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Watch Now: Diana Harshbarger honors late veteran's daughter with lost medals

KINGSPORT — The Fourth of July week- end just got a little sweeter for Blount- ville resident Dagmar Burke.

Burke’s father was a World War II veteran who died in 1987. Her father, Charles Robert Congos, earned four medals, a pin and a badge for his service in the United States Army.

Now, Burke has been reunited with her father’s medals thanks to U.S. Rep. Diana Harshbarger and her team.

“I’m so glad this happened,” she said after receiving the medals on Friday at Harshbarger’s Kings- port office. “It’s overwhelming. This is all I have left of my dad.”

Congos received the original medals years ago, but they were misplaced. That led Burke to try to track them down about three years ago with help from the District 1 office.

Burke’s father was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, WWII Victory Medal, German Occupation Medal and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal for his service from 1945-46. He was also given an Honorable Service lapel button and a U.S. Army Expert Marksmanship badge.

Now those decorations are going home with Burke, who plans to pass them down to her three sons in the future.

“They are going to be thrilled when they see these medals,” Burke said.

Serving local veterans is a specific highlight for Harshbarger, whose father was in the U.S. Navy.

“This is what the world calls the Greatest Generation,” Harshbarger said. “But we are losing them. We are down to very few. What an honor it is for me to do such a little thing in getting those medals for her father who was so deserving. I would do that for any veteran. It’s my honor to serve this district and the veterans in this district.”

It’s been a three-year process for Burke to finally receive the medals she was seeking, but her determination never wavered.

“You have to be persistent,” Burke said. “I told my husband, ‘I’m not giving up. You know how I am.’ He said, ‘I do know how you aren’t.’ I was not giving up.”

Burke plans to put the medals, pin and badge in a shadow box to display with one of the only photos she has of her father. Those pieces of history, Harshbarger said, also help pass along stories and memories.

“I remember we had a U.S. Navy spoon that my mother had,” Harshbarger recalled. “Growing up, that was our big spoon. I never forgot that … It’s just little stories like that. Write those stories down, journal those stories. It’s a legacy for your sons and their children.”

Burke was able to receive her father’s medals through the congresswoman’s office, which Harshbarger said is a service she wants others to realize is to open to them as well.

“This is my message to the district,” Harshbarger said. “If you have a question, … if you want to get some medals that maybe your father or your mom lost, we’re serving you, the veterans. We have great case workers who will go the extra mile to do that. So don’t hesitate to call us.”

Burke said her father, like many veterans, didn’t share much about his time at war. She said he was a quiet man who shied away from talking about what he might have seen overseas.

“It’s like the Vietnam vets. It was so horrific, they didn’t like to talk about it,” Burke said. “I had an older brother and when he was in his 20s or 30s, my dad would tell him a few stories. But he would never talk to us about it. He said very few words … They went to war, came home, got a job. That’s what he did. He provided for his family.”

For the congresswoman, it was an honor to present the medals to Burke, but an even greater one to honor a U.S. veteran.

“They call them the Greatest Generation because they had no fear when they did what they were commanded to do,” Harshbarger said. “They had such loyalty to America. They love their country. That’s something that the rest of our nation needs to know. The youth of our nation needs to know.”

“It’s just a privilege to take care of these people. We have to take care of our veterans — anybody, but especially those who protect us.”

Mid City Grill plans to open location in Kingsport

Mid City Grill, a long-time favorite for nocturnal diners, will soon be on Commerce Street in both Kingsport and Johnson City.

The late-night eatery, which currently operates at 106 S. Commerce St. in Johnson City, plans to open a second location at 115 Commerce St. in Kingsport, the city where co-owners Theresa and Dave Garnett live.

The owners, who include Dave’s brother Steven, hope to open the new location in August.

They’re currently in the process of building out the kitchen, throwing up walls and preparing the restaurant’s bar.

“It’s always been on the radar,” Theresa Garnett said about opening a second location. “It’s always been something we wanted to do since we bought it that we wanted to expand.”

The Garnetts plan to offer beer and liquor at the new location in Kingsport, something they don’t currently do in Johnson City. They’re anticipating that the menu will remain largely the same, but there’s the potential for some new offerings.

Dave and Steven have worked at Mid City off and on for about 16 years. The Garnetts bought the Johnson City restaurant from its original owner, Jeff Pike, in May 2019.

The restaurant recently reopened late-night dining on Fridays and Saturdays until 4 a.m., but it has discontinued its breakfast menu, which launched near the end of 2020 and was hampered by the pandemic.

“In the future we would love to do breakfast, but at that time it just didn’t work out,” Theresa said. “We didn’t get enough foot traffic to keep it going.”

Staffing continues to be the biggest challenge for Mid City Grill. Dave said the restaurant received 75 applications for cooks. He set up interviews with 70 people but none showed up.

He added that the restaurant has significantly raised its pay, starting out at $13 or $14 an hour. They’re still trying to fill about three positions.

Depending on how late-night goes, however, Dave expects the restaurant will be doing better than it was before the pandemic.

He’s excited to open a new location in Kingsport.

“I’ve always thought Mid City was kind of a big brand here but really underrated at the same time because a lot of people only knew it because of the late-night aspect,” he said.

He added that it has been good to see lunch and dinner traffic grow even after pausing late-night service, and the restaurant has already received tremendous support from people in Kingsport.

Sullivan, Hawkins students win national SkillsUSA gold, silver medals

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan Central High School’s Chapter Display team won first place in the virtual SkillsUSA national contest for 2021.

Meanwhile, three teams from Volunteer High and Sullivan East High took third-place awards in other categories of the national career technical education competition.

The Sullivan County and Hawkins County high schools were among schools nationwide that supplied more than 3,700 career technical education students for the 2021 SkillsUSA Champion- ships, which were held virtually from June 14-24. The SkillsUSA Championships is the largest skill competition in the world.

Students were invited to the event to demonstrate their technical skills, workplace skills and personal skills in 107 hands-on occupational and leadership competitions, including robotics, automotive technology, drafting, criminal justice, aviation maintenance and public speaking, according to a news release from SkillsUSA.

Industry leaders from 650 businesses, corporations, trade associations and unions evaluated the contestants against their standards for entry-level workers.

More than 1,100 gold, silver and bronze medals were presented to students. Many winners also received industry prizes, tools of their trade or scholarships.

The following students received a SkillsUSA Championships medal from the greater Kingsport area:

• Team E, consisting of Jackson Broadwater and Brookley Meadows from Sullivan Central High in Blountville, was awarded the High School Gold Medal in Chapter Display.

Their sponsors were Lloyd “Sport” Putney and Rhonda Flanary.

• Sullivan East High School’s Crime Scene Investigation team won a High School Silver Medal. Members from the Bluff City area school are Zoe Johnson, Zoe Dougherty and Emme Fox. Ty Boomershine is their teacher.

• Ethan Jones of Sullivan East High School placed somewhere from fourth to ninth nationally in CNC Milling but does not know his exact placement yet, teacher Jamie Gray said.

• Aedyn Mullins of Church Hill, a student at Volunteer in Church Hill, was awarded the High School Silver Medal in Action Skills.

• Atlee Dean of Church Hill, a student at Volunteer, was awarded the High School Silver Medal in Job Skill Demonstration A.

• Eliza Smith of Surgoinsville, a student at Volunteer, was awarded the High School Silver Medal in Extemporaneous Speaking.

Sullivan County Schools students took home 22 medals during the virtual Tennessee SkillsUSA competition, earning 18 gold, three silver and one bronze. And a review of the total number of SkillsUSA medals won by high schools statewide showed that Sullivan East tied for the most first-, second- and third-place medals in Tennessee with 13, the same number as the Harrison Bay Future Ready Center in Hamilton County.

“More than 3,700 students from every state in the nation participated in the virtual 2021 SkillsUSA Championships,” said SkillsUSA Executive Director Chelle Travis. “This showcase of career and technical education demonstrates our SkillsUSA partnership at its finest. Our students, instructors and industry partners work together to ensure that every student excels. This program expands learning and career opportunities for our members.”

The SkillsUSA Championships event is held annually for students in middle school, high school or college/postsecondary programs as part of the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference. The national, nonprofit partnership of students, instructors and industry is a verified talent pipeline for America’s skilled workforce that is working to help solve the skills gap.

Industry support of the in-person SkillsUSA Championships is valued at more than $36 million in donated time, equipment, cash and material. More than 1,000 industry judges and technical committee members participated this year.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, contests were conducted locally at schools or industry sites nationwide, with proctors supervising events and judges evaluating the students’ work.

For more information, visit www.skillsusa.org.

Warner: Infrastructure legislation has potential for SWVA to become technology, new mining hub

BRISTOL, Virginia — Southwest Virginia could be among 18 rural U.S. areas designated “tech hubs” for expanding critical semiconductor businesses and mining rare earth minerals needed for their production.

Virginia U.S. Sen. Mark Warner met with area state legislators and education, business and economic development figures at the Bristol Train Station on Friday about the impact of $250 billion in one-time funding under the Senate-approved U.S. Innovation and Competition Act.

While Republican and Democratic senators have come together on priorities in the Senate bill, Warner said he is waiting to see the pending House version. Even with resolving the two bills, he said he hopes to see it ready for President Biden’s signature as soon as August.

The act tackles business and industrial competition with the People’s Republic of China in technology areas such as the world’s supply of semiconductor chips, internet and other items. Warner said about $52 billion of the Senate legislation would go to boosting domestic semiconductor production by helping fund seven to 10 new U.S. facilities.

While U.S. domination of the semiconductor market has dropped well below its peak of 33% of the world’s production, Warner said PRC production has climbed. Taiwan — the Republic of China — also produces a large segment of the world’s semiconductor supply.

Warner said the PRC’s demands for Taiwan to submit to its control could endanger the world’s access to chip production.

Warner also warned of mainland China’s domination of mining rare earth elements used in the manufacture of several devices such as smart phones, electric motors and semiconductors.

Warner said the U.S.-Chinese economic situation has become a “holy cow moment” with the pandemic as national leaders found out how much the country depends on China for pharmaceuticals, medical supplies and rare earth minerals.

“My beef is with the Chinese Communist Party, not the Chinese people,” Warner added.

The remaining approximately $200 billion, while authorized in the federal budget, has not been allocated to specific items, Warner said, citing five priorities needing consideration:

• including Southwest Virginia among 18 rural technology hubs envisioned in the bill

• getting Southwest Virginia “in the game” for semiconductor production

• developing a rare earth mineral supply capability

• one-time catalyst funding for technology business startups

• legislative and local planning to improve broadband service

Warner said Southwest Virginia’s experience with coal mining could provide an answer to finding domestic rare earth supplies.

“There is more expertise in this room than on any committee I sit on,” said Warner. “You need to educate me so I can educate the senators.”

Mike Quillen, chairman of the Region One GoVirginia economic development district, said the mining expertise is not a problem in the region, but the cost of mining rare earth minerals is.

“We’re going to need some assistance,” Quillen said. “It’s expensive.”

“We’ve got to do more than talk,” Warner said, stressing that China could hurt the U.S. economy by deciding to cut access to its rare earth production. “If Americans have to pay an extra one or two cents to have a secure supply, that’s worth it … the cheapest price may not always be the most secure.”

Getting existing and potential semiconductor producers to consider locating jobs in Southwest Virginia poses its own challenges, Warner said.

Referring to economic development partnership InvestSWVA’s 2020 inventory of potential data center sites, Warner said the region has two things needed for semiconductor production — plenty of water in abandoned underground mine sites and plenty of land.

Warner cautioned the panel that a locality-based attempt to attract technology hub status should be avoided in favor of a consortium of localities, colleges and universities.

He pointed to the region’s planning districts, community colleges, UVA Wise, Emory & Henry College and even Virginia Tech as partners in the effort.

Expanding high-speed internet in Southwest Virginia is also critical to helping make Southwest Virginia a technology hub, and Warner said Virginia and localities need to work on a comprehensive plan for that.

He suggested that the state’s 133 counties and cities should work on building up their high-speed internet service availability within two years.

Warner faulted the U.S. for letting its dominance in high tech slip and in letting slip its influence in helping set international standards for technology such as 5G wireless.

He cited growing Chinese dominance in cellular technology and even commercial drone sales.

“The West writ large got lazy,” Warner said. “We’ve got to do this with the rest of the world. China has figured out how to set the standards.”

The properly cared for garden, shown here, continues to provide colorful summer blossoms.