Volunteering – The heart of the service

BALTIMORE - Senior Chief Petty Officer Jeffery Dietzman, the command senior chief for Sector Baltimore, leads many volunteer efforts by coordinating with agencies and finding new opportunities to serve the community. From his hometown in Delhi, N.Y., Dietzman grew up helping his neighbors; a trait that has stayed with him all this life. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Brazzell.

BALTIMORE - Senior Chief Petty Officer Jeffery Dietzman, the command senior chief for Sector Baltimore, leads many volunteer efforts by coordinating with agencies and finding new opportunities to serve the community.

Baltimore – As a military service with unique missions, it is no stretch to say that many men and women in the Coast Guard are brought together because they share a common desire to serve their fellow Americans. For many, this desire doesn’t end with the work day, but continues in their personal lives. As individuals or entire units, Coast Guard members serve those in need. Often times the same hand that reaches for a distressed boater is the same that offers up a warm meal to a family, turns a page while reading to children or gives a gift to a child on Christmas.

“I think that being in any military service takes a certain type of person,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Alexander Lord-Flynn, a marine science technician at Coast Guard Sector Baltimore. “The obvious connection between people who volunteer and people in the Coast Guard is the desire to serve.”

Recently, Sector Baltimore recognized Lord-Flynn as the Enlisted Person of the Quarter for his exceptional performance both on and off the job. Donating more than 1,000 hours in 2009, Lord-Flynn said his desire to serve others started in his youth. Growing up in Spokane, Wash., Lord-Flynn attended various mission trips with his church and saw firsthand the affect he could have on another person’s life.

“I have a passion for running,” said Lord-Flynn. “So much of my time is dedicated to running that I feel like it might as well serve a purpose other than to benefit myself. So I started looking for avenues to do that.”

That avenue turned out to be a non-profit organization that helps homeless individuals in Baltimore by promoting self sufficiency. Known as Back on My Feet, the program encourages homeless men and women by having them run as a means to build confidence and self-esteem.

“We teach them to make goals and follow through with them,” said Lord-Flynn. “We tell them that if they can run a mile, they can run two miles. If they run two miles, they might be able to run towards a new job or going back to school.”

Today Lord-Flynn leads his own team with a local homeless shelter. Each member receives running shoes, shirts and other team gear. “When we run down the street, no one can tell who’s homeless and who’s not.”

BALTIMORE - Petty Officer 3rd Class Alexander Lord-Flynn, a Marine Science Technician at Coast Guard Sector Baltimore, gives an encouraging high five to Back On My Feet participants as they complete a run through the streets of Baltimore, March 3, 2010.  Lord-Flynn has volunteered more than 1,000 hours in the last year to helping homeless people in Baltimore change their lives through the Back On My Feet program. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Brazzell.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Alexander Lord-Flynn, a Marine Science Technician at Coast Guard Sector Baltimore, gives an encouraging high five to Back On My Feet participants as they complete a run through the streets of Baltimore.

Lord-Flynn recalled a story of a homeless man he mentored named George. “He started running and he could barely run a block. He’d run a block and stop, run a block and stop, so he decided to stop smoking to continue to run,” said Lord-Flynn. “Now he can run three or four miles.” Another man named John was able to stop drugs. “We’re not just out there to run with them, we’re out to change their lives,” said Lord-Flynn. “Each day we’re just thankful that they showed up because that’s another day that they’re not hitting the pipe or drinking.”

“I think volunteering is fun, with anything you’re doing, if you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong,” said Lord-Flynn. “If you feel called to do something bigger than you, get out and volunteer.”

Petty Officer 1st Class Dexter Johnson, a crewmember aboard the Coast Guard Cutter James Rankin home ported in Baltimore, recalls a similar story of when he started volunteering. “It started with my children,” Johnson said with enthusiasm. “The first step was church, soup kitchens, just a call to help out our neighbors.”

After reporting aboard the Rankin, Johnson found ways to meet the needs of the community and began to encourage his shipmates to join in. So far, Johnson’s encouragement has had a positive effect on his shipmates. More than half of the unit, including the captain, volunteers their time. The crew of the Rankin began completing projects like painting an American flag over a graffiti-covered bridge, mentoring elementary school children and volunteering their boat to local schools looking for educational field trips. They also received an award of appreciation from Northern Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce for devoted support to educational excellence in May, 2009.

“It starts with the individual, and if you really believe in it and you do it, you can get more people involved,” said Johnson. “When you lead by example, they jump on board. Especially when you have a positive attitude, you’re nice to people and give them respect; then they tend to just want to do it.”

Johnson also explained the impact that volunteering has on his crew. “It builds comradery with your shipmates when you get out and affect your community,” said Johnson. “It improves moral. You’re getting out together as a unit and you’re also giving back.”

Coming from the small town of Delhi, N.Y., Senior Chief Petty Officer Jeffrey Dietzman, the Command Senior Chief at Sector Baltimore, said that he learned long ago the meaning of helping others. Nearly 20 years ago, Dietzman learned the Coast Guard’s core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty.

“I feel that volunteering is in alignment with our core values,” said Dietzman. “It’s a mentality to want to help other people; since our primary mission is to help those in need.”

Dietzman leads many volunteer efforts for Sector Baltimore, organizing initiatives like providing Christmas presents for children of low-income families or coordinating events to honor veterans. “It brings the Coast Guard and the community together, to see us as human beings and not just people in blue uniforms,” said Dietzman.

The Coast Guard regularly works with organizations such as Partnerships in Education, Habitat for Humanity and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America. It also helps countless charities and non-profits that assist homeless, mentor youth and work with veterans.

“Volunteering is always a new experience,” Johnson said. “When you do something selflessly for someone else, it enhances you, it makes you feel better about yourself and it gives you a sense of accomplishment. I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t do it.”

This is the heart of the Coast Guard. A proud service made up of people brought together for the purpose of serving a nation. From individuals to entire units, to the very core values of Honor, Respect and Devotion to Duty, the message is clear; to volunteer is to serve, and in order to serve you must volunteer.

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