By Andrew D. Brosig
Fort Hood Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS - It was a crazy week last week for Lt. Col. Michael Payne, rear detachment commander for the 36th Engineer Brigade at Fort Hood, and his wife Sandee, interior designer and owner of By the Hour Interiors in Harker Heights.
The Paynes' were two among the thousands of volunteers who signed up to help build a home in just one week for Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler and his fianceé, now wife, Jessica Hansen Zeigler, in Salado. The project was sponsored by the popular television show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and involved skilled trades and regular people who pitched in to make the dream of one wounded warrior a reality.
Zeigler was a cavalry scout who served two deployments to Iraq with 6th Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. He was shot at the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center on Nov. 5, 2009, and has spent most of the intervening months in and out of hospitals and rehabilitation centers from Temple to Austin, recovering from multiple gunshot wounds he suffered that day.
Zeigler is currently assigned to 1st Battalion, Warriors Transition Brigade.
"It's very touching," Sandee Payne said. "We're involved in the same life they are, we're very connected to the life of a soldier. It feels very direct, there definitely is a connection."
The week was 106 hours of back-to-back 24-hour days as volunteers worked to beat the one-week deadline, they said. While many of the volunteers brought special skills to the task, Michael was able to bring something else - about 150 soldiers from the 36th Engineer Brigade.
Michael and Sandee had already planned to volunteer for the project before they knew who it was for, they said. After clearing the idea of involving soldiers of the 36th in the project through his boss, Col. Kent Savre, who's currently serving with forward detachments from the brigade in Iraq, he presented his plan to his soldiers.
"I looked at this as a training event," Michael said. "Our soldiers don't often get the opportunity to work with licensed (civilian) skilled tradesmen."
Michael's role in the project was more supervisory. In addition to his regular duties on post, he spent several hours each night at the project job site, making sure the soldiers of the 36th had what they needed to do their jobs and accomplish their mission.
The soldiers were all volunteers, Michael said. He presented them the proposal, giving a list of skills needed for the project. Every soldier approached for the project immediately said yes.
And, with their assistance, the construction phase of the project was completed almost 20 hours ahead of schedule, Michael said. That allowed crews to move on to fine-tuning and detail work that would normally be completed in the days following the reveal on Sunday, the Payne's' said. And it allowed Sandee and the rest of the designers more time in the home, adding the finishing touches.
"That way (Patrick and Jessica) can get right into the house, right in to living, without having to wait for the final touches," Sandee said.
There was one, unplanned benefit for the Paynes, Michael said. This was the first time he'd had the opportunity to work closely with Sandee on something outside their home.
"I actually got to have lunch with my wife three of the five days of the project," he said with a grin.
Sandee and Michael made their plans to volunteer well in advance of the announcement last week naming Zeigler and Hansen recipients of the current project home, she said. They attended an organizational rally hosted by the television show Nov. 30 in Georgetown, where they signed up to help any way they could.
"We heard the show was coming," Sandee said. "We decided we had the skills where we could help in some way."
Michael agreed. The fact they would be building a home for a fellow soldier was an added benefit.
"There is nothing more special than taking care of one of your brothers," Michael said. "I still have family who ask me, 'What is it you do?' Now, I can say, 'This is what we do.' We really do take care of our own."
While the show boasts its own design crew which is pretty much in charge, Sandee was able to add some of her own personal touches with the items she created. The designers also banked on Sandee's experience and familiarity with local and area suppliers and crafts people who could assist with her part of the project.
"(The show designers) have been awesome," Sandee said. "For not knowing me and being able to utilize us and take advantage of our skills. I really enjoy the entire design aspect, carrying through from a concept to the installation."
The task was not that great a departure from what she usually does, Sandee said. Typically, she works with homeowners and clients who have at minimum an idea of the design concept they're looking for. From there, it's Sandee's job to make that vision a reality, she said.
"We're brought into homes where the people have strong ideas," Sandee said. "We work around what the family wants. It's their home, their style, and we're working around what the family wants."
Overall, both Michael and Sandee said the experience of working with the staff from "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" was satisfying. If there was a down-side, they both said, it was the length of the project.
It was too short, Michael and Sandee said.
"My only regret is it's over," she said. "The feeling I got every day when I went to the site, I couldn't wait to wake up and do it again."
"I loved it," he said. "My only regret was there are only 24 hours in a day. You want to do more, but there wasn't enough time in the day to do everything we wanted to do to help."
But the highlight of the week came during the reveal on Sunday.
In the finest show tradition, a large bus blocked Patrick and Jessica's view of their new home. In a break with tradition, however, when the bus was pulled out of the way, the first thing they saw was representatives of the 36th Engineer Brigade who'd worked on the home, standing in formation, Michael said.
"From a soldier's perspective, we don't look for anything," Michael said. "As far as we're concerned, we did our mission.
"But to see (Patrick and Jessica) pull up, to see their reactions - All the volunteers were clapping, but I could hear the soldiers applause above that. They were all so proud."
Contact Andrew D. Brosig at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7469.