View Full Version : Cited for volunteerism

07-15-05, 04:27 PM
Cited for volunteerism
By Neil Nisperos - Staff Writer

For three years Staff Sgt. Thomas Bustamante has done more than simply recruit Marines in Lompoc, he has been an active community volunteer.

Bustamante, 29, is leaving for Iraq next year and his friends have given him a fitting send-off for his volunteer work. He was honored Thursday at the home of his friend, Chris Hecker, with proclamations of thanks and certificates of appreciation from the mayors of Santa Maria and Lompoc.

Hecker said Bustamante, who he met three years ago volunteering for the Lompoc Toys For Tots program, has gone above and beyond the duty of a military recruiter by donating his time for the community as a motivational speaker for youth and for the toy program.

Pat Nuernberg, a coordinator for the Lompoc Toys For Tots program, attended the ceremony and said Bustamante was a valuable asset to the annual Christmas event, donating his time to drive the Toys For Tots Jeep in the Christmas parade and helping in the toy distribution to less fortunate children.

"We're going to miss him and we'll always remember him," she said. "He's a good man and we're so appreciative of everything he's done for us."

Mayor Dick DeWees, law enforcement officials from Santa Maria, and fellow Marines spoke at the ceremony to honor the Marine recruiter.

"I've worked with Staff Sgt. Bustamante on a number of things," DeWees said. "He's a good friend and now that he's taking off we want to make sure that he gets a good send-off. ... He's going to perform his duties to honor the Marine Corps and we wish him well."

Bustamante said he volunteered his time to speak to students about steering clear of trouble and planning for the future in addition to his work for the toys program sponsored by the Marines.

Navy recruiter Petty Officer 1st Class Doice Thomas, who attended the event, said it was a "great honor" for a recruiter to be honored by a community.

"Recruiters don't normally get honored and to actually have the community honor him, that's a high honor," Thomas said. "That means he's doing very well."

Bustamante said in the three years he has been in Lompoc, he has recruited 55 new Marines. About 10 of them were deployed to Iraq and each of them returned home safely, he said.

Bustamante reports to Camp Pendelton in San Diego in August and will be deployed to Iraq next March with the 1st Marine Division. He will serve logistics for an artillery unit.

Born in New Mexico, Bustamante grew up in San Diego, where he was recruited into the Marines 11 years ago.

Hecker said he will miss his friend.

"He's moving on to new things, however we'll still remain friends and we'll still remain close," Hecker said. "I think if he returns to Lompoc in the future, he would add value to the community."

The event was a surprise to Bustamante, who initially believed Hecker, the son of a Marine, was holding a Marine Corps party.

"It really touched me deeply for them to go out of their way to do this for me," he said. "This makes me feel like I did something right."

Neil Nisperos can be reached at 736-2313, Ext. 108, or nnisperos@lompocrecord.com.