By Crystal Lewis Brown, Fort Jackson LeaderApril 1, 2009
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Fort Jackson's 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment has been named the volunteer group winner for the Governor's Volunteer Awards.
The statewide awards are presented each year for outstanding volunteers in eight categories; the battalion will receive the award for volunteer group. The battalion will be presented the volunteer group award in May for its work at Columbia's Annie Burnside Elementary School.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Dunkelberger said finding out about the award was a surprise.
"I think it's awesome, but it's a total shock," he said.
Maj. Laurence Christian, battalion executive officer, agreed.
"It was a shock we got the award," he said. "We had no idea they were going to do that for us."
Dunkelberger first got the idea of volunteering at Burnside from his wife, who is a teacher's assistant there. Once he heard some of the students' stories, he decided to go there on his own.
"I went down to check it out, and found it to be a rewarding experience," he said.
And from there, the project grew.
Approximately 50 Soldiers participate in the program, with about half of them coming every week to visit and read to the same child or group of children.
"One of the main things that they do is one-on-one mentoring," said Alexandra Renwick, Burnside's academic coordinator. "Usually they spend anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour with each kid."
Even with a schedule that keeps many of the drill sergeants and battalion staff busy day and night, they still make time to volunteer.
"Everybody's doing this on their lunch break," said Dunkelberger.
Sgt. 1st Class Phyllis Harper is one of those who finds herself returning to the school each week.
"Once you see those little kids, it just compels you to keep coming back," she said. "The award is great, but it's about the children more than anything."
Staff Sgt. Marcus Brown said that he likes the opportunity he gets to be a male role model for those students who may not have one.
"A lot of the kids in my classes don't have a male role model," he said. Growing up, he said, an uncle filled that role for him. "I'm no one's uncle, but I can still do that for the community."
In addition to the weekly mentoring and career day, the Soldiers have also helped out with several other school assemblies.
The battalion has participated in several events, including Veterans Day, Red Ribbon Week, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and, for Christmas, passed out a gift to each child in the school.
The volunteers' impact on the school has been incredible, Renwick said.
"It has been amazing," she said. The children who spend one-on-one time with the Soldiers ask her about them every day until the next weekly visit. "When am I going to see 'my' Soldier," she recounted them asking.
Their willingness to go "above and beyond" is what prompted the school district to nominate the Soldiers, Renwick said.
The school first nominated them for the district award and was later contacted by the district about trying for the statewide honor.
"They have been like celebrities around here," she said. "It's an honor for us as well that they chose us. We are grateful, they are awesome.
And though the Soldiers are appreciative, their reward, they say, is getting to work with the children.
"It's a good feeling to know that we're being recognized," said Lt. Col. John Calahan, battalion commander. "But that wasn't the intention; we just wanted to do something good for the community."
It also gives them a chance to show the community the Army is about more than just training and fighting.
"When we do things like this, it shows another side of what we do," said Brown.