By Staff Sgt. Kenneth A. FossMarch 1, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Throughout history, the U.S. Army has answered the call of humanitarian assistance. Soldiers of A Company, 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team bring the same tradition and sacrifice to neighbors in their home community.
Since returning from deployment around this time last year, A Company Soldiers have been actively engaged in serving the community that supported them and their Families while in Afghanistan.
"I told a lot of Soldiers: 'while you're deployed, this community gives a lot to Fort Drum and supports us, so there is no reason why when we are back here we can't give back and support our community,'" said Capt. French Pope III, commander of A Company, 1st BSTB.
Working with the local Habitat for Humanity was a chance to do just that. Pope and his Soldiers jumped on the opportunity to help the HFH build a house for the Shear family of Watertown.
"It's something I have done before in my hometown, and I knew it was something I was interested in doing here," Pope said.
Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those with inadequate living conditions by welcoming community members to volunteer their time and effort to build and repair homes. The organization has served more than 2 million people around the world, building more than 500,000 houses since 1976.
Those associated with the Thousand Islands Habitat for Humanity, located in Watertown, work with the local community and Fort Drum to find people willing to volunteer.
Soldiers of A Company heard the call and responded without hesitation. The commander simply informed them of the opportunities available to work and give back to the community. Weekend after weekend, his Soldiers showed up at the construction site.
"There were several times when we didn't have any volunteers to help on a particular weekend, and I knew I could get in touch with French and he would always have guys willing to come (and) help," said Pam Rajner, volunteer coordinator for the Thousand Islands Habitat for Humanity. "It's great they were willing to donate so much of their free time."
The first time A Company Soldiers had arrived at the construction site, they were able to get right to work with minimal direction from the site supervisor, because many of them had experience as engineers.
During one of the many weekends the company was at the job site, Soldiers were responsible for putting nearly the entire roof together, and they were able to knock it out in just two days.
"His team was very instrumental in putting the roof together," said Walter Plumley, president of the Thousand Islands HFH. "They were dedicated, hard-working people."
Many of the engineers agreed that it wasn't just an opportunity to give back to their community, but was also an opportunity for their company to build camaraderie, adding to the reward.
"All the guys within my squad have shown interest and (all are) wanting to be part of the next one," said Sgt. Jamie Carden, engineer with A Company. "Not just to lend a helping hand but to learn more secondary construction skills, because it's part of our job."
The reward was made more personal because some of the Soldiers on site got to know the family and hear their story, which built on their desire to help and caused many of the Soldiers to come back almost every weekend that there was being work done.
"I spent a lot of time talking to the family; they were going through a lot and definitely needed the help in getting their house built," Pope said. "I think it was a great experience for my Soldiers to get to know this family that was a little less fortunate than some of us.
"Being able to help out just reflects everything I believe in -- supporting the community that supports you," he added.
Pope's desire to serve his community was contagious. Many of his Soldiers overcame their initial apprehension of spending their weekends working when they saw how good it felt to volunteer for the project.
"We look forward to doing more volunteer work. We have a lot of opportunities here to put some hours in and make a difference. We are always looking for opportunities to get out in the community and help out," Pope said.
The Shear family expressed gratitude for the time and energy the Soldiers had spent to help them.
"It's great that they took the time, it was an extremely big help. I believe their group put in as much, if not more time, than any other group in the whole build," said Jamie Shear, father of the
family for whom the house was being built.
Many Soldiers in A Company said they intend to work with the Habitat for Humanity on the next building project, which is expected to start around April timeframe.