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Bush honors Keesler volunteer

President Bush thanks Airman Petz for his volunteer service.

President Bush thanks Airman Petz for his volunteer service.

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Airman Alan Petz had a very important appointment March 1 -- he was meeting President George Bush. 

President Bush, who was visiting the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans for the 14th time since Hurricane Katrina, presented Airman Petz with the President's Volunteer Service Award. 

Airman Petz, who's assigned to the 81st Medical Operations Squadron's nutritional medicine flight, joined more than 300,000 individuals who've received the honor. 

"I really don't like being the spotlight," he said. "I prefer helping others because it's what I want to do. It's not for personal recognition; I'm simply helping our community recover from the worst natural disaster in our nation's history." 

Airman Petz admitted to being both nervous and excited about receiving the honor from the president. However, this is the second time he's met President Bush. Their paths crossed last May when President Bush visited the Coast during National Volunteer Week. This time, his mother and sister came from Peoria, Ill., to see him receive his award. 

He became involved in the recovery effort Sept. 19, 2005, after Keesler members had gone to east Biloxi to participate in a clean-up day arranged through the Hands On Network. The volunteer organization has been working in Biloxi since Katrina hit Aug. 29, 2005. The Hands On Network nominated Airman Petz for the award. 

"I fell in love with it and continued to go back," Airman Petz said. "I was here during the hurricane. Getting out and helping them has been amazing. I plan to assist them as long as they're here. They're like a second family to me." 

For four months after Katrina, Airman Petz joined other volunteers in gutting houses in devastated east Biloxi. They then spent another three months cutting down damaged trees. 

Last March, Airman Petz and two other members of the nutritional medicine flight helped prepare meals for 200 volunteers who came to the Coast to assist in the recovery. Since then, he's been involved with the actual rebuilding effort by installing drywall, carpets and other work. 

He's motivated to aid others by his background as a Boy Scout, when he was involved in a number of volunteer services. 

Airman Petz, who's been at Keesler since entering the Air Force nearly three years ago, has amassed more then 700 volunteer hours since Katrina.