Give a soldier a handAfter nearly a year in the deserts of Iraq, Spc. Vipul Patel will return home to green grass instead of a sandy lot. The soldier is serving his country with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 724th Engineer Battalion. Last week, a trio of volunteers stopped by his Solon Springs home to transform his front yard.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
After nearly a year in the deserts of Iraq, Spc. Vipul Patel will return home to green grass instead of a sandy lot. The soldier is serving his country with the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 724th Engineer Battalion. Last week, a trio of volunteers stopped by his Solon Springs home to transform his front yard.
“What you see here is basically sand and weeds,” said Bob Johnson of the Barnes-based Hobie’s Services. “We’re trying to get grass.”
He pushed black dirt onto the yard with a skid steer while his brother, Mike, raked it smooth. Dennis Mertzig of Wascott spread grass seed. From the front porch, Patel’s young sons watched, smiling, as the work progressed.
“They’re going to have some stories to tell,” Mertzig said.
Three-year-old Emmett walked side-by-side with Mike Johnson, pushing a compactor along the dirt driveway. Then he cuddled under a blanket with his brother Nolan, 1, to watch the action.
“They love the big trucks and Mr. Mertzig,” said their mother, Amy, a teacher at Bryant Elementary School.
It was through the school that Amy Patel met Mertzig’s wife, Kathy. They were recently talking about Patel’s “firsts” – new things that she’s done since her husband has been overseas. Patel mentioned the blister she got mowing the lawn because she forgot to use it in self-propel mode. Dennis Mertzig offered to mow the lawn for her. When he saw it, he wanted to make it greener. He began calling around, gathering donations of supplies and labor, adding a new paved driveway to the project.
The Johnson brothers didn’t hesitate to volunteer.
“We need to support our troops,” Bob Johnson said. “Sometimes you need to put your money where your mouth is.”
The two have done what they call “pro bono” work for other veterans in the area. They understand what families go through as Mike Johnson was a member of the 724th for 33 years.
“They’re going above and beyond the call of duty today,” said Amy Patel’s father, Dave Richtsmeier of Lakeville, Minn., who spent the day watching Emmett and Nolan with his wife, Marlene.
Vipul Patel has been a member of the 724th for three years. This is his first overseas deployment. Although the couple has been planning to fix up the yard, they kept putting it off. Last week, the community did it for them.
“We’re very grateful,” Amy Patel said. “Thankful, grateful, blessed, happy.”
Richtsmeier, a Navy veteran who served during the Korean War, said he appreciated the way the community supports its soldiers.
“When I was in, there was nothing like this,” he said.
It’s just a simple thing, Mertzig said, a way to say thanks to a soldier serving his country.
“We can grow grass over here because they’re over there in no grass,” he said.
Other businesses that contributed to the project included Wascott Stop-A-Sec, Hensen’s Grocery of Minong, Monarch Paving, Dean’s Trucking, Solon Concrete and Larry Johnson of Lake Nebagamon.