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TOM CONNELLY: The military deserves our appreciation

GUEST COMMENTARY: Current and former military are contributors to our community

Tom Connelly

Tom Connelly

Today is Military Appreciation Day. To many, including me, it is fitting that we Americans take time to salute those men and women who have given their lives’ service to protect the principals that we as Americans cherish, such as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And since Albany is fortunate enough to have the Marine Corp Logistics Base, a high-five is in order to the Marines.

A shining example of a Marine is Dan Gillan. After retiring from the MCLB-Albany as a colonel, he began working at the local YMCA. After the CEO retired, Mr. Gillan interviewed and was selected for the position. In his capacity as CEO, Mr. Gillan has initiated and led several programs to increase the Y’s presence in the community and to improve the quality of life in this locality.

An example of this is the summer Child Care Summer Day Camp. Held at five locations in Dougherty and Lee counties, this program serves approximately 600 children five days a week. Activities include reading and swimming. The camp is held from the end of May until early August, and is open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. It and the afterschool program, which is held during the school year, are run by Kawona Holliday and Erin Hutchins. (Ms. Hutchins runs the 21st Century Program, a government-funded after school program.)

Mr. Gillan, after learning that more children drowned in Albany (Dougherty County) than any other community in the state, implemented SPLASH (Swim Play Learn Aquatics Safety Habits) a program where all 3rd-grade students in Albany and Lee counties can receive swimming lessons, free of charge. Jeff DeMott oversees this program.

In this capacity, Mr. Gillan has, along with Col. Don Davis, base commander of MCLB, increased the Y’s presence in East Albany and at MCLB. These two two individuals have worked to host an adult basketball league, and are striving to host soccer, football and baseball leagues in the future. That enhances the lives of the Marines, their families, and all who labor at MCLB, 1 one of the area’s biggest employers.

Mr. Gillan, along with other YMCA CEOs, has expanded the local Y’s presence outside of Albany, too, as he has signed agreements with the other sSouth Georgia YMCA Alliances (Columbus, Bainbridge, Americus, Cordele, Tifton, Thomasville, Valdosta and Waycross) allowing a member of any Y to use another one for free.

Mr. Gillan contributes to the well-being of the community in other ways. As a member of the Marine Corp League, he plays bagpipes at functions on Memorial Day (in Andersonville), 9/11 Patriots’ Day and Labor Day, and does so for free.

Another outstanding example of a Marine is Col. Don Davis, commanding officer of Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany. Under his leadership, MCLB-Albany has earned an Energy Star Award, as it is one of the most energy-efficient facilities throughout the Department of Defense. Additionally, MCLB-Albany is one of only two federal facilities to be recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency for having efficient CHP systems, which heighten the reliability of an installation’s electrical supply while simultaneously decreasing carbon pollution.

Especially impressive to the EPA, according to Brig. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi, commanding general of Marine Corps Installations East, was the way MCLB-Albany officials worked with local industry, such as Procter & Gamble, so they could be innovative in creating clean energy technology. One example includes using biomass technology, such as the base’s landfill generator, to capture methane gas and produce renewable energy.

In addition to environmental and energy efficiency, the MCLB-Albany team has been able to partner with the regional and local communities to better serve and build a relationships within Southwest Georgia. One example of this partnership comes in the form of moving the VA clinic, previously located in downtown Albany, aboard the base to better serve veterans and active-duty military members. This action, which has been a collaboration between the Department of Veteran’s Affairs; Naval Hospital, Jacksonville, Fla., and MCLB-Albany, will enhance and increase each entity’s ability to provide care and serve their customers, while using fewer taxpayer’s dollars, according to Capt. Gayle Shaffer, commanding officer of Naval Hospital Jacksonville.

The 5,800 veterans, along with the active-duty military who reside in Albany, have already experienced improved health care and services. Individuals will be able to receive treatment in the areas of podiatry, physical and mental health, audiology and optometry, according to Col. Davis. Furthermore, this will draw in more than 50 additional jobs to the local area.

MCLB-Albany officials have also opened up several events and opportunities aboard the base to the local community, to include the annual Dirty Devil Dog Mud Run, the Buddy Fishing Tournament, the Independence Day Celebration and several athletic fields for practice and competition events, to continue to strengthen that bond and tie between the military and civilian communities here.

Col. Davis, Mr. Gillan and their respective leadership support teams are continuously working on additional ways to integrate and strengthen partnerships and relationships between service members and communities within Southwest Georgia.

Thank you, gentlemen, and thank you to your families, and all service members and their families, for helping keep this nation strong.

Tom Connelly of Albany is vice chair of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, and is a member of the Albany Advocacy Resource Center advisory board and the Georgia Rehabilitation Association.