Army staff sergeant leads a double life as a super volunteer

Leo Gruba, who sees his 'duty' as a 24/7 commitment, volunteers with scouts, schools, fund-raisers – wherever he can help his community.

Gail Wood
Leo Gruba (right) with his wife, Serena, volunteers for a wide array of causes, especially those that help youths. He's been named the Tacoma, Wash., area Military Citizen of the Year.

As a staff sergeant in the US Army, Leo Gruba doesn't feel his duties end when he goes home and takes off his uniform.

For Sergeant Gruba, the perpetual volunteer, “duty” is a 24/7 commitment.

“One of the Army's core values is selfless service,” says Gruba, who is stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, Wash. “I was brought up to believe that your services don't stop when you walk through the door at the end of the day and you take your uniform off.”

Whether he's raising funds for the American Legion, talking with youths as a Boy Scouts leader, volunteering with the parent-teacher association at his son's school, coaching youth baseball, volunteering with the Red Cross, or painting over graffiti, Gruba is a committed helper.

“As a former Boy Scout, it's been instilled in me that volunteerism is what Americanism is all about,” Gruba says.

His willingness to lend a hand hasn't gone unnoticed. As the one who is always raising his hand to say “Yeah, I can help with that,” Gruba has been named this year's John H. Anderson Military Citizen of the Year.

The Military Citizen of the Year award is presented by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber to someone who is on active duty and makes exemplary contributions to the community.

Gruba's commitment is unending. His goal is to stay involved with his community whether he's in uniform or not.

Recently along with the American Legion Post in DuPont, Wash., he helped raise money and goods worth about $15,000 to distribute to fire fighters in Brewster, Wash., who were putting out a raging forest fire. This year he also helped raise funds for Fisher House, a place for military families to stay while a family member is receiving medical treatment.

“He's extremely involved,” says Serena Gruba, his wife and biggest fan. “He does everything from coaching baseball to Boys Scouts to the American Legion. There are so many more things he's involved in. I can't think of them all.”

Gruba enlisted into the Army shortly after graduating from high school and has served more than 14 years. Deployment away from home is part of the job, and when other soldiers are deployed he often tries to help their families.

“Sometimes when a dad is overseas he helps, talks with [their children],” Serena says. “We all kind of look out for each other.”

Through the American Legion, Gruba helped start an annual college scholarship fund for soldiers stationed at McChord.

In addition to his volunteering, Gruba was selected by the base command to be in a two-hour public broadcasting program that gives an up-close look at the challenges faced by a military family, letting viewers see the joys and the tears. The program aired in May.

For Gruba, life as a soldier is service without a time clock.

“Hopefully, many, many moons from now, I will have left a legacy that my children can be proud of,” Gruba says. “And that my two sons will carry on.”

There's also the reward of knowing he's helped the community become a little stronger. “That's the biggest thing. I want my children to grow up in a safe place,” he says. “By volunteering I'm hopefully helping make that happen.... I would say that at the end of the day I do sleep soundly knowing that maybe I did make an impact,” he says.

Serena says her husband's giving attitude keeps him busy.

“Oh yeah, he's extremely big-hearted,” Serena says, adding with a smile: “That's how he gets roped into things at times.”

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