JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - Soldiers from all across the installation spread out into surrounding communities to participate in this year\'s national Make a Difference Day Oct. 23.

Make a Difference Day, started by USA WEEKEND magazine, takes place on the fourth Saturday in October. This year marks the 20th anniversary for the largest day of community service on a national scale.

Last year around JBLM, 27 projects were adopted and 117 volunteers contributed 307 hours to help the communities.

While many were still asleep in the early morning hours Saturday, 27 volunteers with the 555th Engineer Brigade were swinging hammers, raking leaves, and cleaning up the city park in Roy, the unit's adopted community. Shrouded by leafy canopies and the constant threat of rain, a mix of troops, spouses and family members pitched in wherever they could, also cleaning up the park's playground and making sure everyone had fresh coffee with their smiles.

"We're out here to repair the park latrine's roof and drainage system," said Sgt. 1st Class Terry Harp, project coordinator for the 555th Engineer Brigade. "I got with the mayor and asked what could we do that would make a difference and these are the things that we looked at that we could do in one day."

The Roy project seemed right up the 555th's alley. Pfc. Brian Dabney, a combat engineer with the Triple Nickel Brigade, demonstrated some special skills engineers bring to a project like this by making sure the trench for the new drainage pipe was matted down to keep the pipe from getting bent or corroded.

"I'm pretty excited that I get the opportunity to come out here to make a difference for the City of Roy," Dabney said. "I always volunteer for things like this."

Roy City Councilman Ray Bourne was out directing the work and making sure they had the tools they needed to get the job done.

"We here in the city think this is wonderful that we can get a little help once in awhile from the troops. All these people are good natured and everybody has just been great," Bourne said. "Because of financial constraints the city couldn't afford to hire somebody to do this so this does make a difference for us."

Work was also done to help make a difference for the on-base communities. Ten volunteers from Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers met to square away Shoreline Park, cutting grass, picking up leaves, trimming overgrown bushes and anything else needed to make the park presentable for next week's Halloween spectacle, the Theatrical Nightmare presented by the Directorate of Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation.

"We coordinated with the Army Volunteer Corps office to do this project especially since the Haunted House is going to be held here," said JBLM BOSS president Sgt. Danielle Batiste.

"With the limited manpower that MWR has it's hard to get in and do a lot of this heavier clean-up," said Roger Nordyke a maintenance technician with FMWR. "We do rely on volunteer help a lot and I appreciate it greatly. I'm sure a lot (of people) will notice the improvement."

Although work was targeted to be done on the designated Make a Difference Day, some got a jump on the day of neighbors helping neighbors and began work early.

Twenty-seven volunteers from the 42nd Military Police Brigade met out at Farrell Marsh Park in Steilacoom Friday morning, to better synch with the city's schedule. Before 9 a.m. Soldiers were well into filling in holes, spreading woodchips, and posting signs to mark the trail as public property.

"We have a really close connection with Steilacoom," said Capt. Aaron Fairman, 42nd MP Bde. public affairs officer. "We talked to the town administrator and the mayor about different projects to do and this was one of them so we jumped on the opportunity to help them out with it."

All the work being done is a team effort - from the manpower to the materials, everything has come together to help make a difference.

"The wood chips we're using on the trail were donated by the Steilacoom Kiwanis Club," Fairman said. "While the tools we're using were provided by the public works office."

"This is some of the best PT I've had in two weeks," said Pfc. Evelyn Goldsmith, a computer specialist with the 51st Signal Battalion. "The work is hard but it makes me feel good to get out and do something where I feel like I'm helping out and giving back to the community."

Community representatives from all over seemed to share the same sentiment - manpower made the difference. Manpower was the difference between projects getting done and sitting on the shelf as ideas. It seems that just getting out and helping was the best way to make a difference around JBLM.

"We've been wanting to get these trails in better condition with the wood chips for a long time but have lacked the manpower to do so," said Richard Creger with the Town of Steilacoom Parks Department. "When the rainy season hits the trails get really bad but with this work it makes them more accessible when it's wet so the Soldiers have definitely made a difference today."

According to Army Volunteer Corps Manager Lori Parker, 30 out of 34 projects were adopted this year, which is an increase from last year but the actual number of participants won't be known until the first week of November.

Other community projects included a highway clean-up in Tacoma, maintenance at the Adult Community Center in Yelm, a park restoration in Lacey, and site preparation in DuPont for a Sept. 11 memorial that will be dedicated this Veterans Day.

Both military and civilian agencies on JBLM adopted projects for Make a Difference Day.