Hickory – Each year, Hickory Elks Lodge 1654 recognizes those who exhibit the patriotic values of duty and honor in service to their community and nation. During the Hickory City Council meeting on March 2, the Hickory Elks presented Public Service Awards honoring the firefighter, police officer, and state trooper of year.

Jonathan Fox was named the 2021 Exceptional Firefighter of the Year. Fox is an outstanding member of the City of Hickory and a valued employee of the Hickory Fire Department. He has shown great pride in his work and has been a member of Hickory Fire Department since February 1, 2013. He started his career as a volunteer firefighter at Bethlehem Community Fire & Rescue, where he has been a member since January 2010.

During his fire service career, Fox has obtained numerous certifications through the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress, including Firefighter 1 & 2, Airport Firefighter, Hazardous Materials Operations, Technical Rescuer VMR, Technical Rescuer Agricultural, Technical Rescuer Confined Space, Technical Rescuer Ropes, Technical Rescuer Structural Collapse, Technical Rescuer Trench, Technical Rescuer Water, Technical Rescuer Wilderness, Fire Officer 1 & 2, and General Instructor Level 1 & 2. He has also completed Emergency Vehicle Driver, Emergency Vehicle Driver Trailer Towing, and Chief 101 through the N.C. Fire & Rescue Commission. In addition to these certifications, he has maintained his credential as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician). Fox currently serves the City on Engine 6 in the Viewmont community area of Hickory.

In January 2019, Fox’s military career started by enlisting in the North Carolina Air National Guard, where he was assigned to the 145th Civil Engineering Squadron in Charlotte, N.C. After graduating from Lackland Air Force Base for basic military training, Fox continued to strive for excellence. He started off by obtaining his certification in Driver Operator, then moving on to obtain his Driver Operator ARFF and Mobile Water Supply.


Fox deployed in January 2020 to Kuwait, where he served with the 386th Expeditionary Wing of the U.S. Air Force as a firefighter. During his deployment, he received his Hazardous Materials Technician, Incident Safety Officer, and Fire Inspector Level 1 through the International Fire Service Accreditation Congress (IFSAC) and Pro-Board certifications. He was assigned to the rescue truck, where he operated as crew chief at AFCENT’s (U.S. Air Forces Central Command) largest fire department, Ali Al Salem Air Force Base. Ali Al Salem is an active airfield that supports the war against terrorism, conducting missions in Afghanistan, Syria, and Iraq. After completing his deployment, Fox was nominated and awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal for his outstanding achievement as a Fire Protection Crew Chief. On top of receiving this honorable award, Fox and his unit received the Meritorious Unit Award for their outstanding performance in military operations.

“Fox willingly accepted this duty for his country, which required him to leave his home, family, friends, and second family at Hickory Fire Department. He gained valuable skills that contribute to our city and community. For these reasons, we are proud to recognize Jonathan Fox as the Hickory Elks Firefighter of the Year,” said Hickory Fire Chief Matt Hutchinson.

Police Officer Jaleel D. Smith was chosen by his peers as the 2021 Exceptional Police Officer of the Year. A native of Greenville, S.C., Smith joined Hickory Police Department (HPD) in July 2018, after serving for several years with the York, S.C. Police Department. Prior to pursuing a policing career, he attended Wade Hampton High School in South Carolina and then completed an Associate in Applied Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Columbia Southern University.

Smith, who recently joined HPD’s newly formed Street Crimes Interdiction Unit, is praised for his demeanor and quality of work. Serving as a Field Training Officer, he has set a high standard for how new officers are to be trained. He stands for what is right and is always striving to better himself and his peers. Along with being professional, Officer Smith interacts with citizens with a great level of compassion. He is always ready and willing to build relationships with the community, partnering agencies, and new staff of HPD. He exemplifies HPD’s core values of Professionalism, Accountability, Compassion, and Teamwork on a daily basis. He is an excellent training officer and cares for the department, the career of law enforcement, and the citizens of Hickory.

Officer Smith represents the department and the law enforcement profession well. In fact, so well that he was chosen to be one of the officers featured in a recent HPD video produced to show perspectives from “both sides of the badge” when officers conduct traffic stops. The video, “How a Traffic Stop Feels,” can be viewed on HPD’s official YouTube channel.

“We are extremely fortunate to have Officer Smith as part of our HPD family and honored to recognize him as the Elks Exceptional Police Officer of the Year for 2021,” said Hickory Police Chief Thurman Whisnant.

Trooper Brett A. Hilton of Troop F, District 5 was selected as the 2021 Exceptional State Trooper of the Year. Trooper Hilton consistently reports for duty ready to help the public, correct traffic violators’ behaviors, and assist his peers.

Too often the public is subjected to a driver placing them in danger by their choices and actions while engaged in the operation of a motor vehicle. During 2020, Trooper Hilton made over 900 citizen contacts while working in Catawba County, some of which were impaired, possessed illegal drugs and weapons, or presented some other danger to the motoring public. Trooper Hilton led the district with the arrest of 52 impaired drivers and 35 other alcohol-related violations. Through Trooper Hilton’s efforts, local citizens’ freedoms were protected without them even realizing the fruits of his enforcement efforts.

Trooper Hilton is the epitome of honor regarding how he conducts himself on behalf of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and citizens of North Carolina. He is honest and fair in his dealings with the citizens within the community he serves. Even though he is a young trooper, Trooper Hilton has the respect of his peers.

The City of Hickory is proud of these three public servants and congratulates them on receiving this high honor. The City also appreciates the Hickory Elks Lodge and its efforts to recognize those who give of themselves to better the community.