NEW ORLEANS—Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Tremaine Luster is a busy man these days, as he has been since arriving in the Big Easy nine months ago.
Luster, the Navy Times 2008 Sailor of the Year, serves as enlisted detailer for more than 5,000 enlisted Navy Reserve medical personnel, leads weekly remedial physical fitness sessions at Navy Reserve Forces Command in New Orleans, runs in road races in the area, and visits local elementary schools to encourage students to stay away from drugs as part of Campaign Drug Free. He serves as his command's sexual assault program coordinator and has earned one bachelor's degree in health care management and another in human resources management.
"HM1 Luster inspires me and others, with the level of excellence and balance he brings, with all the different things he's engaged," Command Master Chief Daryl Green wrote in a nominating statement. "Command mission, command involvement, family, community — he's the complete package. And he does it all with a humble attitude."
Luster's schedule would be enough to tax the most salty chief, but according to his command, Luster takes it in stride — and was prepared to do more when another opportunity came along.
So now, on Saturdays, Luster takes the wheel of a Navy van and drives a group of shipmates to sites across New Orleans, where the sailors pitch in on construction and renovation efforts in neighborhoods devastated by Hurricane Katrina nearly three years ago.
In prior tours, Luster said, he focused more on work, school and family, but seeing the storm's effect led him to redouble his efforts.
"Before I got here, I didn't do a lot of volunteering," Luster said. "But when I did get here and saw the devastation that still remained even two years [after Hurricane Katrina], I just wanted to see what I can do to help."
That desire led him to team with five other first class petty officers to start a community outreach program that used sailors stationed in New Orleans as a volunteer labor pool. One sailor led efforts to help a local hospital, another supported a local high school. Luster, who says he never worked in construction until now, wanted to fix homes.
"In areas past the 9th Ward, it is still pretty bad from Katrina," Luster said. "Those houses still need a lot of rehabilitation. Any little part that we can participate in really helps."
The van came later, when he saw that driving volunteers to the worksite on Saturday raised attendance.
"That way there is no excuse," he said. "We all carpool in the van. We are able to get more people out when we do that."
"I am looking to expand it to two Saturdays per month," he said, adding that the sailors also recondition old doors, toilets and sinks, then sell them and donate the proceeds to local charities.
FULL-TIME RESERVIST FOR 12 YEARS
Luster, a Fleet Marine Force corpsman, has been a full-time Navy reservist for 12 years. Before arriving at New Orleans, he completed tours at Naval Operational Support Center Pensacola, Fla.; Marine Corps Reserve Center Dayton, Ohio; Reserve Liaison Office Portsmouth, Va.; and Reserve Center Brunswick, Maine.
Luster credits the experiences of his family members with giving him the drive to push himself professionally and academically.
"I have a brother currently incarcerated," he said. "He never finished high school. I have eight half-brothers and -sisters who I am very close with. Two of them graduated [high school]. The rest never finished. That leads to certain things you have to do to survive that you normally wouldn't want to do."
He said other family members, especially his father, provided an example of what not to do.
"I looked at him and said, I didn't want to be that way. I wanted to be more responsible. That led me to the military to pay for college because I knew my parents couldn't do it."