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Bayonne brings a hero for its My Town night

by Gordy Stillman / New Jersey Devils
Waving to the crowd, Lieutenant James Whitaker was honored as the Devils' Hero of the Game during the team's February 25 game hosting the Calgary Flames. Whitaker, a lifelong resident of Bayonne, was in attendance as part of Bayonne's "My Town" night. Photo by Courtney Gfroerer

Lieutenant James Whitaker is driven to serve and give back to his community. A lifelong resident of Bayonne, NJ, the Navy officer and police sergeant was honored for his continued dedication by the New Jersey Devils as the Hero of the Game Wednesday night, during the team’s game against the Calgary Flames at Prudential Center. Whitaker was a focal point of Bayonne’s “My Town” night at The Rock, a season-long celebration of the people and communities throughout the Garden State.

Whitaker, 43, joined the Navy when he was 20, following in the footsteps of his father, who also served in the naval division of the United States Armed Forces. As part of the Navy reserves, Whitaker was deployed twice, first to Kuwait in 2006 and then to Guantanamo Bay in 2012. A part of a Navy Mobile Construction Battalion, Whitaker took on a security role, supporting his team as it worked on construction projects and humanitarian work, including creating roads, buildings and hospitals.

Whitaker currently serves as the commanding officer of Navy Security Force for the naval air station in Patuxet River, MD. Situations where Whitaker and his team might be called to assist include airshows, where extra staff is needed, or when incidents like the Washington Navy Yard Shooting in 2013 create the need to swell security forces to protect bases.

“What kept me in the service, was I wanted to give back,” Whitaker said. “It’s the same thing with the police department. I want to be able to give back.”

While Whitaker serves in his reserve job, he’s also paying it forward in his day job as a Sergeant for the Bayonne Police Department. Whitaker works in a unit focused on computer-related law enforcement, and before that he served in a unit training fellow police officers in recent case law and updates in guidelines. Earlier in his police career, Whitaker served as a school resource officer and taught the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program for the department.

As he celebrated his hometown at Prudential Center, Whitaker was quick to talk about how Bayonne is full of Devils fans, pointing out Big Apple Sports Palace, a Bayonne restaurant that features memorabilia such as Martin Brodeur and Ken Daneyko jerseys adorning the walls.

To Whitaker, what makes Bayonne great is its walkability and its intimate feel. “You don’t have to travel too far…great places to eat, everything is right there,” he said, adding, “Everybody knows each other.”

Each town that participates in the My Town events throughout the season receive a custom designed bench by Halmar, as well as a shade tree in the spring. The next night in the My Town series is set for March 6, when the Devils will celebrate Woodbridge, N.J. For more information on the My Town program, please call 973-757-6250

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