Soldiers call wood shop home

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq - Sgt. Douglas Lambe spent two deployments in Iraq as a combat engineer. Months on the road searching for bombs gave him plenty of time to think.

“I knew if I kept on doing that,” the Fort Lewis soldier said, “I’d die sooner or later.”

But the 27-year-old Richland native likely didn’t envision spending his third deployment working alongside a Stadium High School graduate in the wood shop at a military base in Iraq’s Diyala province.

Lambe and Spc. Charlie Wells work and live in a building crammed with scraps of wood, hacksaws, table saws, other tools, cans of paint and jugs of varnish.

They create tables, plaques, podiums and signs – pretty much anything required by their Stryker comrades in the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

During a visit earlier this month, the two worked on trophies that would be given away during this month’s video game tournament. Name plaques and parking signs also awaited pickup.

“People tell me I’ve got the best job in the country, and I honestly believe it,” said Wells, a Hawaii native who spent his teenage years in Tacoma.

Their spot in the wood shop started with Lambe’s reputation and a request. He deployed as a mechanic, but his brigade’s command was in search of a new piece of furniture shortly after the unit arrived in September.

Lambe got his woodworking start helping his uncle build pole barns. He deployed to Iraq expecting to spend a year repairing air conditioners, but when the 296th Brigade Support Battalion was looking for a conference room table, the job fell to Lambe.

“As soon as sergeant major saw it,” he said, “he told me I would be in the wood shop the rest of the deployment.”

Lambe chose Wells, with whom he worked at Fort Lewis, because he needed someone who could work long hours and could learn a new skill quickly.

The requests come at all hours and from soldiers of all rank. They carve plaques for colonels and sergeants major. They craft decorations for company-grade officers. And they make furniture for soldiers living in trailers.

“Most of my pride comes from helping the soldiers – creating the desks, the beds, anything that would make life easier,” Lambe said.

And he sees this deployment as a springboard to his post-Army career. He plans to open a wood shop near Fort Lewis when he leaves the service in a few years.

He sees a demand from Little League coaches buying plaques for their players, teachers purchasing gifts for their students, and military commanders decorating the walls of their unit headquarters.

“Military vanity never dies,” he said. “No matter how much the economy is down, people always want something built.”