Tuesday, December 29, 2009

This is what is right about America

Massachusetts National Guardsmen (L-R) Staff Sgt. Edward Cole, headquarters Company, 25th Maneuver Enhanced Brigade, Spc. William Vargas, 379th Engineer Company and Staff Sgt. Dominic Whitamore, 101st Engineer Battalion, help pass in some lumber for the carpenters to frame in walls for Staff Sgt. Michael Downing’s new home, Dec 11, 2009. Homes for our Troops and more than 240 volunteers are building the house for Downing who was severely wounded in Afghanistan in 2008. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Don Veitch, Massachusetts National Guard Public Affairs)

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Don Veitch, Massachusetts National Guard Public Affairs
MIDDLEBORO, Mass. – Nearly 100 Massachusetts National Guard members braved freezing temperatures to help one of their own at the construction site of his future home here, Dec. 11, 2009.
Staff Sgt. Michael Downing, who lost both his legs in an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan in 2008, was on hand to see the more than 240 volunteers as they helped out on the Homes for our Troops project.
Homes for our Troops is a national, non-profit organization dedicated to helping out service members who have returned home with severe injuries or disabilities since Sept 11, 2001, by providing no-cost housing to veterans.
The goal for the weekend build was to have the framing, roofing and weather sealing completed to protect the house before the harsh winter weather set in. Backed by the help of the numerous volunteers the goal was met in just a few days.
The overwhelming response to assist Downing had John Gonsalves, Homes for our Troops president and founder, amazed at one of the company’s most successful turnouts.
“Incredible,” said Gonsalves. “We normally get 100 to 300 volunteers in a weekend; we’ve reached that average in one day.”
Gonsalves confirmed this is one of the largest numbers of volunteers the organization has had.
The nearly 100 Guardsmen, dressed in their army combat uniforms and ‘Build Brigade’ T-shirts, were largely responsible for the sizable turnout. The Guard members responded in great numbers to a simple call for assistance for a fellow Massachusetts service member and the promise that everyone would be gainfully employed. The jobs on-site ranged from simple labor to framing and carpentry for those with construction experience.
“Anything we can do to help out,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Sargent, platoon sergeant, Bravo Troop, 182nd Cavalry Regiment. “He [Downing] is in my unit.”
For those who don’t know the feeling of camaraderie and fellowship gained from military service, one only needs to observe this build site to see the powerful response those feelings can evoke.
Not everyone that came to help knows Downing; most only know of him or only knew of a Soldier in need of help. 
Downing was amazed and humbled at the turnout on his behalf.
“This is incredible,” said Downing. “I don’t even know this many people.”
Downing said what made this special is the whole project is an all volunteer endeavor and everything is donated.
“We always hear about what’s wrong with America,” said Vicki Thomas, media relations for Homes for our Troops. “This is what is right about America.”
Homes for our Troops has 33 projects, in various stages, underway and expects to hand over the keys to its 50th completed home on Dec. 21, 2009, said Thomas.
The Downing house will have a physical training room to help him recover from his wounds, a roll in shower, wheelchair accessible counters and amenities, and a large secluded yard, said Doreen Lewis-Hout, project facilitator, Homes for our Troops.
The Downing family expects to move into their new 2,550-square-foot home at the end of March 2010.