FORT LEE, Va. - “I’m not only the Hair Club president, I’m also a client.”
That memorable quote was part of a 1980s ad directed at dudes deprived of hair strands, and from a customer service standpoint, can be applied to the current Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers president and his ascension thereto.
Cpl. Michael K. Edwards has held BOSS’ top position for five months, but his association with the volunteer organization goes back to the days when he was fresh out of advanced individual training.
“I was sent to a unit with eager BOSS representatives,” recalled the 30-year-old assigned to the 54th Quartermaster Company. “They put out information, and I started volunteering for events in addition to taking on the responsibility for opening up the BOSS Center each day.”
Located in building 8401 on 27th Street, the facility offers big screen TVs, games and other recreational activities for participants. It became Edwards’ domain; a place in which he is linked as much as peanut butter is to jelly.
“For a while, I was the only person in the center and had it open pretty much all of the time,” said the mortuary affairs specialist who has three years of service. “A lot of people started seeing my face and noticed I was participating a lot.”
Edwards’ profuse involvement led to a spot on BOSS’ executive committee – starting as its secretary and later stepping into the shoes of vice president. He was selected president over several other candidates.
“A lot of people interviewed, but ultimately, I proved I was the most qualified,” he said. “I put in the most time and effort.”
Edwards noted that supporting the community and giving back to others is a habit that started well before his military days. He has been involved in humanitarian causes since his youth growing up in Queens, New York.
“I’ve been participating in community outreach pretty much all of my life, whether it was with my church (his grandfather was a pastor) or while I was in college,” said Edwards, who holds a degree in mortuary science. “It’s just something I’ve always done.”
Helping others, added Edwards, provides him with a self-fulfilling sensation that is incomparable to anything else.
“It’s gratifying,” he declared. “It feels good knowing you can do something to help someone; to put a smile on their face. I know that’s one of the reasons I got into mortuary affairs. When I can do something to make people smile or make them feel better, it does something for me. It’s really inspiring and humbling. Doing something for someone and not expecting anything in return is the best thing in the world.”
Edwards’ community support pedigree has a transference value that closely aligns with BOSS’ mission to improve Soldier’s quality of life; allow them to pursue community service opportunities; and provide them access to recreational and leisure activities. He cited a recent food charity event as an example of his ability to support the organization’s goals.
“I asked for 30 volunteers, but we had a total of 54 who came out,” he said of the Feed-the-Hungry project that provided food for 250 families in Dinwiddie County. “It was effortless. Everybody really enjoyed giving back, and it was great participation. Every one of those Soldiers and NCOs wanted to come back.”
Matthew Haug, a former BOSS advisor who has known Edwards over the years, said his demonstrated passion, compassion and leadership makes him an ideal figure to lead BOSS.
“He is a very charismatic person and a good leader,” said Haug. “I run the Strength Performance Center, and he would bring in the remedial PT personnel. You could really tell he cared about what he was doing, trying to help them lose weight and get fit. I really appreciated that in him … He’ll do almost anything for you. He’s an all-around good guy.”
In supporting the BOSS’ mission, Edwards said he is both a teacher and a practitioner – he has to constantly work to educate Soldiers on what BOSS is about while serving as an example to show them how rewarding it can be.
“Overall, it’s just ensuring Soldiers understand what the purpose of the BOSS program is and allowing them to use it to pursue their personal goals – volunteering, getting out to have fun and just having that fellowship,” he said.
On a personal level, Edwards said there’s a well of satisfaction in knowing how much Soldiers’ appreciate opportunities to grow, expand and let their hair down.
“After the events, Soldiers will come up and say, ‘Thank you! Glad you were able to coordinate this event.’ That really is gratifying to me, knowing they appreciate what was done.”
Edwards also said he thinks unit leaders are appreciative of the program because they are often willing to allow Soldiers to participate in events, even when they are held during the middle of a duty day.
“I think understanding like that really helps to build morale in units,” he said.
Edwards’ cited goals from this point on are to continue to satisfy Soldiers appetites for community outreach efforts and leisure events.
“Right now, we’re planning another Feed-the-Hungry event and a whitewater rafting trip on the James River set for Aug. 29,” he said.
The rafting trip – like all BOSS outings – is of no cost to Soldiers.
Single troops are welcome to check out the program at any time, the corporal also noted. The BOSS Center is open from 9 a.m. - 8 p.m. daily, and it’s a safe bet that Edwards, holding true to his roots, will be somewhere around preserving his reputation as the facility’s gatekeeper.
Edwards is even willing to keep the facility open longer when BOSS members want to take in events such as the Super Bowl. Of course, he not required to, but that’s what presidents do for their clients.