Hohenfels 'makes a difference'
November 13, 2008
HOHENFELS, Germany - Volunteers at U.S. Army Garrison Hohenfels rolled up their sleeves and made numerous donations for wounded warriors here and a nearby children's home in Parsberg, joining together with millions of volunteers across the United States during the 18th annual Make a Difference Day.
More than 90 people showed up early on a Saturday morning to help paint the Warrior Transition Unit barracks, hoping to make the building a better place for injured Soldiers to heal. Another 30 people prepped the building the day before.
"It's awesome that the community is getting together to support the WTU," said 1st Sgt. Paul Ninelist of Company D, WTU. "It shows they're respectful of what they've done downrange and care about the Soldiers and their healing process."
Elementary and high school students, Soldiers of all ranks, family members, contractors, civilians and teachers all worked on the project, making it a community-wide event.
Examples of WTU activities included: members of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps painting; Girl Scouts making t-shirts for volunteers; the Military Council of Catholic Women and the Protestant Women of the Chapel donating books for the barracks living room; and Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers providing food for participants and a day trip for the WTU.
Gonzalo Soliz brought his two sons, who listened intently to painting lessons from their dad while they worked on a barracks bed room.
"It's a good thing to do," Soliz said when asked why he brought his boys along. "It gets them out of the house and (doing) community service."
"I think it's only fair to help out people who are risking their lives while we're here safe and sound," chimed in his 14-year-old son Emmanuel. "We need to do whatever we can when they come home to make it the best homecoming."
Besides mobilizing a community to revamp a building in one day, Lori Starnes, volunteer coordinator for USAG Hohenfels Army Community Service who planned the event, also chose to do a second project in addition to revamping the barracks.
"In the States you would usually do one big project, but here we have a unique opportunity to do two," said Starnes. "We did one for the Soldiers and one for the host nation for community cohesion."
That second project involved collecting toys for donation to the Parsberg children's home.
Starnes and ACS staff put up "autumn gift trees" around post for garrison members to choose a leaf with a toy written on it, then purchase and return that toy to ACS for donation to the children's home.
When the truck from Hohenfels opened its doors in Parsberg in front of many curious children of many ages, there were almost 100 gifts on it, including 18 bikes, microwaves, DVD players, skateboards and more.
"We put down a lot of things but never expected to get all this," said Josef Reedl, manager of the children's home, through a translator, adding that normally they get new toys and equipment for the center maybe once a year, maybe once every two years.
"I am so happy I came, I can't believe how many presents and how much support for the Kinderheim there is from the Americans," said Jacob Wittmann, second mayor of Parsberg, also through a translator.
"I have seen a lot of partnership from the Americans, but I can tell this really comes from the heart," he added.
Lt. Col. Gary Bloomberg, commander of USAG Hohenfels, and Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Graham, command sergeant major of the Joint Multinational Readiness Center, also handed out gifts to the children.
After the truck was unloaded, Graham took the chance to kick around a soccer ball with some of the children before returning to the WTU barracks to resume painting.
"It's all about taking care of the Soldiers, anything we can do to make life better for these guys," he said while looking for spots to touch up.
Graham also talked about wanting to coordinate additional projects to benefit the children's home.
"It was more than I expected, but we can do even more," he said of the number of gifts the community donated.
Starnes credited Graham, along with Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, ACS, JMRC and the garrison command group for making the event a success.
Hohenfels is the first garrison in Europe to launch their own event for Make a Difference Day, said Starnes, and she plans to make it an annual occurrence.