FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- The Army’s chief of chaplains carved a few moments out of his already-packed Fort Rucker visit itinerary to drop by the child development center to let the employees there know that their herculean efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Maj. Gen. Thomas L. Solhjem, along with Sgt. Maj. Ralph Martinez, Chaplain Corps Regimental sergeant major, took a quick tour of the facility, and met with leadership and staff to let them know he appreciates all of their hard work, especially in how they expertly dealt with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Command Sgt. Maj. Raymond P. Quitugua Jr., Fort Rucker garrison command sergeant major, introduced the general to the Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation, child and youth services and CDC leadership.
“We’re extremely proud of our caregivers,” he told Solhjem. “We get a lot of positive ICE (Interactive Customer Evaluation) comments on our CDC caregivers, and they are some of our most positive and genuine comments that we receive. There’s definitely a lot of appreciation from the parents and patrons for our CDC – we have some of the best caregivers out there.”
The garrison command sergeant major added that he and Fort Rucker’s leadership, including Maj. Gen. David J. Francis, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general; Col. Whitney B. Gardner, garrison commander; and Command Sgt. Maj. James D. Wilson, Aviation Branch command sergeant major, could not be more proud of the caregivers and administrators at the CDC.
“They do not have an easy job – it’s hard – and they give 100% every day,” Quitugua said. “They truly care – it’s more than just a job for them. They know every child, they know each child’s siblings and they know the parents. They’re perfect examples of what we’re referring to when we talk about people first or the family concept – the caregivers and administrators go above and beyond in making every single child feel special.
“Being a military child is hard, and they recognize that,” he added. “So, when the parents are at work serving the country, they do their part to ensure that service members’ children are being well taken care of.”
The chief of chaplains’ visit was greatly appreciated by the CDC staff, said Kimberly Cardwell, the director.
“It was exciting,” she said. “It really makes you proud – proud of your staff and what they’ve done – for someone to take time out of their busy schedule to visit and tell you that what you’re doing is appreciated.
“We have a great team,” she added. “Especially during COVID – it was a scary time. The ladies came together and they were scared, but they knew that they were mission essential and that they had a job to do. They also knew that families were depending on us – the military was depending on us. They had a mission to accomplish to allow Soldiers to accomplish their missions.”
Cardwell’s boss, Toni Hampton, Fort Rucker CYS coordinator, agreed.
“The whole CYS team is great,” Hampton said. “They are some of the hardest workers in the garrison. Their mission is directly related to the readiness of Fort Rucker, and the pandemic made that even more apparent. They do a great job.”
During his visit, Solhjem also presented a coin to Lesley Giusti, a caregiver at the CDC, for her efforts in taking care of Fort Rucker youth and making the CDC successful.
“That was very exciting,” Hampton said. “I’ve been here for 20 years and I’ve never seen that happen before. She really deserves it – that was a big highlight.”
Verlydia Royal, assistant director of the CDC, and Cardwell nominated Giusti to receive the special recognition for her efforts in taking over two classrooms when the lead was out for a lengthy period of time, and other instances of her going above and beyond.
“She didn’t have to do that, but she stepped in and took charge in there – whatever hours I needed her to work or however late I needed her to stay, she did it,” Cardwell said. “We have to move furniture every six months – move everything completely out of the room – and she and her husband came out and did the entire building. She’s just a phenomenal caregiver and she is very dedicated to her children, her parents and the CDC.”