JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – He sat in his chair with an old stick and debarking tool and began to strip the wood to its core.
“You’re taking this bark that’s rotting and old, and then underneath you’re revealing something that’s really beautiful,” said Sgt. Reginald Radcliffe.
Woodworking began as a hobby for Radcliffe as a child in the mountains of Los Alamos, N.M., but after joining the Army in 2010, he realized he could use it to help his fellow soldiers.
Radcliffe, a generator mechanic with 593rd Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), created Soldier Stixx in 2012 with the aim of assisting wounded warriors at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
His organization sells walking sticks that he hand carves and donates the proceeds to the Fisher House on JBLM.
Radcliffe chose the Fisher House because it offers families a place to stay while their service members undergo medical treatment at Madigan Army Medical Center. Donations allow the Fisher House to provide lodging at no cost to the family.
Radcliffe arrived at JBLM in 2010. It did not take him long to notice the abundance of fallen tree limbs lying around post. The branches reminded him of injured soldiers on a battlefield.
“When you have wounded warriors out in the field, you pick them up, give them some TLC and hopefully restore them back to their former glory days.”
A calming aura surrounds Radcliffe while he works on the wood peeling back layer after layer of bark.
“It started as a way to relieve stress for him, but then when he realized he had a real talent it gave him a sense of pride,” said Dena Radcliffe, Reginald’s wife.
Dena says their four children enjoy going on hikes with their dad to look for the next stick and sometimes use crayons to decorate sticks of their own.
“It shows them that when you put a lot of effort into something it becomes something beautiful,” Dena said.
The process of making the walking sticks starts with a hike through the woods. Radcliffe then finds a stick to “rescue” and saves the geographic location on his GPS to add to the stick later.
“It’s like its serial number,” Radcliffe said. “I’ll never pick a stick up from the same location.”
Radcliffe spends hours and even weeks personalizing the sticks. First he debarks them, then he carves them down to the right shape and smooths them out with sandpaper.
He decorates them with personal touches, such as unit crests, using a wood burner.
One walking stick went to Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, I Corps command sergeant major, as a gift. Radcliffe spent nine months burning the insignias of every unit at JBLM on to it.
When Radcliffe peels the last of the bark from the branch he is working on, he leans forward to appraise it.
“This one is actually going to be a really nice stick, you can tell by the difference in the color of the wood,” Radcliffe said with a smile. “It’s going to be a really strong stick.”
While he cannot heal their injuries, Radcliffe will keep helping wounded warriors one walking stick at a time.