CHELMSFORD, Mass. (April 16, 2012) -- When Army Master Sgt. Ed Devine of the 804th Medical Brigade from Fort Devens returned in November 2011 from a yearlong deployment to Iraq, he figured he would have plenty of chores to do around the house.

Devine couldn't have been more mistaken.

"When I came home, you would not believe my yard," Devine said. "It was absolutely beautiful."

It was an unpredictable end to a deployment that had begun with great hardship. Devine's wife, Lisa, had been in the process of recovering from major surgery when he departed. In the first month that Devine was gone, their roof leaked, a gas leak developed, a snake was found in the basement, and his daughter drove the car through the garage door.

"Every time I talked to Lisa, something (had) happened," Devine said. "I always say, as tough as it is on us being over there, it's just as hard on the family members being home. They don't know where we're at, what we're doing. And then, on top of that, they have to worry about the house."

Fortunately for Devine, the people of Chelmsford, where he lives, know all about those challenges. That's why the town, which has more than 400 active-duty military members and 4,000 veterans in its population of 34,000, signed a Military Community Covenant, Dec. 17, 2009, with Hanscom Air Force Base in nearby Bedford.

Chelmsford residents showed Devine that they didn't make that commitment lightly. They helped with the repairs, removed the snake, and went on from there.

"They did shopping for us," Devine said. "People cooked dinners. They came to my house and shampooed carpets. I mean, I could go on and on and on. I just want everyone here to know how much it meant to (me) and my family."

On April 12, Chelmsford and Hanscom celebrated their ongoing relationship with an appreciation event at the town's Elks Lodge, where the program had been launched. Scores of people attended, including military families and volunteers from the community that has showered them with support.

Among those on hand were Congresswoman Niki Tsongas; Air Force Maj. Gen. Scott Rice, acting adjutant general, Massachusetts National Guard; Col. Stacy Yike, Hanscom commander; Lt. Col. Warren Bacote, Fort Devens garrison commander; and Hugh Hardin, deputy garrison commander, Natick Soldier Systems Center.

"The people of Chelmsford have said, 'Do you wear the uniform? Did you choose to serve our nation? Then we are here for you,'" Yike said. "Whatever it is -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines -- you have reached out to each and every one of us."

Chelmsford clearly has opened its arms to service members since the 2009 covenant signing. Its businesses, residents and organizations have given a variety of donations and services to military families and Veterans.

"It's been quite a ride in the past two and a half years," said Pat Wojtas, Chelmsford covenant task force chairwoman. "We're recognized by the Pentagon as one of the success stories for this program."

Such covenants grew from the Army Community Covenant, which was established April 17, 2008, and has since been expanded to include all military services. More than 700 have been signed nationwide.

"The strength of our Army is our Soldiers," Bacote said. "The strength of our Soldiers is our families. The strength of our Soldiers and our families is supported by the strength of the community. This is what makes us Army strong."

In thanking his community, Devine made a commitment of his own at the appreciation event.

"There's no words that I can even say that would express our gratitude, our appreciation," said Devine, "except that I retire in 11 months, and I promise you I will be volunteering any way I can, to help other (deployed) service members and families."