Sergeant George Hudgeons, 33, clearly remembers the blast.
With just two months left in this tour of duty in Iraq in 2004, an RPG explosion sent shrapnel and debris into Hudgeons’ leg while he was on a mission to rescue fallen pilots in a dangerous region of the country.
“It was pretty dang scary,” he said.
Hudgeons was taken out of the fighting for treatment. A year later, he was awarded a Purple Heart for his injury and an Army Comp Valor Award for his bravery. After a second tour of duty in 2007, followed by another Purple Heart (expected this year), Hudgeons is retiring from the Army this fall.
“You train for it, watch it on TV. But it’s a surreal, unreal feeling being over there,” he said.
Hudgeons was one of several dozen soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Warrior Transition Battalion who volunteered their time to build homes for Habitat for Humanity in North Tacoma this month.
Battalion members receive treatment for illness or injury sustained during deployment, and assistance transitioning from military to civilian life. Most soldiers that volunteered were combat veterans with stories similar to Hudgeons.
After being in such hostile environments, building homes for people in need serves as a therapy for the combat veteran soldiers, said 1st Sergeant Briant Wiggins, a medic for the Warrior Transition Battalion.
“Not only do we get to go out and fight battles, we pound nails and build homes,” he said. “It tells them that even though we are wounded warriors, we can still give back.”
During the Wounded Warriors volunteer day, volunteers worked to complete the last two houses in Founders’ Circle, Habitat’s north Tacoma six-home cul de sac development.
Mark Jameson, 55, was just accepted into the Habitat for Humanity housing program this month. His future home, which will be built next year near Ainsworth Street in south Tacoma, will look almost identical to the house he toured at the north Tacoma site during the Wounded Warrior volunteer day.
After a stint of homelessness, and living in transitional housing for the last five years with his two teenage daughters, Jameson said Habitat’s program is like a dream come true.
“It’s unreal,” he said. “I just sat there and cried. I never expected it.”
As a Vietnam War veteran, Jameson said he’s never surprised to see veterans willing to lend a helping hand.
“There’s something about vets, we stick together,” he said. “There’s always someone willing to ask, ‘Brother, do you need a helping hand?’”