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Armed Services YMCA Names Army Medic, Wife 'Volunteer of the Year'

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 14, 2004 – An Army medic, his wife and four young children came here from Fort Drum, N.Y., May 13 to be honored as the Armed Services YMCA "Volunteer of the Year" during the organization's 17th annual recognition luncheon on Capitol Hill.

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Armed Services YMCA "Volunteer of the Year," Army Staff Sgt. Dale Scherberger poses with retired Army Maj. Gen. Donald Infante after being presented a YMCA plaque during the organization's 17th annual recognition luncheon on Capitol Hill. Infante is the YMCA's chief executive officer. Photo by Rudi Williams

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Army Staff Sgt. Dale Scherberger and his wife, Cheryl, were recognized for their outstanding volunteer efforts on behalf of military families in their military community. They were honored in recognition of all outstanding volunteers from all of the military services, officials said.

Highlights of the luncheon included the presentation of the Armed Services YMCA's Military Family Congressional Champion Award to New York Rep. John M. McHugh for his work with the defense community and military families.

Honors for the Best Use of Volunteers were awarded to Junction City (Kan.) YMCA, an affiliate of ASYMCA, for the "Operation Iraq: Spirit of Christmas" program. The ASYMCA's Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base branch in North Carolina received the 2004 Raytheon Achievement Award for their local "Operation Kid Comfort" program.

The keynote speaker, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagee, told the audience that his maternal grandfather was very involved with the YMCA in the 1920s and 1930s in the Rhode Island and Massachusetts area.

"My mother went to dances sponsored by the YMCA in the late '30s in the Newport (R.I.) area, and that's where she met my father, who was a Navy chief. So this organization is pretty important to me," Hagee said to the audience, which responded with thunderous applause.

The nation's top Marine told of a Marine who found himself in the middle of a minefield in Afghanistan. "He lost his left leg," Hagee noted.

"He was fixed with an artificial leg here in Washington," the general said. "It was time to re-enlist, and he proved that he was physically qualified and there should be no reason that he couldn't re-enlist in his particular military occupational specialty. So we re-enlisted him."

The audience chuckled when Hagee said, "And he selected jump school as his re- enlistment option."

The Marines looked into fulfilling his request, Hagee said. "We called the Army, who runs the jump school, and said we have a Marine who wants to go through jump school, but he's missing one leg," Hagee said. "The Army said we've never had an individual come down here to complete jump school with an artificial leg. But if he wants to come, he can come, but there will be no breaks. He has to do everything that everyone else does.

"He'd been promoted, and Sgt. (Christopher) Chandler completed jump school on Dec. 18 last year and was honor man -- No. 1 in his class," the general continued. "Sgt. Chandler is currently serving in Iraq as a member of the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. We have in the armed forces a lot of Sgt. Chandlers. These great young men and women are out there serving this country right now."

Hagee said he talked to Marines and sailors during a recent visit to Fallujah, Iraq. "They're motivated and confident," he said, because "they're well-trained and they know they have the best equipment that this country can give them."

Knowing the American people are behind them is important to the deployed men and women, the general said. "Probably the most important thing is that they know that this country organizations like this support them. The most often asked question is, 'Do the American people know what we're doing and do they support what we're doing?' And I was very happy to be able to report to them, 'Absolutely,'" he said. "Not only the American people, but the Congress the House of Representatives and the Senate strongly support what they're doing over there."

During a visit to Hawaii and to Twentynine Palms Marine Base and Camp Pendleton, Calif., Hagee said, he talked with spouses of deployed Marines and spouses of Marines who were getting ready to deploy. "The thing that struck me the most," the general said, "was that they're committed to what their Marines are doing."

He surmised that part of the reason such support is there is because of support given by organizations like the Armed Services YMCA. "I remember when I was in Vietnam, we didn't have the support of the American people, to be frank," Hagee noted. And he said there were very few organizations like ASYMCA that supported the troops.

"Today, we have not only organizations like this, but the young individuals who are going to be recognized today who volunteer their time to help these families," he said.

He said ASYMCA welcome centers in airports and the organization's after-school programs play a major role in supporting service members and their families. Hagee said he's most familiar with the Armed Services YMCA "Operation Hero" that was started at Camp Pendleton in 1995. "You now have more than 15 sites throughout the United States focused on young children who are having either academic problems or social problems," he said.

The general pulled a letter out of his pocket from a mother of a child who participated in Operation Hero. "This is about her 10-year-old daughter," Hagee noted.

The letter states that the youngster had difficulty making friends, her grades were poor and she was suspended from school for striking another student. "I, too, had lost all hope," the mother wrote. "In the fall of 2002 Brandy was one of the first to get an Operation Hero boost. She learned that the true hero in our family was her.

"She now respects everyone and sees that the people around her do too. She helps with housework and is a mentor to her younger sister and brother. At school, she has been on the honor roll for three quarters after Operation Hero. We have a new look on our future."

The Marine Corps commandant noted the sacrifices military people and their families make. "We ask a great deal from our armed service members and our families and they deliver every single day," he said.

Military men and women don't want to die, Hagee said, "But they're ready to give up everything, a chance to have a family, a chance to have friends. Why are they willing to do that? For two reasons: One is for that soldier on their right and that Marine on the left -- their fellow serviceman or fellow servicewoman. And, No. 2, because they care for something larger than themselves."

Hagee said with organizations like the ASYMCA and the volunteers who were recognized, the armed forces would never lose that attitude.

Cheryl Scherberger said she was "shocked" when told that she and her husband were chosen as the Armed Services YMCA Volunteer of the Year.

"I don't feel like I do that much," she said. "We have youth day every Wednesday at our community center. It's a game day for the children. We have movie nights every Friday. Our whole family goes to that. I have monthly newcomers' pot lucks at the community center to welcome people into the community."

The whole family makes everything work. "We do everything as a team. We hold Christmas and Halloween parties and an Easter egg hunt," she said. "We deliver a newsletter every month. I write the newsletter and (my husband) delivers it. The children also get on their roller blades and help deliver it." The family delivers the newsletter to 126 houses in the housing area.

"The newsletter just gives information about local events what's going on in the community center every month and other information, including important phone numbers people need when they first move in," Cheryl said.

"Most people like the newsletter and get upset if they don't get it," Dale said. "The newsletter was effective in getting out the message that if some of the spouses whose husbands were deployed needed their lawns cut, (we could get it done for them). I was more than happy to shovel their driveways in the wintertime, because I was a nondeployed serviceman."

Dale's volunteer service began when he was stationed in Belgium, where he said he led Awanas, the local youth club. Shortly after arriving at Fort Drum a little over a year ago, Dale became the group leader of the Royal Rangers, a church-based youth group for first and second graders.

Cheryl is the Fort Drum community life volunteer mayor of her off-post housing area. She has also been instrumental in facilitating a summer reading program for children, which is sponsored by the Community Action Planning Council. She also coordinated with Project Strong to do community walking tours and hosted Chamber of Commerce Business After-hours in the Army Community Center.

The couple also has helped to distribute nearly 50,000 books to military families. "We're blessed," Dale said.

Contact Author

Gen. Michael W. Hagee

Related Sites:
Armed Services YMCA

Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Corps Commandant Gen. Michael W. Hagee addresses the audience May 13 at the Armed Services YMCA's 17th annual recognition luncheon on Capitol Hill. The general said the organization is special to him because his mother and father met at a YMCA in Rhode Island. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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