CASTEAU, Belgium - “In German the word for volunteer translates into the words ‘free willed,’” said Nadja Krajewski, volunteer program coordinator at U.S. Army Garrison Benelux. “They (volunteers) are often self-starters, willing to do the right thing and are very serious about doing things perfectly.”
Service members, civilians, Family members and Retirees across the garrison devote their free time and energy to improving the quality of life for their friends and neighbors.
“They are the backbone of our community, they fill in the voids and help relieve some of the stress from staff members,” said Krajewski.
The Army Volunteer Corps (AVC) – designed to ensure opportunities are a good fit for both the would-be volunteer and the organization receiving the assistance – takes an approach similar to employment matching. Krajewksi recruits and coordinates volunteers placing them into appropriate positions based on a number of factors including the individual’s interests, experience and availability.
“I interview, I look at their credentials, I make sure they have the training needed and if a background check or volunteer common access card is also required, I help with those processes too.” Krajewski said. “For accreditation I do the orientation and supervision of Army Community Service (ACS) volunteers here (at SHAPE) and I make sure the volunteer candidate is a good fit.”
Volunteers who serve at the garrison such as those assigned to ACS or Family and Moral, Welfare and Recreation Programs (FMWR), are statutory, Krajewski clarified. This means although volunteers are not paid they may receive some benefits similar to an employee – licensing and use of Government Owned Vehicles (GOVs) for travel in conjunction with approved volunteer activities, network access if required for execution of duties, liability coverage in case of injury and documentation for hours served – the latter being important for future opportunities.
The Volunteer Management Information System (VMIS) is the tool that helps manage this process. By maintaining records, the U.S. Army’s VMIS provides volunteers with an account of positions held, hours served, training received – including certifications as well as any subsequent recognition or rewards – and that information, is portable.
“It’s always to the benefit of the volunteer in the community to have their hours in the system because it transfers across the world,” Krajewski said. “They can take the hours with them and receive credit later on, whether that’s on their resume or applying for scholarships or receiving a volunteer service medal.”
Krajewski, a former volunteer herself, understands the benefits firsthand.
“I started gaining experience as a volunteer when we PCSed (Permanent Change of Station) to Fort Meade (Maryland) and I helped the volunteer program there putting together the recognition ceremony before I was later hired as a contractor and then ultimately a GS (General Schedule federal employee) doing other work,” said Krajewski.
In the Benelux, Krajewski explained there are over 1,000 volunteers and approximately 130 private organizations registered in VMIS. Nevertheless, matching the volunteer to the need depends on the type of work as well as availability. Additionally, with the nature of a military community those numbers fluctuate monthly leaving some needs unmet.
“We have a lot of volunteers in the schools normally, like here on SHAPE,” she said. “That hasn’t been allowed the last few years because of COVID restrictions. … Then there’s the thrift stores, the kennel or the fitness centers all relying on volunteers. And they (volunteers) do it every week. They get dressed, they drive, they’re committed!”
Motivations to serve vary for each volunteer but the benefits remain universal.
“It gives people a purpose to do something else outside of their everyday activities and to connect with others.” Krajewski said. “We have so many different health, wellness and prevention programs, but this is like the active part of it – you get out and do things, you stay physically fit by doing so and it’s shown to decrease depression; it definitely develops skills and you can learn new things.”
Like Krajewski, in some instances volunteering can also prepare you for future employment.
“You’re learning about the job you’re doing (while volunteering), you may have an advantage,” she said.
The U.S. Army honors and recognizes volunteers annually for their individual and collective contributions. Volunteers at the garrison are nominated by organizational points of contact with a packet that must include verified hours served and a narrative. Committee members evaluating the nominations are selected from different agencies and must not have some sort of bias and/or be able to nominate themselves. The nominees advance through the board process where the committee determines the awardees.
At ceremonies held on April 22, 2022 at SHAPE, Brussels and Brunssum, members of the USAG Benelux community earned recognition for their volunteer service for 2021. In monetary terms, volunteer work saved the garrison $658,241.71 according to ACS, due to over 19,000 hours served.
"Every one of you in this room who had a direct mission or indirect mission, your community involvement, your volunteerism allowed us to accomplish all the critical missions,” said Col. James Yastrzemsky, USAG Benelux commander, at the ceremony at SHAPE. “And it's a big deal, and we thank you!"
“It is really important to develop that connective tissue, to develop those relationships and to develop habits and activities that bring the community together,” said Lt. Gen. E. John Deedrick, the U.S. military representative to NATO, at the Brussels ceremony. “And what’s great about volunteers and all the hours that goes in and all the money that goes in – and that is absolutely fantastic – but what is really great about it is people said, ‘Let me do something that better connects. Let me do something that helps people. Let me do something that, in the end, also helps me.’”
Some of this year’s volunteers draw on personal experiences as reasons to serve.
“With volunteering, I feel like I have a home, like I have a Family,” said Sgt. Cheyenne Bradrick, military police Soldier and volunteer. “The amount of friendships and mentorships, and everything I’ve gained, I sound selfish for volunteering. I do it because I enjoy it.”
“Growing up in a less privileged childhood, my Family relied on charitable funds and help,” said Aleks Gatchell, civilian volunteer. “And I am very grateful that I’m in the position where I can give back what I received. … Volunteering your time is a sign of love.”
Ultimately, each volunteer steps forward from a position of giving.
"The most precious resource we all have is our time,” said Yastrzemksy. “And when someone is willing to give up their most precious resource, their time, in service to others - I consider that one of the most noblest callings in action that you can give and it's pretty special!"
Below is a list of all the winners and nominees for 2021.
2021 Volunteers of the Year, overall:
• Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan D. Newell (Service Member)
• Suzanne Price (Civilian)
2021 Service Member of the Year:
• Winner – Sgt. Cheyenne Bradrick (Brussels)
• Winner – Lt. Col. Erik Iliff (Chièvres /SHAPE)
• Winner – Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan D. Newell (Brunssum)
o Nominee – Air Force Master Sgt. Ashley Bethel (Brussels)
o Nominee – Air Force Tech Sgt. Matthew Busen (Brussels)
o Nominee – Master Sgt. Emily Charles (Brussels)
o Nominee – Lt. Col. Adam Ennis (Brussels)
o Nominee – Sgt. 1st Class Aloysia Johnson (Brussels)
o Nominee – Sgt. Jason Johnson (Brussels)
o Nominee – Sgt. 1st Class Davina Jones (Brussels)
o Nominee – Sgt. 1st Class Danielle Keita (Brussels)
o Nominee – Master Sgt. Nathan Lembke (Brussels)
o Nominee – Air Force Airman 1st Class Antonio Moya (Brunssum)
o Nominee – Sgt. Tiffaney Pendleton (Brussels)
o Nominee – Sgt. Omar Pompa (Brussels)
o Nominee – Master Sgt. Edwin Rivas (Brussels)
o Nominee – Sgt. Jose Sanchez (Brussels)
o Nominee – Sgt. 1st Class Kelly Simon (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Master Sgt. Larry Soto (Brussels)
o Nominee – Col. Richard Strong (Brussels)
o Nominee – 1st Sgt. Alfredo Vasquez (Brussels)
o Nominee – Sgt. Vernnen Walker (Brussels)
o Nominee – Master Sgt. Darrio Wells (Brussels)
2021 Family of the Year:
• Winner – The Atienza Family (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – The Guerrero Family (Chièvres /SHAPE)
2021 Retiree of the Year:
• Winner – Paz Krieger (Brunssum)
• Winner – Fleming Outerbridge (Chièvres /SHAPE)
• Winner – Joseph Schram (Brussels)
o Nominee – Michael C. Marro (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Richard M. Sheridan (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Robert Vedra (Chièvres /SHAPE)
2021 Civilian of the Year:
• Winner – Anthony Allen (Brunssum)
• Winner – Aleksandra Gatchell (Brussels)
• Winner – Suzanne Price (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Yorik Bracke (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Brianna L. Cook (Brunssum)
o Nominee – Munsun Cox (Brussels)
o Nominee – Darlene Yannotty Erskine (Brussels)
o Nominee – Eileen Dela Cruz Catalan (Brussels)
o Nominee – Michelle Gidley (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Luzdary Guerrero (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Michael Jones Sr. (Brussels)
o Nominee – Randi Rabin Karotkin (Brussels)
o Nominee – Dominique Kallon (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Brooke Adrienne Murphy (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Thomas K. Murphy (Brussels)
o Nominee – Cindy Noe (Brussels)
o Nominee – Malina Weigel (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Coren Yastrzemsky (Chièvres /SHAPE)
2021 Youth of the Year:
• Winner – Abigail Day (Brussels)
• Winner – Juliana Murphy (Chièvres /SHAPE)
• Winner – Thomas Veal (Brunssum)
o Nominee – Jacob Michael Gidley (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Ethan Simmons (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Lucy Vedra (Chièvres /SHAPE)
2021 Team of the Year:
• Winner – BE-931 Junior ROTC (Chièvres /SHAPE)
• Winner – PTSO (Brussels)
o Nominee – SHAPE Scouting (Scout Troop 325B, 325G and Cub Scout Pack 325) (Chièvres /SHAPE)
o Nominee – Brussels Consignment Shop (Brussels)
o Nominee – NATO Charity Bazaar (Brussels)
2021 SHAPE Special Mentions:
• Ingrid Covington, Susan Fofi, Kathy Kane Friend, Nina Smith
The need for volunteers remains.
The volunteers of the year represent only a small part of the dedicated work on behalf of the community. For example, last year the garrison had approximately 15 volunteers for the Chièvres Air Fest, this year that need is more than double. Moreover, routine opportunities to serve are available across all garrison locations.
If you would like to know more about volunteer opportunities at USAG Benelux, visit an Army Community Service office at SHAPE or USAG Benelux – Brussels in Belgium or at USAG Benelux – Brunssum in the Netherlands. For further contact information, visit the link here.
For further photos from the event, visit the Flickr album here.