The meaning of the word was all in her smile.

Service sometimes refers to a military commitment or the action of helping others. For at least one Navy Chief, it means both.

Chief Information Systems Technician Heather Lane had a grin that remained constant for hours as she chopped away on peppers and cucumbers to fill the large clear containers with vegetables for the next meal at the Nashville Rescue Mission.

She wasn’t the only one smiling either. Nine other Sailors from Navy Recruiting District Nashville were assisting in the assembly line of meal preparation to help feed the homeless of Nashville as part of an ongoing community outreach effort. A group of recruiters was filling food trays with ham sandwiches while another set was emptying cans of corn to prepare in a large vat. And the whole group was there to volunteer and serve largely as of result of Lane.

For her, volunteering has become a passion over the course of nearly 20 years in naval service.

“I started volunteering because of my childhood. I came from a past where people would show up to my door and they were the ones that provided my Christmas gifts. I started giving back because I’m now the one in a place where I can give back,” said Lane, a native a Biddeford, Maine, and current resident of Gallatin, Tenn.

The more she served, the more her motivations matured, driving the intensity of her efforts.

“It started out as giving back to replace what I was given as a child. Then it became about giving back for my career. Later, it became about giving back for the glory of God. Now it’s just a contagious thing seeing a smile on someone’s face knowing that I helped to put it there. It’s a pretty awesome feeling,” she said.

When she says contagious, she practices what she preaches. Once she understood the impact that her time and effort could produce, she sought out ways to multiply her enthusiasm and that meant recruiting others to join her. It has led her on many group projects at previous naval commands and most recently to the Nashville Rescue Mission and a local chapter of Habit for Humanity. Each time she signed up with the expectation of recruiting others, she found the line of volunteers form quickly behind her. Nearly a dozen Sailors met her in Gallatin, Tenn., when she decided to volunteer at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore in order to benefit a friend who lost his home to a fire. As she saw the group of people standing beside her, she was overwhelmed and inspired.

“There are times that I will tear up because I know I am making a difference. People sometimes believe that one person can’t make a difference, but I believe that one person can. If everybody believed that this world would be a different place,” she said.

In less than a year, she will retire from the Navy and begin a civilian career. When she leaves she will have completed in excess of 6,000 volunteer hours, received four Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medals, and be eligible for the Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award for volunteer service. She said that she counts the experience of service far more worthy than the medal itself, though she does appreciate the recognition as a reminder of what she was able to do in addition to an honorable military career. In one way, the medals have taken on meaning that transcends the other service awards that she has achieved and she is glad that the Navy encouraged her efforts.

“When I received awards for my job, it was mostly because of something that I had to do. The Volunteer service medal isn’t something that I went on a path to get. It was something that people started recommending me for. At first I didn’t necessarily want it because I didn’t need to be recognized for something that I already love to do. But then I realized how much it meant that my leadership recognized me for something that was beyond the regular requirements of my job,” she said.

As for life after the Navy, she already plans to continue pursuing her passion and is closely watching the volunteer coordinator opportunities around Nashville.

“I will do something that I love. It’s not going to be about money, but about being a lifelong volunteer and encouraging others to join me,” she said.


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Updated March 1, 2017 (kbh)