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Volunteers get Marne Spirit Awards
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Fifty-four of the 71 installation volunteers nominated for the Marne Spirit Award were recognized Tuesday during a ceremony in Club Stewart’s ballroom.

Calling Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield’s volunteers the “force behind the force,” Stewart-Hunter Army volunteer coordinator Vickie Wiginton said the services provided for free by installation volunteers saved the military community more than $2 million between March 2011 and March 2012.

“We’re recognizing our volunteers this week because April 15-21 is National Volunteer Week,” Wiginton said. “We can’t run our programs here without our volunteers. It’s a small token to say, ‘Thank you for what you do.’”

Wiginton was recognized during the award ceremony by Maj. Gen. Robert “Abe” Abrams, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division and Stewart-Hunter, as this will be her last year as volunteer coordinator. She’s retiring from federal service.

“The 108,000 hours of service provided by our volunteers at Stewart and Hunter is equal to over 12 years’ service compressed into one year,” said Abrams, who then listed many of the areas in which volunteers’ service is invaluable. “They’re selfless. They’re dedicated. They’re committed. And too often, they’re underappreciated — except for days like today.”

Before the award presentations, Abrams once again thanked all the volunteers as well as Stewart-Hunter Garrison Commander Col. Kevin Milton and Command Sgt. Maj. James Ervin, Stewart-Hunter Garrison command sergeant major, for their roles in leading the garrison team.

The recipients of the Marne Spirit Award were called forward in alphabetical order to receive medals from Connie Abrams, wife of Maj. Gen. Abrams, or Sharon Watson, wife of Command Sgt. Maj. Edd Watson, the 3rd ID command sergeant major. The ladies took turns presenting the medals, placing them over the necks of the recipients, offering warm hugs to other ladies and firm grasps of male recipients’ shoulders.

Each volunteer then received a handshake and certificate from Abrams and a special coin from Watson, who placed the coin in his or her hand during the handshake. The heart-shaped coin has the 3rd ID patch on one side and is inscribed with the words “Marne spirit” and “volunteer excellence” on the other side.

Amy Varney was one of the last to be awarded. The wife of Lt. Col. Lance Varney, commander of the 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, she said she volunteers mostly at Diamond Elementary School but also as a family readiness group advisor.

“I volunteer in the classroom, and I’m a member of the (parent-teacher association),” Varney said. “I’m also the chairperson for the school book fair. I like to volunteer, because I want to support the school my children attend, and I want to support their teacher.”

Varney said she began volunteering shortly after her family arrived at Fort Stewart and will continue to volunteer as long as they’re in the area.

The ceremony concluded when attendees sang the Dog Face Soldier Song and the Army Song and enjoyed refreshments.

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