Hanging 30 feet above the ground secured to the flag mast he has been piecing together, Allen "Dutch" Shultis still doesn't consider his donation to Not Forgotten Outreach any work or trouble.
Shultis has been connecting the pieces to build the mast for the veteran assistance group's new house in order to raise the flags of all branches of the armed forces. He completed most of his work on a recent Saturday while climbing the 42-foot pole early in the morning. With more than 30 years of experience as a steeplejack - someone who climbs tall buildings for repairs or painting - Shultis decided to give the organization a truly unique gift by setting up the flagpole on the back porch of the Military Family Respite Center. The flag mast, which can be seen from Paseo del Pueblo Norte, is traditionally used on Navy bases as flagpoles and mimics that of a mast seen on a small schooner ship.
"If you're doing something you really love to do, you'd probably do it without being paid," said Shultis. "For me, I have way too many emotional chips in this. I would be very hard pressed not to do this. This is not work."
Shultis, a Vietnam veteran, said the job he is doing for the organization is his way of helping other veterans and giving back to the community. As a steeplejack in the past, he spent most of his time working on buildings high above the noise of cities on the East Coast and brought his talents to New Mexico. Still climbing into his 70s, Shultis said the endeavor has given some at NFO a bit of a fright as they see him above the ground tied to the post.
"This keeps me off the couch," said Shultis as he laughed and worked on the mast.
With a small team of assistants, the mast was hoisted, tied and secured. Then Shultis tied himself to the pole to secure some of the rope attaching the yard arm to the mast post. The post will be anchored to the ground to ensure stability and the safety of those around it. Some of the flags to fly on the mast will include the NFO flag, American flag and those of several military branches, which have been donated to the organization and will fly when they are ready to be officially dedicated. Several businesses around town have donated pieces to the mast, including the yard arm and the telephone pole everything is tied to.
NFO has several members in the community, including Shultis and his wife, Marcia, who donate their time to help veterans in the area. The organization recently opened the Military Family Respite Center, which helps military families and veterans reintegrate into civilian life. As a main drive behind NFO's new center, Kym Sanchez purchased the house in 2015 and donated the building to NFO for use as the respite center. Families and veterans are allowed to stay at the house for several days of peace with no questions asked. The facility is equipped with laundry facilities, a craft area and several entertainment rooms for users to enjoy and relax with.
The building is constantly being improved for veterans who stay there, and the members of NFO are often present to assist in any way needed. NFO is a nonprofit organization set up by veterans, for veterans to ensure that no veteran is forgotten. Several services are available for veterans and families, and contact can be made through notforgottenoutreach.org.
"I'm seriously impressed with how they run this," said Shultis. "Ms. Kym put her money down for this property and building and then gave it to the nonprofit. That got me right there."