(Via Ho’okele News)
STORY AND PHOTO BY MC1 JASON SWINK
Submarine Force Pacific Public Affairs
The crew of the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Buffalo (SSN 715) received recognition recently with the 2014 Navy Project Good Neighbor Community Service Flag Award.
One of seven commands Navy-wide to be named as winners of the award for year-round volunteer supported programs and special outreach projects, Buffalo earned the honor in the small-sized, sea-duty command category, according to a naval message released by Vice Adm. Scott H. Swift, director of Navy staff.
“Please accept my personal Bravo Zulu and thanks to the caring and dedicated Sailors, civilians and families who selflessly volunteered and contributed to improving the quality of life within your communities,” said Swift, addressing the award recipients.
Throughout the year, officers and crew of Buffalo made donations to the Dolphin Scholarship Fund and the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society and numerous community outreach activities. But the main-line efforts of Buffalo’s volunteer and outreach programs are blood drives for the Armed Services Blood Program (ASBP).
Since taking the helm of Buffalo in February 2013, the submarine’s commanding officer, Cmdr. Brian Tothero, has promoted blood drives for the ASBP and the crew has responded with vigorous support, rolling up their sleeves to donate through quarterly blood drives coordinated with Tripler Army Medical Center’s Blood Donation Center.
“Crew response continues to grow for the blood drives,” said Tothero. “What started out as a command-supported activity is now a Sailor-run event with increasing numbers at every blood drive. The crew sees the value in taking 30 minutes to support the troops overseas and the patients at Tripler.”
ASBP provides blood products for service members, veterans and their families. As a joint operation among the military branches of the Army, Navy and Air Force, many ASBP components work together to collect, process, store, distribute and transfuse blood worldwide.
The blood and blood products are used for patients of all ages for many reasons, from cancer patients to those with battlefield injuries. Military members and their families depend on blood donors every day.
Michelle Lele, blood donor recruiter and coordinator for the Tripler Army Medical Center Blood Donation Center, said the ASBP program faces challenges because so many service members are ineligible to donate due to recent deployments to malaria-risk countries and other related deferments, so she is grateful for the number of donors that Buffalo produces.
“Buffalo always comes with full support,” said Lele. “We normally collect between 60 and 80 units from them, and their last drive they were able to donate 100 units in four hours.
“For a small command, that’s a huge deal,” Lele continued. “And to get recognized for that is beneficial to the crew, as it lets everyone know how much they are appreciated. I just want to thank them for their support. This is not something that they have to do; this is something that they volunteer to do and they do a great job at it.”
Additional community service efforts also kept Buffalo busy through the year.During this year’s annual Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society fund drive, Buffalo was an outstanding regional contributor, recognized as having the highest per capita donation rate of all commands in the Hawaii region. The small command raised more than $14,000 in support of the relief organization.
“The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society drive benefited the crew as much as the society,” said Tothero.
He said the information efforts, explaining the relief society’s operations for the families of service members, was just as important as the monetary support provided by the crew.
“This particular event was definitely a win-win for us and the society,” said Tothero. “Our Sailors now understand one extraordinary way that they can get help, as well as give it.”
Master Chief Electronics Technician Marcus Steimer, Buffalo’s chief of the boat, said that it was a huge honor for the crew to be recognized like this.
“There are a lot of things about submarine service you don’t get recognized for,” said Steimer. “So any opportunity to recognize a job well done, whether that is volunteer service or going off serving the nation, goes a long way. It is something that Sailors don’t get enough of— credit for what they do, due to the classified nature of our jobs. This is just an opportunity to get the credit that they deserve through their selfless donations.”
Steimer added that the successes of the crew are not attained just by the men who serve on board but also the families.
“It is also the wives, the children, the parents, the friends, neighbors and girlfriends, and the aunties and uncles, that help make the Buffalo crew what it is,” said Steimer. “We encourage them to participate as well, and we get a great turnout.”
Fire Controlman 2nd Class Brian Cooper, a Buffalo Sailor, said the crew knows that their blood donations and other community service efforts make a difference and save lives.
“It’s great anytime you do service for the community,” said Cooper. “It’s good for overall morale and good for you as a person. And we already know we are doing something good, but when it’s recognized from a higher level, it’s very gratifying.”
Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Dominic Tenn, who has been donating blood for the past two years, recently received a letter of appreciation from Tripler Army Medical Center.
Tenn said there is satisfaction in knowing that you are helping your shipmates out, along with Marines, Airmen and Soldiers.
“It goes to cancer patients and accident victims and it’s satisfying, knowing that the blood is used for a good cause,” said Tenn.