From helmets to hard hats
June 19, 2009
FORT LEWIS, Wash. - A Soldier with a smile on her face and a hard hat on her head wore a name tag that read "Happy Puppy."
The Soldier, Spc. Candice Hirsch, said the name signified experiencing a really good day.
"Today, I'm a happy puppy," she said.
Hirsch, a Soldier in the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Lewis, was building homes for families in need with the Habitat for Humanity nonprofit organization on June 12.
After developing a few fractures in her feet while stationed in Korea, her ability to walk was compromised. Since her surgery in January, she started walking again and looking for ways to help out.
She said volunteering with Habitat for Humanity helped keep her mind and body active.
Hirsch wasn't alone.
About 40 Soldiers from the battalion dedicated June 10 through June 12 to doing projects for the organization - roofing, painting, scaffolding and excavating.
The three-day event was organized by Battalion Chief Anne Sprute, Battalion Commander Lt. Col. K.C. Bolton and United Way of Pierce County President Rich Allen, among others.
"Working with organizations like Habitat for Humanity not only brings support and awareness to the Soldiers, but it gives them an opportunity to get out and engage themselves in society," Sprute said.
Soldiers from the battalion worked on several houses located in a 12-home neighborhood in South Tacoma. Families with a diverse range of backgrounds, including Guamanian, Mexican, Vietnamese and Russian, would soon make up the community.
"There was nothing more than dirt in this location before we started building," said Cassandra Jarles, director of volunteer services for Habitat for Humanity.
Now the neighborhood consisted of roads and sidewalks; two families had moved in.
The neighborhood construction project began in November and Jarles expected it to be finished this fall. She said the Soldiers made huge progress on these homes over the three-day period.
First Sergeant Garry Dietzman was one Soldier who helped make a dent in the completion of the homes. He volunteered for reasons beyond personal gratification.
"I'm a first sergeant, so I don't get to hang out with my troops very often," he said. "I thought it would be a great time for me to come in and build cohesion with my Soldiers."
Dietzman did some excavating, scaffolding and roofing during the week. Although he learned the basics of building a house, Dietzman said he wouldn't rate his construction skills very high.
"I won't have my own cable show, that's for sure," he said with a laugh.
Dietzman was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from a 1,700-combat-mission deployment to Iraq. He knows a cure for the disorder will take time, but said being a part of the battalion and dedicating his time with Habitat for Humanity has been the best therapy.
"I will probably take my leave to come out here again," Dietzman said. "This is a blast; I've had a great time."
Kelly McGrath is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.