SAN DIEGO (July 26, 2014) –
He lifts up the front of his shirt with a gloved hand to wipe the sweat off his forehead. It’s hot. Everyone else is sweating too. It was cloudy and cool in the morning, but the sun burned the marine layer away just before he and the rest of the volunteers picked up their shovels.
Logistics Specialist 3rd Class Thomas Rios is no stranger to hard work as a member of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) Aviation Supply division.
Rios was an active community service volunteer before the Navy. He said this first community relations project since the start of his enlistment is especially rewarding.
“Worth it,” he said, gripping the handle of the shovel.
Sailors assigned to Boxer worked with volunteers from HandsOn San Diego, and the San Diego River Park Foundation to improve the landscape and home of indigenous vegetation in Ocean Beach, California.
“They showed up with their A game today,” said Aviation Ordnanceman Christopher Flores, Ordnance Informational System Administrator and Volunteer Coordinator for Boxer.
“I don’t think Volunteer Coordinator is an official job title,” said Flores, “but that’s what some people have been referring to me as.”
Flores was the Sailor who found the project, run by the San Diego River Park Foundation, using Volunteer Match to find opportunities for himself and his shipmates. This is his first community relations project (COMREL) while on Boxer.
“I was the volunteer coordinator at my last command,” he said. “The feeling went away, and I missed it. Now that we’re in port, I want to represent Boxer and get everyone involved.”
Participating Sailors arrived in Ocean Beach Saturday, July 26 at 9 a.m., and were greeted with smiles. Their hosts took them on a walking tour of the wetlands nature preserve. Sailors trudged through the sand, and were introduced to local flora and the San Diego river system.
“I didn’t even know San Diego had a river,” said Flores.
The area is a habitat for endangered birds, fish, mammals and plants, according to the San Diego River Park Foundation. More than 95 percent of those types of habitats no longer exist in California.
“I feel like I have a responsibility to help out since I’m here in San Diego,” said Rios. “You can’t just enjoy the weather. This is a beautiful land.”
Rios said he was pleased by how easy it is to be a volunteer in the Navy. He feels like he could ask any Sailor for volunteer opportunities and the information would be readily available.
“I feel like volunteerism is a part of our Naval Heritage,” said Flores. “I just want to be that face and that voice; to represent Boxer and get everyone involved.”
Boxer Sailors and other volunteers used mulch to make the public properties along the trail more visually appealing.
Flores said that the representatives from the San Diego River Park Foundation were impressed and pleased by the speed and enthusiasm Boxer Sailors had throughout the morning.
“I have to thank the chain of command,” said Flores. “That’s why we’re here today.”
Boxer Sailors were not alone. Multiple organizations participated that morning in the overall cleanup effort. Sailors worked alongside veterans and children.
“It’s not just a Naval thing,” said Rios. “It’s a whole California thing.”
Volunteer Match is a web-based organization that connects volunteers to over 90,000 nonprofits worldwide.
The San Diego River Park Foundation is a community-based nonprofit dedicated to improving the San Diego River system and preserving its native animal and plant life.