News: Soldiers volunteer for Operation Park Rescue
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Foss
CLAYTON, N.Y. - “The patriot volunteer, fighting for country and his rights, makes the most reliable soldier on earth.”
– Gen. Stonewall Jackson
Similar to this passage, the patriot volunteer who selflessly serves his community can make the most reliable citizen on earth.
More than 20 Soldiers from A Company, 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, recently spent countless hours of their personal time working after duty hours to rebuild a children’s park in Clayton, giving back to the community that supports them.
“It shows their commitment and their dedication towards helping the community,” said Lt. Col. James DePolo, 1st Brigade Special Troops Battalion commander. “It’s a project for the kids; it shows that outside of their work, [Soldiers] are volunteering their own time to help their fellow Americans and their community.”
It’s been said that “it takes a village to raise a child.” The village of Clayton graciously accepted the Soldiers’ desire to help with what they saw as an important community project.
“This project would never have happened without Fort Drum; we didn’t have the manpower to do it,” said Clayton Mayor Norma J. Zimmer. “Financially, we couldn’t do it if we had to pay for the labor. We have a lot of community spirit behind it, but it’s the military that’s made this project happen.”
A number of engineer Soldiers live in the village, and they had brought their children to play in the park in the past. They realized how important it was for their kids to play there and how important it is to them, as parents, to bring their children.
“We have lived there [in Clayton] for the past five years, and it’s a place that I wanted my family to live because of the community and the people who live there,” said 1st Sgt. Christopher Hicks, A Company senior enlisted adviser.
Military spouses, in the absence of their Soldiers, often rely on companionship and support from their fellow community members. Soldiers also recognize the value of community support, especially after multiple deployments.
“I was deployed to Afghanistan twice during those five years, and my kids played at the park every day, or every other day, while I was gone and I wanted to give whatever I could back to the community that helped support my family in my absence,” Hicks added.
The park was originally constructed in 1987, with the assistance of more than 50 volunteers from 10th Mountain Division (LI). Twenty-six years later, Fort Drum Soldiers work to sustain the park and the relationship with its valued community members.
“We work very hard at work during the duty day, and it makes me proud to see our Soldiers come out here on their own time with no expectation of reward – just their personal gratification,” DePolo said.
To their surprise, the Soldiers did receive a very humbling reward. They were called off the work site and into a neighboring town hall building to see hundreds of local students, teachers and parents offer their thanks.
The children sang a number of patriotic songs and shared smiles with Soldiers that day as a strong, unified community.
“I was surprised when I saw all of the kids and even more surprised in seeing the [number] of kids that would play at the park,” said Spc. Bryant E. Hendricks, A Company engineer.
“To me, that made the whole thing more than worth it; it made us want to finish it that much more,” Hicks said.
DePolo said he hopes to see Soldiers come back with their families 26 years from now and see it still standing, adding he hopes they remember the countless smiles they surely brought to many kids’ faces.
The “patriot volunteers” and Clayton community members involved in this project worked hand in hand to make repairs and improvements to the park. On many occasions, they put on their tactical headlamps and worked well into the night.
This partnership effort also gave Soldiers an opportunity to work with the Rotary Club, village Department of Public Works, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the mayor and private businesses.
“I wasn’t surprised with the Soldiers that did come out to help. It takes a different type of Soldier, and person in general, to volunteer their time to help out other people,” Hicks said. “I can’t tell my Soldier how proud I am of them.”
The Soldiers’ expertise substantially contributed to the expeditious completion of the project.
“It was very evident that there was previous experience out on the job site. Once everyone got the hang of things, they really picked it up and got it done,” said Staff Sgt. George Williams, Earth Moving platoon sergeant.
Originally, Clayton officials estimated that it could take up to 100 volunteers in order to complete the project. With A Company’s construction and engineering experience, coupled with the motivation and morale of the troops, they were able to complete the project with only 20-30 Soldiers.
Soldiers of A Company have been involved in a number of community assistance projects, to include helping to build a home as part of a Habitat for Humanity effort, many hours spent at the Watertown Urban Mission, and coaching and refereeing basketball and football games, to name a few.
“Our company has always done some kind of volunteer work since I have been in the company,” Hicks said. “I would encourage more units to get out and do stuff like this in the community; it’s good for the unit and a great thing to give back to the people that support our families while we are deployed.”
Some aspects of the playground, that carried the weight of children or had many moving parts, such as suspension bridges and slides, had to be constructed with a lot of care and to a specific standard.
With the pride and the care the patriot volunteers put into the project, it was not hard to ensure everything was done exactly as planned.
“When I [take] my kids up there to play, I will have a great sense of personal pride knowing that I simply helped,” Williams said.