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Minnesota National Guard
Aviation Brigade Soldiers give back to community in Brainerd

A gift is a gesture given to show someone that you care about them During the conflicts abroad, members of the armed forces have both given the gift of freedom and received the outstanding support of the community to whom they serve

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On Tuesday, 10 Soldiers from the 34th Combat Aviation Brigade (34th CAB), along with volunteers from the Brainerd community, came together with Habitat for Humanity to build a home for a local family in need

The Brainerd location was chosen based on the geographic proximity to the unit's annual training at Camp Ripley, explained Maj Daniel O'Meara, the brigade medical operations officer

"We were looking for a community service project after we returned from Iraq," said O'Meara "There were a lot of organizations that gave support and encouragement and sent care packages We decided to give something back to the community and show appreciation for their support during our deployments"

Several members of the 34th CAB had also worked with Habitat for Humanity prior to deployment so it seemed like a natural progression, explained O'Meara Another Minnesota National Guard unit, the 1st Combined Arms Battalion, 194th Armor, based out of Brainerd, had also volunteered support to this organization previously

Habitat for Humanity, a private, national, non-profit organization, provides assistance to deserving families in need On this day, the organization helped the family of Vicki Flohr and Ron Behrens and their four children to become homeowners The process began nearly three years ago when the family applied for acceptance into the program, according to Ms Flohr

"The criteria is based on three things: What is their need, the income of the family and the willingness to partner in the process," said Laurie Ziebell, Volunteer and Public Relations Coordinator for the Lakes Area Region of the organization The acceptance process usually takes between one to two years to complete, including social services, like credit counseling, as well as a commitment by the family to volunteer over 300 hours in support of the organization A family selection committee then makes the decision whether the family meets the criteria to have a home built

The Flohr-Behrens family was also on hand during the day, helping with the construction and interacting with the Soldiers and volunteers

"The family really appreciated the effort and the Soldiers absolutely loved it," said O'Meara "After the first day, Soldiers asked if they could go back They were surprised at how much work they could get done in one day "

The site had a poured concrete foundation, with basic plumbing installed, when the group arrived With a constant effort The Soldiers, working with the local volunteers, were able to assemble the structure

"By time the group left, the walls were sheeted, the windows cut out and half of the roof was covered," said O'Meara

Most of the Soldiers involved had never worked in construction, explained O'Meara "There was a broad spectrum of experience, but there was a wide variety of tasks so everyone had something to match their experience level"

O'Meara, who had previously worked in construction while in college, was also inspired by the day's event

"I'm thinking of getting a hold of my local Habitat for Humanity office because it seems like a good organization," said O'Meara

A second group of Soldiers is planning on returning to the site on Friday to continue the project

Based on the success of this project and the Minnesota National Guard's commitment to community support, the 34th CAB will be involved with future volunteering projects throughout the state

By Sgt Nicholas Olson
34th Combat Aviation Brigade
14 July 2010

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