The annual Edwards Air Force Base Volunteer Appreciation Ceremony honored Edwards AFB’s volunteers April 29.
The event was hosted by the Airman and Family Readiness Center and this year’s theme is, “Our volunteers are shining stars.”
Brig. Gen. Michael Brewer, 412th Test Wing commander, in his opening remarks, gave each volunteer a homework assignment. That assignment was to search Youtube for North Platte, Nebraska.
According to Brewer, 10 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, word got out that the 134th Infantry Regiment of the Nebraska Army National Guard would be coming by train through the city.
Hundreds of family members and friends of the local service members got together with “cookies and magazines and gum, all these things to meet the train as it came through.”
When the train did finally arrive late, it was not carrying the service members they expected. Instead of the Nebraska troops stepping off of that train, men from Kansas were there. Rae Wilson, 26 years old at the time, “decided she hadn’t brought her cookies for nothing and they started handing them out to the troops that were there.”
That was the start of the North Platte Canteen, an effort by the women in the town to ensure that every military train that came through was met by the townspeople. Brewer noted that because the train trips were classified, the volunteers would have to be ready at all times to meet every train. Their key phrase became, “Make sure the coffee is on,” so that no train would be left out.
“You listen to these stories of the veterans and they’re in their 80s at this time, still tearing up as they remember what it meant to them to have this,” said Brewer. “You are part of that tradition, part of that team effort that is America, that is the volunteers. Thank you for making sure that coffee is on, thank you for being that shining star.”
Guest Speaker, Richard Buckreis, Kern County Sheriff’s Desert Search and Rescue Group administrative lieutenant, was accompanied by his guest, Burt Maxwell, an operational lieutenant with the group. Buckreis has been a long-time volunteer with the Search and Rescue team and was last year’s recipient of the Volunteer Excellence Award. He has worked at Edwards AFB for 37 years and is currently assigned to the 412th Test Wing Public Affairs Office.
“A lot of people don’t realize what they give up being a volunteer. They give up time with their families, weekends and holidays,” said Buckreis. “You’re the untold heroes helping the community and Edwards AFB is a community in all different ways.”
He added, “The other thing is, a lot of people don’t realize one person does make a difference.”
Buckreis encouraged those in attendance to say “thank you” to people that volunteer, to shake their hand. Because what the volunteers do comes from “the goodness of their heart,” not seeking honor, badges or certificates.
Alexander Kovras, 412th Force Support Squadron director, was in attendance to assist in awarding the volunteers.
“We received over 400 volunteer names that donated over 55,000 hours of service supporting Edwards AFB [in the last year],” said Kovras.
He proceeded to read a list of organizations that have that have depended on their volunteer force over the last year. Some of those groups included the 412th Medical Group, the 412th Operations Group Children’s Holiday Party, the Air Force Chiefs Association, the Edwards Officer’s Spouses Club Thrift Store and the Air Force Flight Test Museum.
According to Maricel Rusit, Airman and Family Readiness Center program manager, there are 480 volunteers on base, and of those, 175 volunteers received Presidential Volunteer Service Awards recognized with gold, silver and bronze pins.
“We live on an island and every single moment, every single minute, every single hour that you gave of your time and your energy and your patience, you didn’t just make a difference, you made a real difference,” said Lt. Col. Michael Rakoczy, 412th Mission Support Group deputy director.
2nd Lt. Nathan Lovette, Force Support Squadron, readiness Officer In-Charge, announced the recipient of this year’s Volunteer Excellence Award, Amy Florence. The Volunteer Excellence Award is unlike the quarterly and annual awards in that it considers long-term volunteerism over years. The award is also unique in that it can only be received by an individual one time.
Florence is one of three spouses part of the Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team, a multi-service, multi-national organization consisting of U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, United Kingdom Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Dutch Royal Netherlands Air Force personnel.
Florence is also a sports mom and classroom mom for first and second grade at Branch Elementary School. She supports educators on field trips, field days and other special projects throughout the school year.
“Her enthusiasm to give back to the community is evident in the vast area in which she volunteers,” said Col. Mark Hoelscher, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 1 commander. “She touches the lives of military, civilian and foreign spouses as she plays a key role in welcoming and supporting families living in the unique experience of the Joint Operational Test Team at Edwards.”
Brewer closed saying what he’s always said, “For us to be successful we need the military, we need our civil servants and we need our contractors.” Then he added, “I think after today I’m probably just going to add a fourth leg to the stool and we need our volunteers and that’s you.”