FORT LEWIS, Wash. - Fort Lewis Soldiers, families and civilians make a difference every day, but especially on Make a Difference Day.

Once a year, Fort Lewis organizations and units adopt volunteer projects, either on or off post. This year, Fort Lewis volunteers supported eight local communities Oct. 24 and 25. The projects ranged from wetland restoration in Steilacoom to general maintenance and restoration work on the American Legion Post and Veterans of Foreign Wars buildings in Yelm.

The 42nd Military Police Brigade is partnered with Steilacoom under the Fort Lewis Community Connections Program. So the brigade's 20 volunteers adopted a project in Steilacoom, said Capt. Grace Freeze, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 42nd Military Police Brigade.

Choosing from among several suggestions from Paul Loveless, Steilacoom town administrator, the brigade selected the Shannon Glenn Wetland Restoration Project.

"This is a good project for the community," said Staff Sgt. Roy Parker, 42nd MP Bde. "We're going to clean up the underbrush and re-create the wetland."

"I love the outdoors and I like getting out of the office to do projects like this," said Staff Sgt. Lawrence Sylvester, volunteer with the brigade.

Lieutenant Colonel Gillian Boice, 42nd MP Bde., said some of the volunteers had never been there before, so she was excited about getting those Soldiers to know the outside community. Steilacoom residents noted the effort.

"We really appreciate these people helping us," said retired Col. Nancy Henderson, a Steilacoom resident. "They bring such an enthusiasm and energy to our door. They are not just manpower, but they are organized and trained manpower. They share a wonderful spirit of teamwork, and they are a pleasure to work with."

Another group of 12 volunteers from 80th Ordnance Battalion adopted a cleanup project at Iva Alice Mann Middle School.

"We are supporting the school by beautifying the area," said Sgt. 1st Class Juan Rosario, 80th Ord. Bn. "That includes lawn mowing, steam cleaning, raking leaves, trimming branches and laying down new beauty bark."

Ron Banner, the principal at the middle school, was thankful for the support the school always receives from its military partners.

"This way they are able to get a little more done, but to have the Soldiers here doing this work is more than just the support," Banner said. "The kids are watching Soldiers, who are their parents or representatives of their parents, taking an active role in the school, and that kind of partnership increases student academic accomplishment."

Another group of volunteers supported an event at Woodbrook Elementary School Oct. 24.
"We had 30 volunteers," said Spc. Randy Hernandez, C Battery, 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery. "Our role for Make a Difference Day was to come and assist with the setup for Harvest Fun Night."

Sergeant First Class Tang L. Smith, C Btry., manned the face-painting station, while other Soldiers served as cake walk music coordinators, bingo callers or manned other game stations, he said.

The Soldier volunteers also assisted in serving dinner.

Two units adopted a project at Santa's Castle for Make a Difference Day. While 5th Battalion, 5th Air Defense Artillery, collected and donated coloring books and crayons, 12 Soldiers from 17th Fires Brigade assembled 16 tricycles, 15 bicycles and 15 scooters.

Barbara Sellers is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.