WACO, Texas - Volunteering at a home construction site paved the way to something more for several Soldiers assigned to an Army Reserve training support battalion here, May 15. U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Crystal Rowland, and several other Soldiers assigned to the Mobilization Demobilization Operations Center (MDOC) under the 2-381st Training Support Battalion, 120th Infantry Brigade, Division West, came together in support of a new house building project managed by Habitat for Humanity in hopes of helping the community and reconnecting with their Soldiers.
“Given the list of volunteering opportunities our unit had to choose from, the goal was to select something that would benefit and motivate our team,” said Rowland, who organized the MDOC team’s participation.
An Army engineer by trade, Rowland saw this opportunity as a motivational and creative way to bring a sense of accomplishment to the team and to help build cohesion.
“When you use your hands and build something together, and it’s a tangible accomplishment, there is something unique about the process that creates an environment for team building,” Rowland said.
Since COVID-19 has limited the learning and training experience for junior Soldiers and leaders across the Army, Rowland saw this project as a creative opportunity to reconnect and get back to developing a sense of camaraderie among the Soldiers in her unit.
“Not having in-person mentorship and leadership for over a year can be a challenge to junior soldiers because they are unable to receive the right mentorship from their leaders, in the traditional sense,” said Rowland. “When we come together as leaders, junior Soldiers are able to see us working together, which makes a positive impact on the team.”
She further explained, “By visually showing younger Soldiers in our unit, their leaders can collectively work together as a cohesive force; those we are leading can come together and become stronger Soldiers.”
Outside of the Army Reserves, Rowland works as an operations manager in supply chain management for a major retail store based in the U.S. while not on active duty status. She spoke on a few details about how the Waco community and the U.S. Army changed her life for the better. Ultimately driving her to give back to the community that gave her so much.
“When I joined the Army, I was a teenager in the foster care system needing a sense of direction,” she revealed.
As a teen, Rowland lived in various youth homeless shelters in Dallas until she was offered the chance to move to Waco --an opportunity that served as a life altering opportunity. Rowland then lived at the Methodist Children’s Home in Waco.
She shared that being homeless as a teenager, and then having life changing opportunities presented to her, sparked her desire to give back. In turn, she has been able to provide the same opportunities to others who seek a new direction in life.
“By joining the Army, I received leadership that changed my life,” Rowland recalled. “The immediacy of knowing I was in a family, after joining the Army, was instant.”
When asked about the leaders and Soldiers she works with, and how they came together for the Habitat for Humanity project, Rowland beamed with excitement.
“How do I explain how fortunate I am to work with these wonderful individuals?” she asked. “We are all away from our families, yet, having a chance to give back in this fashion creates another family for us.”
“Being able to come out here together is a pleasure and a joy to see,” said 1st. Sgt. Kanetrica Carr, headquarters and headquarters company first sergeant for the MDOC.
Carr said she loves it when Soldiers from the unit participate and function as a cohesive team.
Doing so, makes a difference not only for the community, but also for the unit. It helps bring the team together, and helps the team work more effectively and efficiently, so they can provide the best service to the Soldiers and units they help mobilize, deploy and demobilize.
Carr further shared that participating in a planned project like Habitat for Humanity is at the top of the list when it comes to team building, mentoring young Soldiers and cultivating a positive work environment.
“It also allows the team to shed positive light on our organization,” Carr added.
“To see members of our team come out to support this effort is impressive,” said Master Sgt. Fredie Cohen, the non-commissioned officer in-charge for the MDOC.
When the time came to consider volunteer opportunities for our team, Cohen knew this project would be a good fit given Rowland’s skills and quality as leader.
Cohen, who first met Rowland 17 years ago as her first platoon sergeant, said, “She is a go-getter, and I saw she had the potential to move forward and accomplish good things.”
“Coming out here today had a positive impact for our team on many levels,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Gardin, senior enlisted advisor for the MDOC.
“Seeing Sgt. 1st Class Rowland gather the right details to execute this volunteering event with Habitat for Humanity, and then seeing our Soldiers join collectively to show support for our unit and community, it says a lot about what we can do,” Gardin said.
Joanie Friesen is the community engagement coordinator for the Waco chapter of Habitat for Humanity, provided Rowland the details for inviting the team to the work site.
“The Army Reserve Soldiers who come out to this construction site show they don’t back down from a challenge, and joyfully worked as a team while completing tasks for this project,” Friesen said.
“It was exciting to see them and the other volunteers working together to accomplish the intended goal. We all had a good day,” she added.