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(Enlarge) Installation Commander Col. Daniel L. Thomas congratulates Debbie Alexander, an honorary advisor to the Officers' Wives' Club, for her selection as Fort Meade's Lifetime Volunteer of the Year at Fort Meade's annual Volunteer Appreciation Ceremony held April 22 at Club Meade. (Photo by Spc. Walter Reeves)

Debbie Alexander has never won an award.

So when she was selected as the installation's Lifetime Volunteer of the Year, she said she was a bit blindsided.

"I had no idea I was nominated," said Alexander, an honorary advisor to the Officer's Wives' Club who was nominated by the organization. "This is very special."

Alexander, wife of National Security Agency director Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, was among five other Fort Meade community members to be recognized for their selfless service at the post's annual Volunteer Appreciation Ceremony on April 22 at Club Meade.

Installation Commander Col. Daniel L. Thomas, who bestowed the awards, said in his remarks that "without a vibrant, strong volunteer community, you can't be a great community of excellence."

During the evening, 22 volunteers nominated by post organizations and units were praised for their professionalism and dedication to the Fort Meade community.

"I appreciate you for what you do," said Marie Miles, the Army Volunteer Corps coordinator at Army Community Service, who thanked volunteers for the "time, energy, effort and love you put into our programs."

Six people were selected as winners from the 22 nominees. In addition to Alexander, the honorees were Petty Officer 1st Class Melissa Lystad, Active Duty Volunteer of the Year; Kim Smith, Family Member Volunteer of the Year; Mary Livingston, Civilian Volunteer of the Year; Joy Penaso, Youth Volunteer of the Year; and the Officers' Wives' Club, Volunteer Organization of the Year.

Guest speaker Maj. Gen. Michael Bednarek, commander of First Army Division East, said the men and women who volunteer to put their lives on the line and strong senior leadership are what make the military successful.

"We, collectively in uniform, could not do what we do without you volunteers," Bednarek said. "It's truly a team effort."

Alexander was recognized for more than 35 years of service to military spouses and her service to OWC and the Retired Officers' Wives' Club, where she is also an honorary advisor.

"She does what she can to make a meal for someone who has just had a baby, or coordinate meals for someone whose husband has cancer," wrote OWC president Jennifer Wilson in Alexander's nomination packet.

Alexander, who also volunteers with the Family Action Board at the NSA and the USO at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, said helping people and giving back are what matters most.

"I'm honored and humbled," she said of the award.

As the military liaison officer for Fort Meade's Saturday Scholars program, Lystad devoted 100 duty hours and 160 off-duty hours, overseeing tutors and students during two six-week semesters in the past year.

Lystad, of the Naval Information Operations Command-Maryland, was recognized by NIOC in its nomination packet for her efforts and enthusiasm.

"I am quite humbled by it," said Lystad, noting that she wants to give back to the next generation and lend a hand whenever possible. "It was very unexpected."

Sheila Stewart, director of religious education for the Our Lady of Peace Catholic parish at Argonne Hills Chapel Center, said she nominated Joy Penaso to be the Youth Volunteer of the Year because the 17-year-old is mature beyond her years.

For the past year, Joy, who is a member of the Catholic parish, has volunteered to teach religious education classes to children at the chapel. She also serves as a lector during Mass, helps teach vacation bible school, and volunteers to serve meals at Sarah's House once a month.

"I was so surprised and completely shocked," said Joy, a junior at Mount De Sales Academy in Catonsville. "It completely blew my mind."

At the ceremony, Miles said there are about 1,200 volunteers at Fort Meade who serve in the schools, churches, and family, youth and sports programs. These volunteers logged more than 220,000 hours this year, which amounts to more than $4.5 million worth of work if they were paid a GS-7 salary, she said.

Thomas was presented a mock check for that amount to symbolize the sizable contributions of volunteers.

The installation commander said that what volunteers give cannot be purchased with any amount of money.

"What you do is with heart and spirit," Thomas said.

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