OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Before soldiers from Joint Base Lewis McChord head overseas, one of the last things they see is a smile from the man known as the Godfather of Fort Lewis.
Herb Schmelling is a retired Army veteran, but a full-time volunteer. He spends most of his time supporting USO events, like their annual golf fundraiser for active soldiers.
"You gotta smile the whole time you're here!" Herb laughed while talking with other soldiers and volunteers at the fundraiser.
Since 2006, Herb has been at every deployment at Joint Base Lewis McChord.
"If they're willing to go…I'm willing to be there 24 hours a day," he said.
He estimates he's sent 40,000 troops off with Girl Scout cookies and, of course, a big smile.
"I know when a person walks out that door… they may not come back," Herb said gravely.
The USO just named Herb their national Volunteer of the Year in Washington, D.C.
During his 30-year Army career, Sgt. Major Schmelling never had to go overseas. But had he, he said he would have appreciated a pat on the back on his way out.
"Well, I can't deploy with them," he said. "So the next best thing is to say goodbye to each one."
Herb was there for Command Sergeant Major Matt Barnes' two deployments to Afghanistan.
"He's that ray of sunshine for us," said Barnes. "It was just the last friendly face seeing Herb…before you get on the plane."
Herb tries to go to as many soldier homecomings as he can. He says those are a lot more enjoyable than the deployment ceremonies.
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