JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - With the sound of hammers and the smell of sawdust in the crisp fall air, 23 soldiers, civilians and family members volunteered three Saturdays in September for a cause reminiscent of a modern-day barn raising.
Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Alaska District; 2nd Engineer Brigade; 4th Brigade, 25th Infantry Division and National Air Traffic Controllers Association partnered at the Fisher House of Alaska on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson to build the nonprofit organization a much-needed storage shed.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was conducted Oct. 2 at the site.
“We’re engineers, we build things,” said Col. Christopher Lestochi, commander of the Alaska District and one of the volunteers who assisted with the effort. “We hope this project contributes in some way to what the Fisher House does for our service members and families.”
The Fisher House program provides free lodging to veterans and military families receiving treatment at medical centers nearby on the installation. More than 19,000 families receive assistance annually worldwide with a comfortable home and supportive environment. Volunteers and donations are required to complete the mission at each house.
“We cannot run the house without the support of the community,” said Jennifer Hall, Fisher House of Alaska manager. “Over 400 volunteer hours went into this project and we’re very appreciative.”
Wearing with pride the logo of his father’s construction business embroidered on his shirt, it was easy for Maj. Mark DeRocchi, deputy commander of the Alaska District, to muster the motivation to roll up his sleeves. He understands the life-changing support the charity provides.
“This project is very moving because, over my five deployments, I have sent numerous soldiers back to recover and rehab at Fisher Houses,” he said. “This is a small way to pay it forward and is a token of appreciation.”
The experience also provided an opportunity to show the family members between the ages of 8 and 16 the importance of helping the community, while learning about the complexities of construction, Lestochi said.
The Corps recognizes that empowering children and young adults with science, technology, engineering and mathematics is critical to protecting the future of the nation’s security and economy.
It meant a lot to DeRocchi having his two sons at the job site, swinging hammers and “supporting a great cause,” he said.
Located behind the main facility, the 12-feet by 16-feet shed is constructed of wood with vinyl siding and is equipped with electricity for interior lighting and heat. Building materials were donated by local businesses totaling a retail value of $7,000. Prior to construction activities, the Fisher House of Alaska’s Board of Directors purchased design plans and a concrete pad using donations.
Recognizing the Corps’ expertise in engineering and construction, Hall reached out to the district in search of volunteers to help build it. While soliciting its own workforce, the Corps approached the 2nd Engineer Brigade as well. Volunteers from the infantry division and air traffic controllers association joined after hearing of the project through word-of-mouth.
“This shed really enhances their capability,” said 1st Lt. Dan Frederick of the 2nd Engineer Brigade and the project engineer who led building activities over the three weekends. “Now they’ll be able to store their extraneous materials like medical equipment, gardening and landscaping supplies in a location outside of the building.”
Frederick will credit this project toward his professional engineering certification, he said. However, it’s what the shed represents to his fellow soldiers that provides the greatest satisfaction.
“It was a great opportunity to build more ‘esprit de corps’ through constructing an enduring project,” Frederick added. “The soldiers that contributed will be able to drive by this anytime they want and see something they built. It’s not going away next week.”
Though it might not house any large animals or bales of hay, the shed will help the Fisher House with its mission of taking care of wounded service members, veterans and their families.