Joy motivates Special Olympic volunteers
June 13, 2012
Fort Meade, Md. -- Seeing the joy of accomplishment on Special Olympians faces motivated Los Angeles, Calif. native Sgt.1st Class Oscar Rodriguez, First Army Division East, to volunteer to support the 2012 Special Olympics Washington D.C. Summer Games recently.
Rodriguez, several other First Army Division East Soldiers and dozens of other volunteers supported summer games, held recently on the campus of The Catholic University of America during "Military Day." However, personal reasons drove the DivEast Soldiers to support.
"I have a nephew who competes in the Special Olympics due to a muscular disorder," explained Sgt. 1st Class Erica Lehmkuhl, Louisville, Ky. "Also, growing up, my next door neighbor had Down 's syndrome, and he was such an innocent, loving soul that I felt the need to support the Special Olympics."
The same can be said for Rodriguez, who has a long, standing relationship with the Special Olympics.
"This is my fourth time volunteering," Rodriguez said. "I decided to volunteer for the [Washington] D.C. Special Olympics because seeing the faces of those athletes brings joy to me. It's something I've done since I was about 15 years old."
U.S. Army's First Army Division East volunteers assisted in various areas of the summer games, from assisting the athletes to keep the event area clean.
Lehmkuhl first heard about the opportunity to volunteer while at a Sergeant Audie Murphy Club monthly meeting. As Vice-President of the Military District of Washington SAMC chapter, Lehmkuhl felt the opportunity was perfect for other SAMC members and Division East Soldiers. She put out an email looking for fellow volunteers and received several replies from Division East Soldiers, anxious to volunteer their time and talents.
One of those volunteers, Rodriguez said his leaders were quick to grant him the time off from work.
"I received good moral support from my command because they knew that I was volunteering to be part of a great event like the Special Olympics," he said." "I was also able to represent First Army Division East and the United States Army."
Regardless of how they supported, both Rodriguez and Lehmkuhl agreed the experience was rewarding.
"Seeing the joy on the participants faces throughout the day while participating in the events and while waiting to compete," made it all worthwhile for Lehmkuhl.
However, as much fun and as rewarding as the day was for the First Army Division East Soldiers, their joy could not outshine that of the athletes.
"I had a great time," enthured Special Olympian and Glenarden, Md. native Jerome Carroll. "I trained for three weeks. I did great; excellent. Do your best; that's what counts."
Carroll's training paid big dividends as he took home a gold medal in the long jump competition.
Doing their best and representing themselves well wasn't limited to the athletes. The volunteers from his unit and Division East also truly impressed 1st Recruiting Brigade Band Liaison, Staff Sgt. Mark Lucero.
"Watching people work hard and to their fullest with no promise of monetary compensation, is moving," Lucero said.
His crew and the Div East Soldiers proved their dedication to the cause by being the first volunteers to show up for the day and the last to leave after everything was cleaned up. They gained a new perspective of much of the behind the scenes work required to make the event happen.
"Somebody has to pick up the trash and take care of the less than glamorous, behind the scenes tasks," explained Lehmkuhl.
First Army Division East, headquartered at Fort Meade Md., mobilizes, trains, validates deploys and demobilizes Reserve Component Soldiers to theaters around the world including Afghanistan, Kosovo and the Horn of Africa. Comprised of eight brigades, Div East ensures Soldiers receive the intense training they need to perform hands-on theater-specific operations. When they return home, Div East members ensure Soldiers receive focused-care to ensure standardized and comprehensive demobilization support to resolve physical, mental, administrative and financial issues as well as providing benefits and resources to assist in their transition back to civilian life.