JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Colonel H. Charles Hodges Jr.'s schedule loosened up Tuesday when a few meetings were canceled. The unforeseen break gave the Joint Base Lewis-McChord commander the chance to help out with other work on the base.

Dressed in jeans, a sweater and a University of Central Florida baseball cap, Hodges arrived at the McChord Youth Center on McChord Field about 10:30 a.m. with a ladder and pressure washer and went to work -- cleaning out the gutters above the front door and washing down the sidewalk near the entrance.

Hodges chipped in with the chores, he said, because JBLM has been understaffed with civilian employees for years.

From Oct. 1 through 4, the government shutdown furloughed more than 800,000 civilian employees in federal offices and military installations across the nation. While most returned to work Monday, a shortage of civilian manpower at JBLM persists.

The number of civilians who help maintain the landscapes and buildings of JBLM has not changed since 2002, when the number of service members was only 1/3 the size it is today.

"There's a good list of items that Public Works is trying to work all the time, and Public Works is one of the key areas where we are short," Hodges said. "If you look at the list of items, they're not able to get to everything in a timely fashion."

Hodges realized how long the list was when he learned of all the tasks that needed to be done at youth centers and child development centers during a regular inspection.

"This gives me an opportunity to come out and help out a little bit," Hodges said. "The key to get through all of this is for all of us to work together."

It also gave Hodges a little "personal therapy" while blowing debris out of the gutters and getting out of his office at JBLM Headquarters on Lewis Main.

"It keeps you grounded and gives you a true understanding of what your folks are doing every single day," Hodges said.

Hodges added that there has been support from I Corps and the 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, who have helped with some of the human resource responsibilities.

"We've got Airmen and Soldiers working side by side to plug these gaps when the civilians are gone," Hodges said.

Arin Clapper, program director at the McChord Youth Center, said the entire staff was "incredibly grateful" for Hodges' efforts to pitch in with a little overdue cleaning.

"When he takes the time to do something like this, it shows that he does care about our children and our families," Clapper said.