Cohesion, honesty, compassion and having fun are at the core of the strong bonds the Lewandowski Family have built together for almost 11 years. These qualities, and a story about a fish that got away, also earned them the title of Fort Bragg’s 2012 Family of the Year.

1st Sgt. Evan Lewandowski and his wife, Melissa, with their three children, Joshua, 8, Samantha, 6, and Wyatt, 3, were chosen from a group of 24 Fort Bragg Families nominated from different units and commands at the Main Post Chapel, Dec. 6.

The Fort Bragg Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation sponsored the 10th annual award presentation. A panel of community leaders read essays by each Family with another panel interviewing the top five finishers.

“Although only one is selected, all of you, all 24 can be extremely proud of your nomination. Your commitment to Family and your contribution not only to your Family, but to your unit and your contributions to the entire community (is what sets you apart),” said Cathy Mansfield, Fort Bragg Army Community Service volunteer coordinator.

This was the first time in seven years a Family member was not overseas when they found out their Family was chosen for the award, added Mansfield.

After each Family was introduced and given a plaque, a goodie bag and a potted plant, the Lewandowski Family was called back up to the stage.

“Now you got the really big fish, Joshua!” said Mansfield.

The Family received a trophy, a $500 gift certificate from USAA Bank, a $250 commissary gift card from the Braxton-Bragg Chapter of the Association of the U.S. Army and a Kindle Fire from First Command Bank.

The Lewandowskis said they were taken by surprise.

“(I thought) Oh my goodness! It was completely unexpected. We were told we were going to be nominated at the last minute,” said Melissa.

“I can’t believe it. It was nice, quite a surprise,” added Lewandowski.

“I didn’t know that we would win when we got there (to the ceremony.) I was crossing my fingers so we would win,” said Joshua.

“My dad was in the Army so we grew up that way. A lot of times, it was just us. We’re really big on Family ties and values and doing everything together. It was just a great way to grow up,” he said.

Lewandowski’s Family moved around a lot, including eight years in Germany and Fort Gordon, Ga. In his senior year, the Family moved again to Daytona Beach, Fla., where he met Melissa at high school.

“I think it’s both of our parents,” said Melissa. Both sets of parents have been married for more than 35 years.

“Family comes first, no matter what. Your Family is always going to be there for you. Everybody else just comes and goes, but your Family is here. You need to nurture that so they always stay,” she added.

The Lewandowskis keep busy with lots of activities, including scouting for Joshua and Samantha, sports and music lessons. Melissa also volunteers as the Troop C Family Readiness Group leader and helps out with Second Harvest Food Bank, part of the Cumberland Community Action Program in Fayetteville. The Family recently helped the charity by participating in a bowl-a-thon.

“Sunday is Family Day. We go to church, kids go to Sunday School. We go to lunch and we do something after that, whether it’s going fishing or shopping,” said Melissa.

Joshua said he really likes to fish and told his tale of the one that got away during a Boy Scout camping trip in October.

“I went fishing and there was a fish on the line and it bent the pole in half. We watched the fishing pole go into the water,” he said. Lewandowski believes it was probably a very large fish.

The Family also has a yearly tradition of getting together with other Family members and having a rocket day after Christmas.

“We go out to my brother-in-law’s farm and shoot off rockets. All the kids build their own rockets. We get kits and build them right before Christmas. The kids look forward to it all year round,” said Melissa.

“A couple of years ago, there was one with eggs in them. You had to see if the egg would break or not. There was the shuttle one and one made out of Styrofoam cups. They also made one shaped like a port-a-john,” she said with a laugh.

The 2012 Family of the Year had this advice for other Families.

“It’s keeping the Family together, no matter what. The stronger the bonds you have with your Family, the easier it’s going to be,” said Lewandowski. “We’ve all been through our hard times, you know, but to be able to sit down and talk through it and deal with it as a whole usually ends up being a lot better.”