Dustin Comey, of Everett, who served in the Marines, rolls a log from the building site during a Habitat for Humanity Veterans Build event on Saturday in Gold Bar. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Dustin Comey, of Everett, who served in the Marines, rolls a log from the building site during a Habitat for Humanity Veterans Build event on Saturday in Gold Bar. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

For vets and military families, this is ‘a respectful weekend’

To them, Memorial Day isn’t about shopping or picnics. It’s about remembering and making a difference.

GOLD BAR — Their holiday weekend didn’t begin at the mall or with a picnic.

It started in rain jackets and boots at a new Veterans Build project by Habitat for Humanity of Snohomish County.

Along a winding, woodsy road several miles off U.S. 2, a blue tarp and the steady groan of a log splitter welcomed two shifts of volunteers and luncheon keynote speakers that included the sister of a fallen soldier.

Wheelbarrows rolled across rugged terrain marked by boundary stakes and tree stumps. Orange safety fencing separated the building lot from an incline leading to May Creek, a few hundred feet below.

The scenic double lot, donated to Habitat by an estate, provided challenges in excavation and design. It’s also not the most convenient place to send the hundreds of volunteers it takes to build a house. But things are expected to move swiftly. Foundation work starts later this week.

Where the rock pile stands at 15708 Gold Bar Drive will be the driveway to a two-bedroom house ready for occupancy in December.

Jen Buell (center), with help from Stephanie Lam (right), hammers a stake in the ground for a fence during a Habitat for Humanity build on Saturday in Gold Bar. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Jen Buell (center), with help from Stephanie Lam (right), hammers a stake in the ground for a fence during a Habitat for Humanity build on Saturday in Gold Bar. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

This is the first Veterans Build for the Snohomish chapter. It is part of a national initiative of the housing nonprofit to involve past and present armed forces members and families in specific builds.

“Veterans groups coming out to work together has been shown to be really good therapy for PTSD,” said Brooke Burdick, Habitat outreach spokesman. “Veteran groups are often isolated and doing their own thing. Veterans have a lot of common ground together, so it’s kind of an outreach bonding experience.”

Habitat will have a home buyer seminar for veterans from 10 a.m. to noon June 15 at First Presbyterian Church in Snohomish. A family already has been selected to move into the Gold Bar house. Another project, the first phase of the Twin Creeks Village of townhouses in south Everett, is in the works.

Wes King, an Army veteran, helps split wood during a Habitat for Humanity build on Saturday in Gold Bar. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Wes King, an Army veteran, helps split wood during a Habitat for Humanity build on Saturday in Gold Bar. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The nonprofit provides home ownership to lower-income families, who are required to spend at least 500 hours working on a home or Habitat project — sweat equity.

Volunteers are a major source of labor on builds.

Military veterans Wes King and Dustin Comey began splitting wood at 8 a.m. Saturday. The firewood was offered free to neighbors, many of whom have wood stoves.

“When I got out of the Army, I lost my sense of purpose,” said King, 32, of Covington, a staff sergeant who served with the 2nd Ranger Battalion out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. “I went through a rough time with my transition. It wasn’t until getting back into volunteering that I really felt positive about myself. It is a big mental health boost.”

Everett resident Comey, 35, a Marine lance corporal who did an infantry tour in Afghanistan, and King both are members of The Mission Continues, which does community projects nationwide.

Construction manager Chris Anderson (right) talks to a group of volunteers during a Habitat for Humanity build on Saturday in Gold Bar. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Construction manager Chris Anderson (right) talks to a group of volunteers during a Habitat for Humanity build on Saturday in Gold Bar. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“We have the same kind of service-based mindset,” Comey said.

The two will be back in Gold Bar in August with about 20 mission comrades in a build they are organizing.

King plans to attend a Memorial Day ceremony at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent.

“It is a respectful weekend for us,” King said. Comey agreed.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Jessica Hebert, a Gold Star Family member from Everett who spoke at the luncheon Saturday.

Jessica Hebert holds a photo of her brother, Army Spc. Justin Hebert, who was killed in combat in Iraq at age 20 in 2003. Hebert, of Everett, spoke at the luncheon for volunteers at a Habitat for Humanity Veterans Build event in Gold Bar. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

Jessica Hebert holds a photo of her brother, Army Spc. Justin Hebert, who was killed in combat in Iraq at age 20 in 2003. Hebert, of Everett, spoke at the luncheon for volunteers at a Habitat for Humanity Veterans Build event in Gold Bar. (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

Her younger brother, Army Spc. Justin Hebert, 20, was killed when the vehicle he was driving was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade in 2003. The 2001 Arlington High School graduate was the first from Snohomish County to die in Iraq.

Jessica Hebert was 21 at the time. Every Memorial Day is devoted to visiting his burial site at the Little White Church on the Hill in Silvana.

“For the majority of the population, it’s the weekend that leads into the start of summer and the joy outweighs the remembrance and the reason,” she said.

“It makes me cringe a little bit, because everywhere I go there’s always a mention of some big holiday sale or these grand plans people have. I have to remind myself that often they are unaffected. I can’t make them understand.”

She just wants to make sure veterans are not forgotten.

“I want people to think about having a moment of silence or looking at where a fallen soldier is laid to rest and placing flowers on their grave or reaching out to a Gold Star Family member,” she said.

“I want not only for my brother to be remembered but for anyone who lost their life serving their country to be remembered. I don’t want anyone to stop saying their names.”

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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