Building her dream

one soldier's aspirations in and out of uniform

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KITTERY, MAINE (08/13/2021) (readMedia)-- Boards slide into place on top of the under decking, the hammering of nails echoes around her, and wood shavings fall through the air from the electric saw. Then when the work is done the satisfaction of a finished product. This is the dream in the Maine Army National Guard and in the civilian world for Pfc. Jillian Ross, a carpentry and masonry specialist with 185th Engineer Company in Houlton.

"I've always been interested in interior design," said Ross, "That's why I chose this military occupation specialty. I wanted to gain a little more understanding and bring that knowledge into the civilian world."

Ross is a native of Douglas, Massachusetts, and moved to Houlton with her family in 2015. She was inspired to get into the field of carpentry after watching shows on HGTV about house remodeling and decorating.

Ross said there are a lot of valuable skills in the carpentry and masonry trade. "If your house is falling apart, you can learn how to fix it yourself and you don't have to go out and hire a contractor."

Ross got to spend a week of her first ever annual training period with the Maine Army National Guard working on historic Wood Island, off the coast of Kittery. The 185th worked with the Wood Island Restoration Project, a committee that was formed in 2011 to restore Wood Island and the US lifesaving station to its original and historical face.

The scope of the 185th's training was to complete the decking and handrails for the island's northern pier, work on the marine railway, and complete an Americans with Disabilities Act-certified ramp system. The ADA ramp runs from the rear of the building, around a generator shed and attaches to the north ramp on the side of the building.

"The training value for the troops has been great," said 2nd Lt. Allen Kimball, an engineer officer also with the 185th Engineer Company.

Training on Wood Island offered cooler weather working conditions than what soldiers are used to in northern Maine. It also offered different views, and a different environment than soldiers are accustomed to.

"Having to take a boat out to an island at the beginning of the day and the end of the day is a unique experience for them," said Kimball.

Kimball said training on the coast also created challenges for the troops. The building material required for the island restoration project is a lot sturdier than standard 2x4s. Soldiers used reinforced wood that has been severely compacted, and pressure treated in order to withstand hurricane force winds, waves, and storms.

"It's presented a unique opportunity for us to learn how to work with different materials," said Kimball. "And how to adapt with the materials that we have and still be able to get to the desired end state."

Kimball said it is a great opportunity for the engineers to use their annual training to work on a project that will have an impact on the community.

"This is a project that years down the road we'll be able to take our families to and be like, 'hey I played a part in that,'" said Kimball.

"I've learned a lot," said Ross. "I've gained a lot of skills and it's been a lot of fun, especially getting to know the guys better and getting closer as a unit."

Ross said she loves projects that she can do by herself at home.

"My favorite aspect of carpentry is the fact that you can make it what you like," said Ross. "Whether it be modern, rustic, you name it."

Ross said her dream job would be to buy a "fixer-upper" house and make it into her dream home. "That is my ultimate goal someday," said Ross.

Story and photos by Army Staff Sgt. Sarah Myrick