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JBLM Soldiers helping on Habitat for Humanity project

By Christopher Gaylord/JBLM PAO Sgt. 1st Class Paul Mayfield and Spc. Karenza Palmer help frame a house.

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PARKLAND - "Communities like this are amazing," Katrina Masters professed Saturday afternoon, looking over a charming 30-home development that boasts two separate playgrounds, a sports field, numerous rain gardens, protected wetlands, walking trails - even streets and driveways that soak up rainfall.

She smiled as she talked about it all - a community center where families can meet and a footbridge over a marsh where residents can admire the surrounding scenery - as she gestured to a blueprint drawn out on paper hanging from the door of a storage container.

The concept looks great, but right now, the Woods at Golden Given, a housing development near Highway 512, is still just a muddy construction site with tarps and plywood lining the ground and the frames of houses half stood up.

It's the site of the Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity's largest single project ever, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord Soldiers are helping see it along, even if that means putting in a little weekend time to get some work done.

"It's just something that's good to do," said Sgt. Jason Brown, taking a break from pounding nails into the doorframe of a house's future closet early Saturday afternoon.

Brown joined about 10 of his fellow Soldiers from the 542nd Maintenance Company, 593rd Sustainment Brigade, who volunteered to help frame houses for the neighborhood-to-be April 12-13.

Whether the sergeant does something meaningful with his weekend tends to be a gamble, he explained, but there's not much lost or wasted on a day spent helping others.

"I was like, ‘Yeah, I'll do it; why not?'" he said. "There's people that need help, and this is good for them. It's my weekend, but (some) people don't have houses."

Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization whose work is done largely through volunteers and future homeowners under expert supervision, builds simple and affordable houses and provides no-interest mortgage loans for low-income families around the world.

Homeowners are required to put in 500 hours of "sweat equity" toward building their own homes or the homes of other Habitat families.

The 542nd's work marked the first time, at least as far as 2nd Lt. Elihugh Abner is concerned, that the company has ever volunteered with Habitat for Humanity.

Abner worked with the organization in middle school while growing up in Tennessee and did construction work before going to college. He was eager to reach out to Habitat for Humanity's local office and find out how he and his Soldiers could help.

"I believe, as human beings, it's our duty to one another to give a little bit back - to go out of our way, whether it's just giving some clothes or something like that - to people who need it," Abner said. "It's my way of giving back to the company, and it's the Army's way of giving back to the community."

Once finished, the Woods at Golden Given, named after a bordering intersection, will span seven acres of Parkland's Midland neighborhood with cottage-style homes. Its streets and driveways will be made of pervious pavement and concrete, which absorb water.

According to Habitat for Humanity, the development poses a low environmental footprint in the community.

Masters, a 10-month volunteer overseeing the project, which is still in its early stages and expected to last three to five years, had never really met anyone from the military before Saturday. Her dad served, she said, but that was before she was born.

And the Soldiers with the 542nd proved to be some of her best volunteer builders yet.

"They work hard, they're respectful, they say ‘ma'am' and ‘sir,' and they're used to working hard," said Masters. "They don't complain. I've had other groups that just stand around, so it's refreshing to have some who actually want to work hard."

Hard work is something familiar to Sgt. 1st Class Matt Deakin.

"We'd been trying to do a little bit here and there - just do something outside of work to help the community and help the JBLM area," said Deakin, a 542nd communications and electronics repair platoon sergeant. "This is where we live. When we're off work, we're out here in the community, and sometimes people look at us like, ‘Oh, there's military people; all they care about is the military.' Well, no, we don't."

Back in his Indiana hometown, Deakin said, it was common for him and his friends and neighbors to offer their help when someone they knew started construction on a barn or a house. Someone would usually grab some sodas, he remembered, and throw on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, and the group would get to work.

The mindset was much the same Saturday, but the shorts and tees - they might have been a bad idea in the Pacific Northwest during springtime.

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