Community volunteers, a unity of effort

Dacian Toderescu of the combat vets association screens patrons the USAG Stuttgart community mailroom on Patch barracks. The combat vets association assisted screening visitors on the Sunday in order that service members could be stood down. Photo by Paul Hughes, USAG Stuttgart public affairs.

By Elizabeth Celtrick U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart

Volunteering has always been the backbone of Army garrison life. For many at U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart, it is simply a way of life.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is altering daily routines in fundamental ways, one thing remains the same — the community’s commitment to the value of selfless service. National Volunteer Week may have begun April 19, but at USAG Stuttgart, the commitment is year-round and increased in reaction to coronavirus restrictions.

Family members, active-duty Soldiers, retirees, civilians, and local nationals — a unity of effort in people responding to the need for volunteers — have been key to keeping vital services up and running, according to Charlene Schuler, the Army Community Service volunteer coordinator.

“Our community has been able to meet the increased demand on supporting our vital services, because we have awesome volunteers,” Schuler said. “They quickly understood that without additional help, our commissaries, PX, and mailrooms won’t be able to function.”

Watching a recent garrison Facebook livestream, Lt. Col. Janette Kautzman heard Col. Jason Condrey, the USAG Stuttgart commander, talk about a new volunteer button on the garrison app — how easy it was to sign up and start volunteering. She thought, “This is something I could do.”

For Kautzman, the idea of volunteering brought her back to her high school days, with the American Red Cross and Students Against Drunk Drivers. A few days after signing up, she got an email.

Curbside Shopping Volunteer
Susanna Wilkerson selects potatoes as a volunteer shopper for the curbside pickup program. Photo by Rebecca Castellano, U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart.

Could she go shopping for a family under quarantine?

She decided she would be one of the first volunteers within the garrison to do so. But, what brands did they like? What options did they want?

“It’s stressful shopping for someone you don’t know,” Kautzman said.

Sharing texts and pictures with the family led to some funny moments, as Kautzman sought out the right items.

Shopping for a friend is normal. But, when people suddenly find themselves quarantined, it’s harder to call that friend or neighbor: many might be stretched thin themselves, homeschooling children or working extra shifts. That’s where the volunteers step in.

“This community has decided to approach this crisis with a positive attitude and that has made all the difference in the world,” Kautzman said. “We each have our own challenges that we are facing, so the smallest thing, such as a smile, can make the difference. It really takes a community to make things better.”

The Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association has a long tradition of community engagement alongside recreational road trips. When a volunteer event at the Landstuhl USO was cancelled, members decided that they didn’t need to wait until the travel restrictions were lifted before fulfilling their motto of “Vets Helping Vets.” Association members have stepped in to relieve active-duty personnel from working weekend shifts as screeners at the mailrooms.

“We can cover this, and by doing so, give service members a bit of a break, so they can spend some quality weekend time with their families during these challenging times,” said Dacian Todorescu, a CVMA member and an active duty service member. “It’s about helping Soldiers and their families.”

With the spirit of first responders, volunteers made themselves available to meet unexpected needs within the community.

For example, power went out at Panzer Kaserne’s commissary. Cold items needed to be moved to other chilled sections. The manager called Schuler.

“Date Night in Aisle 2” Marc and Shawn Alexander responded to the call for volunteers needed to help restock the commissary. Photo courtesy the Alexanders.

“I have had to send a couple of last-minute requests for volunteers, and I always have at least a handful who are immediately available to volunteer,” Schuler said. “It always humbles me.”

Using the garrison’s app, which now features an automated signup system, Schuler sent out an appeal for volunteers. Within minutes, nearly 10 people responded, heading over to help at the commissary.

Humility is a common trait among this community’s volunteers. When asked about their service, most answer with the disclaimer, “I help out when I can, but others do so much more.”

Many quickly shift the focus to the full-time staff at the commissaries, PX, mailrooms, DPW, bus garages, and other vital services who suddenly find themselves on the front line of this crisis, as their source of motivation to get involved and help out.

“These are our family members, neighbors, and friends. Helping them is just a small way of saying thank you and keeping these services we all rely on working well,” said one volunteer who has been helping out at the PX, who asked not to be named. “Maybe this selfless service is the secret sauce to how this community functions — everyone helps out when and how they can, without need for recognition.”

For more information on volunteering, visit the USAG Stuttgart App, COVID-19 button.