By Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public AffairsApril 20, 2018
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (April 20, 2018) -- Soldiers, Family Members and Civilians from across the Fort Drum community were honored for their selfless service April 19 during the annual Volunteer of the Year appreciation ceremony at the Commons.
This year, 60 volunteers were nominated for Fort Drum Volunteer of the Year. Col. Kenneth D. Harrison, Fort Drum garrison commander, said that although only one person receives that honor, each volunteer deserves recognition for the extraordinary service they provide.
"The Army cannot function without volunteers," he said. "Can you imagine the Army without the USO, without BOSS (Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers) or without so many of the things we do that are dependent on volunteers? You can't imagine it because you've never seen it. Our volunteers are always there."
Since 2017, Fort Drum volunteers recorded 88,236 hours of service into the volunteer management information system, at an estimated value of more than $2.1 million.
Harrison said that Fort Drum is a better community because of people like Kelli Van Dyk, who volunteered 1,464 hours in 2017 and 350 hours this year; and An Minh Tran, age 6, and Benjamin Adams, age 8, who raised more than $3,000 from their Cub Scout popcorn sale.
A new volunteer group category was added to this year's program to recognize Soldiers who contributed exceptional volunteer service. Several of those nominees volunteer with the post's Drunk Driving Prevention Program, which offers service members a free ride back to Fort Drum during the weekend. Harrison recognized Spc. Cody Miesner, Pfc. Taylor Nielsen, Sgt. Racheal Emmer and Spc. Colin Wallace, who recorded a combined 1,529 volunteer hours with this program.
Harrison introduced Theresa Donahoe, wife of Brig Gen. Patrick Donahoe, 10th Mountain Division (LI) deputy commanding general for readiness, as a guest speaker who has become an expert volunteer throughout her years as an Army spouse.
"She was an Army Community Service senior spouse adviser, an Army Family Master Trainer, parent volunteer, volunteer program manager, a new parent support volunteer and ACS delegate to the American Women's Activities in Germany," he said. "At Fort Knox (Ky.), she was Volunteer of the Year in 2013."
Twenty-four years ago, Donahoe said she was a new Army spouse stationed in Germany and was feeling "lost, frightened and more than a little overwhelmed."
The advice she was given from a fellow Army spouse: "Just go to ACS."
"I wandered into ACS and found a wealth of opportunities there and ways I could spend my time," Donahoe said. "But I also found a purpose and what I call my people. It's my people and my purpose that I find now everywhere we go, every time we move, that keeps me going. And that's why I have this special connection to volunteering."
Donahoe said that she has the greatest admiration for volunteers, because it is not always easy to sacrifice the time and energy to give back to the community. She said that people tend to commit to volunteering because they believe in the mission, believe that they can make a difference and that they feel that their efforts are truly appreciated.
"I know from all of the organizations that you represent, that you give passionately to those organizations," Donahoe said. "And I know just by the fact that you were nominated to be here tonight, that your efforts were extraordinary and that you touched many lives in what you did."
Donahoe said that she is amazed by the great lengths that volunteers will go to ensure that Soldiers and their Families are strong, supported and empowered.
"What you do matters," she said. "How you make others feel will stay with them long after their days in the North Country are complete. Thank you for what you do, and thank you so much for being who you are."
The following volunteers were named Volunteer of the Year in their respective category:
* Family Readiness Group -- Guadalupe Moreno
* Large Community Group -- Michelle Gidley
* Child and Youth Group -- Kelli Van Dyk
* Small Community Group -- Tracey Decowsky
* Youth Group -- Justin Johnson
* Soldier Group -- Pfc. Nathaniel Chesemore
Guadalupe Moreno, FRG treasurer for C Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, was named 2018 Fort Drum Volunteer of the Year.
"It's an honor to be chosen as Volunteer of the Year," she said. "I just do what I do because it comes from my heart. Sometimes I feel like I don't really do anything at all, but it's an honor to be recognized because it tells me that I should keep doing what I'm doing."
Moreno said that she first became involved in FRG activities with her husband's unit in California, before becoming an FRG key caller at D Company, 4-31 Infantry, at Fort Drum.
"It was really nice because it helped get me out of my shell by doing more things," she said. It actually encourages me to volunteer more when I know I'm doing good for other people."
Man of the Mountain
Thomas Carman, president and chief executive officer of Samaritan Medical Center, was named Man of the Mountain. The award was established in 2003 to recognize local civilians who provide significant contributions to the quality of life for Fort Drum Soldiers and Families.
Carman was a founding member of the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization, serves as vice chair of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization and chair of the Greater Watertown North Country Chamber of Commerce.
"His passion and commitment to making our community a great place to live, prosper and play for our Soldiers, their Families and Civilians is unmatched," said Eric Wagenaar, deputy to the garrison commander. "This command has relied heavily on his expertise and communication skills to inform the highest levels of our Army and elected officials just how important our Fort Drum medical model is to generating readiness and, consequently, providing enhanced medical care for the entire North Country."
Carman said that his family has lived in the North Country since 2004 and has recognized the importance of serving the Soldiers and Families of Fort Drum.
"When you impact a community that is as integrated as we are here, you not only affect the lives of the civilians, but of the Soldiers and Families as well," he said. "That is so important and so special to us."
Carman said that he was on post just a day ago when he attended the Greater Watertown Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours event.
"I had the opportunity to speak with some of our Soldiers as they were standing in front of their equipment -- these big pieces of equipment that I couldn't tell you the names of," he said. "But it wasn't the equipment that was special, but what they said as Soldiers and the passion that they exhibited for the jobs that they do, the mission that they serve, and the purpose that they have.
That's why it is so important for us to give back to the community," Carman added. "Whatever we do pales in comparison to what our Soldiers do. The men and women of the 10th Mountain Division puts their lives at risk every day for our freedoms, and we're really grateful for that."