Action Has a  Silver Anniversary

For 25 years, the Midshipman Action Group has been lending many hands to communities across the country with the greatest intentions and outstanding results.

80,000 pounds of food to the local food bank. More than 600 moving boxes filled with donated clothing for Baltimore shelters. More than 500 pairs of shoes collected for a DC men’s shelter. If you are not familiar with the Midshipman Action Group (MAG), these are numbers associated with their stellar community outreach. Almost every year, they break their own records, too. The midshipmen of MAG create and maintain educational, environmental and social-impact volunteer projects not only in Annapolis, but across the country. Their Spring Break trips this year went in three different directions: North Carolina, Washington and Wisconsin. They tutor, collect food, read to elementary school students, participate in Special Olympics, clean trails and parks, visit retirees, build playgrounds, get girls going with Girls on the Run … the list is long and growing. They have received the Navy’s Thompson-Ravitz Award for outstanding community relations twice, and 19 May is official Annapolis-Honors-Midshipmen Day because Annapolitans love their MAG mids. They are the epitome of non sibi sed patriae.

It all began with the Class of 1992 and the Midshipmen Community Service Correlation Board, the “directing device that pairs interested midshipmen with projects throughout the community” for a “smoother flow of information between the community and the brigade.” It worked—right out of the gate they worked with Habitat for Humanity, Greenscape, Special Olympics and Mids for Kids. “It was very small at the time,” said Commander Dave Lillefloren ’92, USN (Ret.), one of the original 10 MAG members.

They sought to organize how the midshipmen could volunteer by looking at the obvious. “Let’s go out on that Saturday or Sunday, let’s go help put people to work for the community,” said Lillefloren. “Starting out, we thought, ‘what’s the need out there?’ versus ‘let’s just create something and you come to it.’ No, what’s out there that we can help with and attach with. So, we just took the ones that were right there in front of us.”

But what would happen after they graduated? Would it continue? It did, and a funny thing happened around the five-year mark—1992 came back to the Yard. “We all got stationed back here as lieutenants,” said Lillefloren. “It was also our five-year anniversary. We wanted to give the gift that keeps on giving and wanted to support our teams.” They began fundraising within their 1992 classmates, then decided to endow MAG, which initially had a very meager budget that could only help with small projects. MAG is now officially the 1992 class project. They keep the endowment alive, attend the annual luncheon to honor the midshipmen and have been known to give out Community Service Awards during Commissioning Week (15 MAG firsties received Outstanding Volunteer Service Medals last year). There are about 70 classmates near enough to show their support in person.

Alumni are involved in other ways, most recently during one of MAG’s Spring Break trips this year. In Everett, WA, Rear Admiral Troy McClelland ’90, USN, hosted MAG as they revitalized the Everett Boys and Girls Club, an afterschool sanctuary for at-risk youth. He also toured the club with them and held a meet-and-greet and a discussion on community responsibility and service to others before self. Mark Hakun ’88, Annapolis Chapter president, connected a huge number of local alumni last year to volunteer with Mids for Kids, serving as tutors and mentors at 15 local schools and assisting with 9/11 Day of Service clean-up projects. Commander Jason Singleton ’92, USN, is one of the co-creators of the Honor Salute program where midshipmen visit veterans in hospice care. And, of course, there are the Commandant and Superintendent who, with their spouses, are present and active for many of the MAG programs on the Yard.

While MAG’s national reach grows every year, their other Spring Break trips have included helping a community devastated by Hurricane Matthew flooding in North Carolina and fixing up the home of a double-amputee veteran and mentoring Sea Scouts in Wisconsin—what they have done for Annapolis, their college town of only four years, is quite possibly the most successful form of outreach and community bonding the Academy has ever seen. MAG’s annual USNA-hosted Special Olympics on the Yard in April was expected to be the largest qualifier of its kind in Naval Academy Special Olympics history, and the amount of food collected by midshipmen for the local food bank at Thanksgiving grows every year. Tack on the other local projects as small as shoveling snow for their neighbors outside of Gate 3 (which was not so simple during a blizzard in 2016—their shoveling with the Dant made The New York Times), and you have a full-blown Annapolis fan club for MAG, including the mayor, Michael Pantelides.

“Along with mentoring local youth, organizing food drives, working with environmental groups and tutoring children living in several Annapolis Housing Authority Communities,” he said, “these young men and women still have to study and go to class. I have come to understand that their incredibly demanding daily schedule seems to mirror their ability to offer love and support to those in need. They choose to be a positive influence on other lives … these are the men and women who perform extraordinary deeds of kindness all year long, without ever expecting a pat on the back or any acknowledgment for their efforts.”

One MAG midshipman partnered with the city for her environmental initiative, Barrels by the Bay, and left quite an impact on the mayor’s office and staff: Midshipman Megan Rosenberger ’17. “I am so grateful,” said the mayor. “She worked with students at several local elementary schools teaching them the importance of rain barrels while creating and installing the barrels throughout the city. Her enthusiasm to help others and ability to make everyday moments ‘teaching moments’ is a rare and endearing quality of Midshipman Rosenberger.”

Rosenberger, MAG chief of staff, also received the 2017 Drum Major Award for her distinguished service at the 29th Annual Anne Arundel County Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Dinner this past January. She is the first midshipman to ever receive this award and the youngest recipient ever, which she found very humbling. “Those are big shoes to fill,” Rosenberger said. “Even though they think I’ve filled the shoes, I don’t think I can ever do enough.” Her local projects have included the Harvest for the Hungry food drive, Arbor Day Park Clean-up, 9/11 Day of Service, Toys for Tots, Asbury Methodist Church Food Pantry, Saint Luke’s Church Clean-up and Special Olympics. With her non-abundant free time, she also started her own non-profit called Barrels by the Bay, which has spread throughout Maryland classrooms and expanded to Orlando, FL.

This past Thanksgiving, she oversaw Harvest for the Hungry, and while breaking the previous donation record was on her mind, she was still surprised when the final numbers came in. “It was just a nail biter,” she said. When the trucks arrive outside of the Mid Store, “we have no idea what’s going to come out of Bancroft. We fit a lot more in the truck than we thought was possible.” It was indeed a record-beater—80,000 pounds.

Rosenberger’s connection to service comes from her family—her mother, uncle and grandfather were funeral directors, a field which requires the utmost compassion. She and her sister were also reminded how blessed they were to come from a loving family and to do all that they can to help others. Her involvement with MAG began her plebe year. “I’ve been involved in MAG just because I love it,” she said. “It’s a good thing to get out into the community, and it makes me happy. It makes me feel that I have more than one purpose beyond being a midshipman and becoming a good leader. This is another way to get out there and engage with the community.” Her commitment to community service will not stop after she leaves Annapolis either. “Just because I received an award or just because I’m graduating doesn’t mean that I stop helping this community as well as others that I end up in, wherever I’m stationed.”

Sharon Disher ’80 has volunteered at Annapolis Elementary School with her STEM outreach program for nine years, seven of which have included MAG midshipmen. “I just set them loose,” she said. “I say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do today,’ and they take charge and run the program. They jump right in … they are kind and gentle. The kids just love them. The teachers love them too.” One of the only challenges MAG midshipmen face is knowing their job is to encourage and facilitate, not do the work for students. “They so want to help them,” Disher said. “It’s hard for them to stand back and not do things for people. But it’s a good opportunity for them—you wouldn’t think this would be leadership training, but it is. It’s a different style of managing people.”

Disher added that it is also a great opportunity for local kids to find out more about what’s in their backyard—“one of the best institutions in the nation … they could go there, and here’s what they have to do to get there.” The midshipmen take time to talk with students about everything to do with their lives, uniforms and the Academy.

Disher’s son, Ensign Matt Disher ’13, USN, was MAG president in 2012, so the service apple does not fall far from the tree. As president, Matt started MAG’s involvement with Honor Flight Network, which began with just a few mids heading to Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport to greet World War II Veterans and quickly turned into busloads. Both sides of his family have a long history of military service, so honoring veterans was the perfect fit.

“MAG is beyond inspiring because it is so organic,” said Miriam Stanicic, the community relations director on the Academy’s Public Affairs staff who advises MAG. She is essentially the very low-profile brains to the big MAG heart, making sure that every “t” is crossed, every donated tree finds its plot, every sneaker collected after the Herndon Climb finds its way to a shelter and every MAG midshipman has a ride to every event. Stanicic sees how their community- minded work here sticks with them in the fleet after they graduate.

“The role of building strong community relationships becomes the role of civilian-military operations upon deployment,” Stanicic said. “Much as MAG community relations activities shape those Naval Academy ‘ambassadors’ in uniform throughout Annapolis neighborhoods, so, too, do our newly-commissioned officers look at the global community with an eye towards proliferating positive change wherever possible. I have received many a call, a text, an email from recent grads over this past decade with much the same message: ‘what I did with MAG all four years at the Naval Academy is even more relevant to me now in a different community. Because of MAG, I am:

• collecting books from fellow sailors to donate to a local school
• collecting clothing from my shipmates to donate to a local community center
• volunteering in an orphanage … ’

You get to see the future in them … the seeds that are planted here. It is compassionate leadership in its highest form.”

The Academy is very aware of how crucial Stanicic is to the MAG mission. Public Affairs Officer Commander David McKinney ’98, USN, said, “MAG would not have the reach, the impact or level of oversight that it has without Miriam taking an active, daily and selfless role that goes way beyond a 40-hour work week. It’s a part of her being.” A recent example: the 13th Company and the men’s hockey team wanted to memorialize their company mate and teammate, Midshipman Jason Jablonski ’17, who passed away from leukemia last year. They decided a tree would be planted in his name by the Brigade Sports Complex near their rink. Stanicic smoothed the way on so many levels and made sure all details were taken care of “so that this good deed that someone wants to go do is done in a manner that does not circumvent rules, policies, movement orders … she’s already thought about all of it and taken care of it,” said McKinney, so that these great deeds can be done without worry. “She’s the fixer.”

“Miriam is effective at accomplishing the mission,” McKinney continued. “She makes it instructional so these midshipmen learn from the process too, so that when they are leaders, they have the lightbulb go off about involving leadership and do things the correct way.” Stanicic was formerly at the State Department in public diplomacy, so working in public affairs doing outreach comes naturally. She is always out to find the “yes” answer. There is no job description that could encompass everything that she does. “It’s her level of dedication … it’s the lunchtime gatherings, the evening meetings to provide council to their ideas, the weekends. They have great ideas and she’s the one who corrals them and focuses it into something actionable and achievable,” McKinney added. From the mayor’s office to community partners across the Baltimore-DC corridor to midshipmen, a familiar refrain is heard when you mention Stanicic’s name: “We love her.”

All the support, initiative, momentum, mission-minded midshipmen with never-ending good ideas and the simple need for a little help from fellow humans means that the Midshipman Action Group will be needed and wanted for many years to come. There is no plan to slow down.

“Oh, my gosh, MAG is huge,” Rosenberg said. “Over 50 projects and 50 project leaders. We have 30 company reps, six battalion reps, three staff and we send hundreds of midshipmen out each week into the community.” Three hundred each week, to be precise. “I know how important it is for these midshipmen to have their own connection to the community,” she continued. “I think within the next five years, MAG is just going to continue to grow exponentially, and I’ll come back as an alumnus and be dumbfounded by the fact that I was even so excited about over 50 projects.” She said that midshipmen know they can always be of service to someone, whether it’s a large effort or a small act; it’s instilled in who they are.

“The first five years of what MAG was is not what MAG is today, but the mission is still the same, it just has grown and it’s been so rewarding,” added Lillefloren. He won’t forget the moment when he saw the MAG mids arrive at the Annapolis school his children attended to read to the students. “It was full circle … it was amazing.”

Source: Shipmate, May 2017


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