Pennsylvania National Guard Courtesy report
GRANTHAM, Pa. (4/25/12) — Some came to give back to the communities where they grew up. Others attended to show support for friends and fellow Soldiers. All said they learned a valuable lesson - the amount they gave paled in comparison to the amount they received.
More than a dozen Pennsylvania Army National Guardsmen from 1st Battalion, 108th Field Artillery, volunteered their time to help athletes at the 2012 Special Olympics Area M Games at Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., April 19.
Messiah College hosts the annual event, which this year boasted a record-breaking attendance with more than 1100 athletes, buddies and volunteers from the central Pennsylvania area for a day full of fun and friendly competition.
Soldiers drove from as far away as Philadelphia to act as line judges, time recorders, track security and presenters for this year’s games.
“To be given a ribbon or cheered on by their military heroes, it can't get any better than that,” said Kay Straw, director of the Special Olympics Area M. No matter how high or low the athlete’s abilities, they view the Soldiers as role models and show respect and admiration, she added.
Acting as presenters for this year’s event were Army Sgt. 1st Class Francis Manley and Army Staff Sgt. Timothy Corcoran, both members of Battery C, 1st Bn., 108th FA.
Manley estimates he and Corcoran awarded ribbons to nearly 100 athletes who competed in events such as the 50-, 100- and 200-meter dashes, the 100-meter walk and the 400-meter run. Other presenters awarded ribbons for the softball throw, wheelchair races and both the standing and running long jumps.
For Manley, talking with the athletes while awarding their ribbons made the biggest impact. In many cases, Manley helped to pin the ribbons onto the athletes’ chests.
“When that Soldier pins that ribbon on the chest of our athlete, you can see their chest go out; when he shakes their hands or gives them a pat on the back and says, ‘good job,’ you can see the pride come across the face of that athlete,” Straw said.
Army Staff Sgt. James Shirley, a supply sergeant with the Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Bn., 108th FA, knows that feeling of admiration well. Shirley, a native of Carlisle, Pa., has volunteered with the Special Olympics for three years, the first two of which he acted as a buddy to a fellow Soldier’s autistic son. As a buddy, he ensured athletes got to games, ribbon ceremonies and other events.
For Shirley, seeing the joy on the athletes’ faces—no matter how well they did—brings him back year after year.
Other Soldiers echoed a similar sentiment: in a world full of competition, Special Olympic athletes seem genuinely happy to be competing with very little interest in the awards, ribbons or trophies. Often, noted one Soldier, it is the athlete coming in last that receives the biggest applause.
When the athletes did cross the finish line this year, Army Staff Sgt. Shawn Rouvre and Army Sgt. Andrew Bankert greeted them.
“I was a motivator,” Rouvre said, a human resources non-commissioned officer with HHB, who made sure he gave as many high-fives as he could handle. “When you see how excited they are [after finishing the race], it is an amazing experience.”
Rouvre is also in his third year of volunteering and said he especially likes seeing the same athletes year after year.
“I like seeing the kids growing up,” he said. “They often remember us from prior years.”
Army Sgt. Steven Robison, an intelligence analyst with 1st Bn., 108th FA, said Special Olympics is a cause close to his heart. Robison’s best friend has five adopted siblings with varying special needs.
“They are like family to me,” Robison said.
They are the reason that Robison, who had previously volunteered during high school, chose to volunteer again when he learned that the 108th FA has been involved in the games since 2008.
Robison, like the others, said he plans to continue his volunteer work with the Special Olympics later this year when the 108th FA assists with the “Polar Plunge,” an event held on City Island in Harrisburg, Pa., each year to raise money for the Special Olympics.