FORT POLK, La. — Rich, draping fabrics and soft lighting gave the Army Community Service ballroom an ambience of elegance and class April 12 at Fort Polk's 2018 Volunteer of the Year Awards Ceremony.

Fort Polk leadership, volunteers and Family members gathered at the annual event to celebrate all that is good about giving back to the community.

The evening began with a meal catered by Mulligans. After appetites were satisfied, Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk commanding general, thanked Fort Polk’s volunteers for their hard work.

“The 51 volunteers we honor this evening have provided a staggering 44,365 hours of service over the last 12 months. If our garrison commander — the ‘Mayor of Fort Polk’ — were to pay a salary for these critical volunteer hours it would be valued at more than $895,000 dollars. That is a significant contribution to our community,” he said.

Volunteers provide services across Fort Polk including at the Thrift Shop, Army Community Service, youth sports coaches, American Red Cross, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, Family Readiness Groups and more.

“These volunteers dramatically improve the quality of life everyone enjoys here at JRTC and Fort Polk,” said Frank. “We in uniform salute you and thank you for your selfless service.”

Each of the nominated volunteers received an award for their dedication and hard work. In addition, five groups of nominees had an overall winner.

The winner from each group is as follows: Large group — Tara Ashley (Directorate of Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation and ACS); small group — LaToya M. Arceneaux (Fort Polk Spouses’ Club); child and youth group — Shanon M. Anthony (Girl Scouts, unit No. 254); youth group — Kevin Carrier (DFMWR, Child and Youth Services, youth) and Family Readiness Group — Chief Warrant Officer 3 Lucas C. Dahlen, 5th Aviation Battalion (Family Readiness Group).

Kevin Carrier was awarded Fort Polk Youth Volunteer of the Year honors and Tara Ashley was named Fort Polk Adult Volunteer of the Year.

Carrier said he volunteers his time to help others because he can.

“It feels good to do anything anyone needs me to do. Though it feels nice to win, I also want to thank all the other volunteers honored tonight. They worked just as hard and took their time to work and help others,” he said.

Ashley, who also won in the large group category, said volunteering is about making connections to others and helping Fort Polk’s Soldiers and their Families.

“Winning large group and then Fort Polk Adult Volunteer of the Year was a big surprise. I didn’t volunteer to get awards, but it’s nice to be recognized for the hard work I do,” she said.

Ashley said events like the volunteer ceremony are important because it acknowledges the many hours volunteers spend giving of themselves.

“They deserve a day that is all about them. Volunteers are so important to the military community. We couldn’t do everything we do without them,” she said.

LaToya M. Arceneaux, small group winner and president of the Fort Polk Spouses’ Club, said when she sees a need in her community, she loves to pitch in and lend a hand.

“I was a little embarrassed when I won because I wasn’t expecting it and that’s not why I volunteer, but I will say it’s nice when people say thank you,” she said.

The Fort Polk volunteers honored at the ceremony seem to have a common passion for giving of their time. Tammy Summers, acting Army volunteer coordinator, said volunteerism is a fundamental selfless service to others whether it is helping a friend or a community to accomplish a goal. “It’s that selfless act that shows our humanity and fulfills the needs of those around us. Our volunteers serve Fort Polk by giving many hours to the agencies on post so  our Families can be better served,” she said.