FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Thirty-nine years ago, Antonia Merritt sat in awe during a volunteer appreciation ceremony while members of the American Red Cross were recognized for their long years of volunteer services. "I remember thinking, 'These people have been here forever!'" she said.

Last week, during the 2010 Celebration of American Red Cross and Womack Army Medical Center Volunteers ceremony at the Fort Bragg Club, Merritt was recognized for her 39 years of selfless service to the Red Cross.

"And now I've been here forever," Merritt joked, after being awarded the Longevity Award.

The annual volunteer appreciation ceremony recognized over 450 volunteers who had given over 69,000 combined hours of service in the past year.

Throughout Fort Bragg, Pope Air Force Base and the surrounding community, these volunteers' main focus was to help servicemembers and their Families. The majority of volunteers work long hours at Womack Army Medical Center, putting together care packages for deployed servicemembers, and helping out their community.

"I love (volunteering)," said Kara Williams, who works at Womack's pharmacy information desk. "I get to meet and help so many Soldiers and their Families."

Williams said she has had many surgeries and was taken care of by so many servicemembers that she just wanted to give back. She has been with the American Red Cross for three years and continues to volunteer.

The Fort Bragg American Red Cross has about 350 volunteers, 120 youth volunteers, and gained 62 new volunteers in the past year.

North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue, proclaimed April 2010 American Red Cross Station Volunteers Month. According to the proclamation, the American Red Cross provides a link between members of the armed forces and their Families anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The American Red Cross volunteers assist military hospitals, offer support to deploying military units, support wounded warriors, and through other military support programs, supports the military.

Joanne Chavonne, wife of Fayetteville Mayor, Tony Chavonne, was the guest speaker at the ceremony. Chavonne has spent many years volunteering in schools and Boy Scouts. She established the Fayetteville Cares Foundation in 2007. Fayetteville Cares works primarily with military support organizations to help military Families around the community.

"There is no other crowd as deserving for this recognition, than you here today," Chavonne said. "Soldiers so often thank me for my service to them, but that is just a small contribution compared to what they do for us."