By Laura M. Levering, Northwest GuardianSeptember 16, 2011
Every day servicemembers work tirelessly at their jobs on base, but seldom do they have opportunities to contribute their hard work in communities surrounding Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Soldiers from 585th Engineer Company, 864th Engineer Battalion, are giving back by using their unique skill sets in Tillicum, a community just outside the gates of JBLM.
On Sept. 7, a dozen Soldiers spent a day in the blazing heat to help build a house that will be given to a couple in need by Habitat for Humanity.
It was their second day of construction for Habitat, but by the time Soldiers left, it appeared as though several days had been spent on the site.
Carl Duester, Habitat for Humanity site manger, said the project would have suffered had it not been for the Soldiers of 585th Engr. Co.
"I'd be doing this all by myself, and my back would be killing me," Duester said. "If you take a look at what the Soldiers accomplished in two days -- it's amazing,"
A different unit from JBLM was on site working the week prior, leaving it in a good condition for 585th Engr. Co. to pick up where they left off. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Brotherton, construction engineering technician for 864th Engr. Bn., said the Soldiers' skills make them valuable contributors to Habitat projects. The majority of them are trained in military occupation specialties related to construction, carpentry or electrical support.
"If there is a particular skill set needed by Habitat, then we likely have Soldiers with those skills to support Habitat in a more efficient matter and allow our Soldiers to get more experience in their skill set," Brotherton said.
Several Soldiers from 585th Engr. Co. have volunteered with Habitat outside the military or while assigned to other installations and had positive experiences. When the prospects of working alongside Habitat arose, Brotherton said feedback from those Soldiers ultimately led to the command's decision to send Soldiers to help. The unit recently returned from Afghanistan, making it difficult to make time for projects outside of reintegration, but Brotherton said the unit's command team has been very supportive by allowing Soldiers to help during the duty day.
"There was an excitement about potentially going out there and working, and because of that we really just wanted to help make that happen for them," Brotherton said. "It's a real good outlet for them to give back."
Interior electrician, Spc. Shawn Spray, appreciated his chain of command's willingness to send Soldiers despite their recent redeployment.
"The fact that we're allowed to do anything like this right now is pretty amazing," Spray said.
Spray began volunteering for Habitat 15 years ago. His years of experience have given him insight into the organization, which he sees as a worthy cause.
"(Habitat For Humanity) helps people help themselves," Spray said. "They have to do 500 hours of sweat equity in their own homes or in the different shops, so it's not like they just get a handout. They have to work for it."
For Spc. Matthew Matelski, it was his first time working with Habitat. The carpentry and masonry specialist said he built a lot of guard shacks and similar structures in Afghanistan, but little of what he did could compare to the Habitat project.
"To me, there's a lot of motivation to get this looking good, well-built and structurally sound," Matelski said. "Somebody is going to live here and call this home, so it kind of changes everything."
Duester could not give a definite completion date, but was hopeful the two-bedroom, ADA-compliant home will be move-in ready by the end of this year.
"It's hard to say because the project is dependent-driven, but if we continue to receive help from the Soldiers, I think we might have it ready by Christmas," Duester said.
Regardless of the completion date, the site manager is extremely grateful for all the help he has received from each Soldier.
"We couldn't do this without them out here."