Pfc. Darius Delafoisse knows there are two types of soldier: The one people see on TV and in movies, and the one that actually exists.
But with rakes, brooms, pruners and tiny shovels in hand, the latter can sometimes come as a surprise to the public.
“A lot of people think the military is just all about killing,” said Delafoisse, a small gardening shovel in one hand and a soiled work glove on the other, prying weeds and grass from cracks in a downtown Olympia parking lot. “People always think we don’t really care about the community.
“I don’t think they even realize we’re soldiers until they actually come up and ask us why we’re out here and what we’re doing.”
Delafoisse and more than 70 fellow soldiers from JBLM’s 593rd Sustainment Brigade might have debunked some common soldier stereotypes for those who have never actually met during Olympia’s semi-annual Downtown Cleanup, an event that put gardening tools in the soldiers hands and took them briefly away from their Army environment.
The city uses the cleanup – a widespread, three-hour volunteer effort in which anywhere from 150 to 200 community and service members participate – to polish up the streets downtown in preparation for Arts Walk, a series of performances and displays that showcase the talent of local musicians and artists.
“We care about making sure the streets are clean, making sure the parks look good, because we live in these communities just like they do,” said Lt. Col. Douglas Levien, commander of the 593rd Special Troops Battalion. “We care about them, just like they care about us.”
The 593rd has offered volunteers for almost the last decade to the city, which partners with the brigade under JBLM’s community connector program, an initiative that joins local communities with Army units for varying forms of support.
And the support goes both ways.
The brigade lends it assistance for the cleanup twice a year and delivers a holiday tree to the city’s park every December. Whenever any of the brigade’s soldiers deploy, the city holds a parade to wish them farewell and assembles care packages for them.
“I’m a business man here in town, and I know that it’s all of us working together, and our service people our an integral part of our community,” said Jeffrey Trinin, a board member for the Olympia Downtown Association and one of the founders of the cleanup event. “It’s been a real opportunity for me to get to know a lot of soldiers here.”
Trinin isn’t a veteran, but he’s well versed on the rigors of military life, the biggest of which can sometimes be adjusting to life in a new region of the country or world.
But even pulling weeds, trimming hedges, sweeping sidewalks and picking up trash can help welcome the new with open arms.
To Delafoisse, it’s all part of giving for a change instead of taking away.
“It feels good just to put something back into what I’m taking out of,” said Delafoisse, who also volunteers regularly at an animal shelter in Seattle. “We might be in our Humvees, and we might hold up traffic, or we might be at the range, and our range might be right behind someone’s backyard.”
But as Levien sees it, volunteering has every bit to do with where you live as it does where you came from – the communities soldiers left back home before joining.
“All the soldiers here come from neighborhoods, and they all come from hometowns, and this is the type of stuff that you ought to be doing in your hometown,” Levien said. “And now that you’re part of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, you have an adopted hometown.
Story by Sgt. Christopher Gaylord
5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
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