Brian and Sharon Roberts watched the buzz of activity around their University Place home with a mix of gratitude and amazement.
Volunteers arrived to do yardwork on the large lot and make the home more functional for Brian Roberts, who was severely injured while serving in Afghanistan with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord combat brigade.
Sharon Roberts said she was told to expect about a half-dozen volunteers, More than 30 showed up Friday, including soldiers recovering from their own injuries at Lewis-McChord.
Sitting in his wheelchair, Roberts, 39, said it was emotionally heart-wrenching to see all the people who took time out to help him and his family, and hopes to pay it forward someday.
Its a huge weight off my shoulders, off my wifes shoulders, he said.
One of the dozen or so injured soldiers who turned out was Joey McGee, a noncommissioned officer who was injured in combat in Afghanistan in 2010. Wearing a walking boot and carting around on a knee scooter, McGee helped out where he could and provided moral support for Roberts, who was gripped by anxiety when the volunteers started arriving.
If I can help, I know Ive made that much of a difference for him, McGee said.
His wife, Jessica, who also pitched in, stressed the importance of reaching out to others.
The world isnt going to become a better place if we sit on our couches, she said.
Roberts said it was especially meaningful to see fellow injured soldiers pitching in.
It keeps the warrior ethos alive for me. You take care of your own, he said.
Roberts, who was assigned to the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, was returning from a mission in southwestern Afghanistan on March 22, 2010, when a bomb exploded near the armored vehicle he was riding in. The blast shattered his pelvis, cracked a vertebrae in back and left his feet in ruins.
Roberts endured 15 surgeries during his recovery, with three more anticipated, including one this week. Gen. George Casey, then the Army chief of staff, pinned a Purple Heart on Roberts during a visit to Lewis-McChord later that year.
He was medically retired from the Army in March and bought the yellow rambler on a 1-acre lot the next month; he and his wife moved into the house in February. The house wasnt suited for a wheelchair, however, as there was a small step to get to the bedroom and bathroom. A makeshift ramp was set up, but it was long and had to be moved after each use.
Roberts has no doubt one day he will leave the wheelchair behind for good. He can already walk 750 feet but is following doctors orders to stay in his wheelchair.
In the meantime, the honey-do list went on and on.
Branches covered the yard after last winters storms. A wall of the wellhouse on the property had buckled. The familys expensive riding lawn mower couldnt be stored in their shed and had to left out, unsecured.
Sharon Roberts did what she could. She spent six months clearing blackberry bushes from a corner of the property. She worried her injured husband would feel emasculated if she reached out for help. But the duties around the house became too much, and the couple finally realized they needed assistance.
She contacted her advocate through a Pentagon program that assists severely wounded service members. The advocate reached out about a month ago to Rod Wittmier, program director for the Veterans Family Fund of America, an Olympia-based organization that supports veterans and their families.
Wittmier and his brother Wayne, a general contractor from Kent, scouted out the property and came up with some additional improvements.
They saw a need for a concrete pad and ramp in the backyard so Roberts could easily get to the hot tub for his physical therapy. Electricity needed to be extended to the nearby shed, and motion-sensing lights needed to be installed on the shed and house for security.
With the to-do list in hand, the brothers next needed the brawn. They recruited soldiers assigned to the Warrior Transition Battalion, where injured and ill soldiers receive care until theyre fit to return to duty or are medically discharged.
They also called the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs program in Seattle that helps homeless veterans to recruit volunteers.
Wittmier, an Army veteran who directs a program committed to ending veteran suicide, saw an opportunity for these service members and veterans to pick up new skills and to feel good by helping another.
It lifts their hearts, he said. It lifts their well-being.
Local businesses provided supplies, which Sharon Roberts had expected to pay out of pocket. Patriots Landing, a retirement community and nursing home in DuPont, provided lunch to the volunteers.
The work will put the couples mind at ease and enable Brian Roberts to focus on his recovery and the new mission he has charted for himself.
The retired sergeant plans to attend the homecoming ceremony for the unit he served with when it returns from what could be its final combat deployment next year.
Id love to able to walk up to my guys and give them hugs, he said.