Fort Drum community members were recognized May 27 for their exceptional volunteer service during a small ceremony at LeRay Mansion. Left: Melissa Johnson was named overall Volunteer of the Year. Johnson serves as the unit Soldier and Family Readiness Group leader for D Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade. Col. Jeffery Lucas, Fort Drum garrison commander, was guest speaker at the event. Right: Dani Reed, Fort Drum Army Volunteer Corps program manager, holds a check representing the number of hours that volunteers recorded last fiscal year and its estimated dollar amount. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
Fort Drum volunteers earn recognition
for outstanding community contributions
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (May 28, 2020) – Even in the time of a pandemic, the efforts of Fort Drum volunteers – who contributed countless hours of selfless service – did not go unheralded.
While the annual Volunteer of the Year ceremony looked much different from years past, organizers said it was important to recognize and honor those who have given back to the community in many ways.
“Our volunteers are truly the heart of this Army community,” said Dani Reed, Fort Drum Army Volunteer Corps program manager. “We wanted to be able to recognize our volunteers who have been volunteering and have continued to do so during the pandemic. They are so appreciated for everything they do.”
This year’s ceremony was held May 27 outside LeRay Mansion, with five finalists for Volunteer of the Year in attendance, as well as a few invited guests. Col. Jeffery Lucas, Fort Drum garrison commander, served as guest speaker.
“No volunteer takes the time volunteering for others to be self-recognized,” Lucas said, “which, I think, is all the more reason we now take the time to thank them for their substantial efforts to our community, to our installation, our division and our Soldiers, families and civilians.”
Fort Drum’s volunteer community recorded 74,635 hours of service into the Volunteer Management Information System last fiscal year. This equates to a monetary value of nearly $1.9 million.
“None of what you do is for yourself, none of what you do is for thanks,” Lucas said. “You do it for everyone else. Thank you for letting us recognize you. I would say it gives a lot of satisfaction to those of us who are the recipients of your generosity.”
Nominations for Volunteer of the Year were submitted from units and organizations throughout Fort Drum and were separated into five categories: Soldier and Family Readiness Groups, Large Community Groups, Small Community Groups, Child and Youth Groups, and Youths.
Soldier and Family Readiness Group nominees:
Jocelyn Quiros, Kaitlin Walling, Christine Soto, Denise Meador, Renee Brantley, Jennifer Walters, Rocky Wallace, Jennifer Wineman, Ashly Widener, Naomi Steel, Melissa Johnson, Beverly Haggard, Tina Salter, Dawn Foringer, 1st Lt. Patrick Ward, Brittany Raines and Spc. Steven Hensley.
Melissa Johnson was named Soldier and Family Readiness Group Volunteer of the Year. Johnson serves as the SFRG leader for D Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade. Since taking on that position last April, Johnson is credited with training other company-level SFRG volunteers and assisting with unit activities such as fun runs, organizational days and a battalion ball. In 2018, Johnson received the President’s Volunteer Service Award (Bronze) as treasurer for Fort Drum Girl Scouts Service Unit 512. Recently, she was a finalist in the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year.
Child and Youth Group nominees:
Angel Caskey, Sgt. 1st Class James Webb, Gabe Caskey, Chief Warrant 4 Philip McLeish and Ayreale Sally.
Sgt. 1st Class James Webb was named Child and Youth Group Volunteer of the Year for his service to Cub Scout Pack 26 and Boy Scout Troop 26. Webb has served as Wolf Den leader, among other positions within the organization, and he contributed more than 880 volunteer hours. As outdoor committee chairperson, he provided guidance and encouragement to the Pack in recording more than 858 hours of activity that included more than 1,225 miles of hiking and snowshoeing. In addition to overseeing numerous community service activities for the Scouts, Webb served as range master for two Cub Scout camps and planned multiple other camps.
Small Community Group nominees:
Beverly Haggard, Kristy Fredrickson and Sgt. Aaron Foringer.
Beverly Haggard earned the Small Community Group Volunteer of the Year for her efforts as second vice president with the North Country Spouses’ Club. She joined last February as the organization’s historian and was responsible for documenting its activities with photographs while creating a historical record.
Haggard was elected in May to her current position, which requires her to plan and execute monthly membership luncheons with a theme and activities. She decided to organize each luncheon at a different location while arranging for catering from local restaurants. Haggard volunteered more than 146 hours at numerous events for NCSC, to include Mountainfest. Additionally, she has been the SFRG leader for D Company, 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment, 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.
Large Community Group nominees:
Ken Thomas and Amanda Nguyen.
Ken Thomas was named Large Community Group Volunteer of the Year for his work with the Fort Drum Army Substance Abuse Program. Thomas completed the four-hour unit prevention leader course so that he could provide greater support to ASAP’s drug testing program. He is also one of six instructors on post qualified to conduct suicide prevention training. Thomas also provides critical administrative support. His inventory and restocking efforts in the drug testing program supported more than 10,000 Soldiers last fiscal year, and his processing of educational packets supported the education of more than 15,000 Soldiers and civilians.
Youth Volunteer of the Year nominees:
Carlyann Crossno and Gabe Caskey.
Gabe Caskey, a Bear Scout with Cub Scout Pack 26, was named Youth Volunteer of the Year. Gabe was a top fundraiser for the Pack and the only Scout in the district to earn a Dr. Luis W. Alvarez Supernova Award. He participated in the first Scout Freedom Ruck-a-thon and helped to plant more than 125 trees with the Thousand Islands Land Trust. Gabe also was active in the Giving Tuesday Program, working with various organizations to prepare baskets of essentials for homeless veterans.
Volunteer of the Year:
Melissa Johnson was named Volunteer of the Year for fiscal year 2019.
In addition to her work with the company SFRG, Johnson is the service unit manager for Fort Drum Girl Scouts and a robotics coach with a private organization in Watertown. She also is involved in church fellowship events.
“I think it’s incredibly important to be involved in your community and to give back however way you can,” she said. “The way we can make the community better is by working together, with a common goal and purpose.”
The COVID-19 crisis hasn’t slowed down her volunteer service, either.
“As an SFRG leader to a deployed unit, it has been incredibly satisfying to us being able to take care of those families who are missing their service members while also dealing with a pandemic,” she said. “We reach out fairly regularly to our families to verify they are doing OK.”
Described as a creative, versatile planner, Johnson started a pilot program in February called “Adopt-a-Grandparent: Veterans Edition” geared toward veterans and their spouses who are in nursing homes. She said it was supposed to launch at Samaritan Keep Home in March, but the concept was modified due to the pandemic.
Several years ago, while stationed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, she volunteered to help coordinate a foot race on post. Johnson eventually became co-director of the race, and she said that started her commitment to community service.
“That really started my passion for service,” she said. “I want to make sure that people are taken care of, and help in any way I can, in whatever capacity that I can. The best way I’ve found I can do that is by jumping into a volunteer role, rolling up my sleeves and getting to work.”