St. Paul Park's volunteer of the year was 'born to serve'
Chuck Maurer's jaw dropped when he learned he had been chosen as Volunteer of the Year. It was something that he never thought he would be awarded, nor was it something he sought.
Yet, Maurer, captain of the St. Paul Park police reserves, graciously accepted the title for doing a job that he said he was born to do.
When Maurer puts on his police blues, turns the key in his squad car and begins his watch, that's when he turns into the man he'd always hoped he would be. From a young age, Maurer said he was immersed in the life of public service. His parents, both Marine Corps veterans, guided him down the military path from an early age.
Maurer joined the military before he graduated from Park High School and in 1998 became a volunteer police reservist in St. Paul Park. About seven years into his police reserve position, he was called for duty and deployed to Ali Air Base, generally known as Camp Adder, about 225 miles southeast of Baghdad, Iraq. It was a career switch that would take Maurer into the heart of the Iraq War.
"We were the third rotation in after Sept. 11," Maurer said. "We were part of Operation Iraqi Freedom."
As an assistant to the battalion motor officer, Maurer oversaw the logistics of the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle fleets, more commonly known as the humvee units. The majority of his work performing maintenance and installing new armored kits on humvees was done on convoy escorts to tumultuous Baghdad.
"Things were hot and heavy over there. It was not an easy task," Maurer remembered. "We were rocketed occasionally at our base but I never took any gunfire."
And the weather, Maurer said, was hot and upward of 130 degrees on any given day. However, one March he said a thin veil of ice formed over a puddle but quickly melted as the morning sun rose.
As his two-year deployment ticked away, a non-life-threatening case of pericarditis, a swelling of the membrane that surrounds the heart, released Maurer of his duties three months early.
"Imagine reading a book and the last three chapters of the book are ripped out," he said of having to leave his mission early. "It's an incomplete mission that I'll never have back."
Maurer spent two months in a medical unit in Augusta, Ga., and returned home at the end of the summer in 2007; back to his family and back to his post as a reserve officer.
Just three days after landing in Minnesota, a still-healing Maurer went back to work protecting the streets of St. Paul Park. His strong military experience and work done overseas caught the eye of Police Chief Mike Monahan, who had Maurer in mind for a vacant captain position.
"At the time of an opening for the captain position, we look at the group and consider longevity, skills, ability and commitment to the organization and pick the most qualified member of the police reserve," Monahan said. "Chuck has provided exceptional leadership and enthusiasm (in) keeping the volunteers involved and active in the community."
Monahan appointed Maurer as captain of the St. Paul Park Police Reserves in January 2008.
"Chuck and all the police reserve officers have added another layer of safety and security to the community," Monahan said.
The appointment, Maurer said, was unexpected. Taking the reins of the thriving reserve unit for the last five years, Maurer said he has yet to scout for new recruits.
"A lot of my hires have been found through word of mouth," he said. "We get applications all the time and I think that just goes to show how great this department is."
When he's not working full-time guarding the 30-some federal buildings all over the state, including many social security and IRS offices, federal courthouses, immigration offices, and even Fort Snelling, Maurer revels in his eight hours a month of patrol time in St. Paul Park.
His services have been used at many local parades and festivals, for backup when other cities experience high call volumes, and during emergencies and tragedies, including officer funerals and a 2012 domestic shooting at Jimmy John's in Cottage Grove. Maurer and his reserve unit were called to help the Cottage Grove Police Department secure a perimeter after that murder-suicide last fall.
Maurer rattled off numerous other incidents that he's had the privilege of helping out at but one, he said, stands out above the rest: providing support and safety for the people.
"St. Paul Park is awesome," he said. "We're called to be (officers). We're not in it for the accolades or the recognition. But, I'm truly grateful that folks voted, I'm not sure how the process goes, but that they chose me."
During last month's volunteer appreciation week, Maurer was awarded with the title of 2013 Volunteer of the Year from Mayor Keith Franke, who teased Maurer for not even knowing he was chosen.
"I was told about two weeks prior to the event that I was nominated," Maurer said. "I thought that was awesome but I never thought I would be chosen.
"I'm a public servant and I was born to serve," he added. "I have had a solid group of reserves for the last five years and cannot do any of this without my guys. I want to say thank you to the chief for recognizing all that I do, to the full-time police officers, and my crew. I have an awesome crew. I simply just like to take care of others."