also cited his work providing guidance and support to soldiers regarding employer support and mentorship.
Cochenour said after the ceremony, “It was unexpected and I greatly appreciated it. I can’t tell you what this award means to me.”
He’s been a member of the Cavalry and Armor Association since 1969, “and I never thought in my life I would get this award.”
The association represents cavalry and armored units around the U.S. and the world. Armor refers to tanks and cavalry refers to a wide range of equipment from Bradley fighting vehicles, which the local National Guard unit used to operate, to the Stryker armored fighting vehicles it now operates.
Cochenour started in the National Guard in 1960 in The Dalles as a private. In 1963 he became a second lieutenant after attending officer candidate school. He spent 21 years in the National Guard and then joined the Army reserve. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel and retired after 10 years there. He had a total of 31 years with the reserves, and 45 years as an officer.
He noted that officers can be called up to active duty until the age of 65. He’s 75 now.
His wife Jody was awarded the Order of St. Joan D’Arc, which is awarded to a spouse and recognizes “significant voluntary contributions to the morale, spirit and welfare of the armor and cavalry communities.”
She said she was “very surprised and honored.”
Cochenour said of his wife, “She supported me during all the time that I was in, no matter what I wanted to do, she was behind me.”
She said, “I just kind of follow along behind him and whatever he does, I just help. That’s my job.”
In a speech after accepting his award, Cochenour recited the history of the national guard, which traces its roots to 1636, and noted that 40 percent of U.S. forces fighting in France in World War II were guardsmen.
He noted that the unit based in The Dalles has been called many times to serve, and “several of you here have served in foreign countries and I thank you for your service.”
Also awarded the black medallion of the Order of St. George was Sgt. First Class Roger Montavon. His wife, Lee, was awarded the Order of St. Joan D’Arc.
Montavon is the readiness NCO (non-commissioned officer) for the National Guard unit in The Dalles.
The black medallion was instituted in 2008 to recognize cavalry and armor junior officers and enlisted soldiers. His nomination letter also cited his outstanding contributions to the cavalry force, continuing service and superior leadership skills and technical abilities.
It said his “uncanny knowledge base on all things relating to” the Stryker armored fighting vehicle, which contributed to the success of his unit’s mission. “He is a true expert in his craft and an irreplaceable asset” to the unit, the nomination letter stated.
“His outstanding professional attitude, demonstrated leadership abilities and technical and tactical knowledge have been a source of strength to this unit,” it stated.
Montavon was humbled by the award, saying he felt he didn’t deserve it.
Ben Hall, who retired last year from the National Guard and was the readiness NCO in The Dalles before Montavon, said of the award, “You’ve got to put in a lot of work for these things.” He likened them to lifetime achievement medals.
Montavon served in the Marines for eight years, then left the military for almost 10 years before joining the National Guard in 2003. He was a part-time reservist until 2009, when he went on active duty. He was stationed at the Hood River Armory before coming to The Dalles.
He oversees Delta Troop, 1st Squadron, 82nd Cavalry. He and his wife were high school sweethearts at Hood River Valley High School and have been married for 29 years.
St. George was born in 280 AD in Greece and while serving as a member of the emperor’s mounted guard, defied an order from the emperor to destroy Christian churches. He was tortured and executed and renamed a saint who symbolized bravery, dedication to faith and decency.
Countless stories exist of St. George appearing on battlefields to help defeat the enemy, including slaying a dragon in an Italian village. His name has been linked to military orders and cavalry forces around the world. He is the patron saint of armor and cavalry.