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Habitat shows its support for veterans
habitat ball 1
Maj. (ret.) Joe Crews leads the crowd in the singing of God Bless America at Habitat for Humanitys military ball. For more photos from the Habitat military ball, visit - photo by Photo by Paul Floeckher

Military service members appreciate a heartfelt welcome home.

Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County is taking that quite literally.

As part of Habitat for Humanity’s commitment to assist veterans with decent, affordable housing, the Effingham County chapter is working to build a home for Army veteran Cristal Boyles and her family. To raise money for the project, Habitat hosted a military ball Nov. 12 at New Ebenezer Retreat Center.

“Cristal is really a very special homeowner for us. It’s our first opportunity to reach out and help veterans,” said George Groce, development director for Habitat for Humanity of Effingham County.

“It’s a true blessing,” Boyles said of being selected to be a Habitat homeowner. “Everything will be permanent. You can actually settle down and enjoy life.”

Settling down was something Boyles did little of while serving in the military. Her nearly six years’ active duty in the Army included three assignments in southeast Asia, and she saw duty in Operation Desert Storm.

Boyles spent almost a year in Iraq, where she was a transport truck driver. She said the experience made her appreciate home even more.

“It opens your eyes to how good you have it here,” she said. “It’s a whole different world over there. We’ve got it really good.”

Life will get even better for Boyles when she moves into her Habitat home. The Effingham chapter has raised about $30,000 of the $65,000 needed to build the house, and construction can start as soon as donations cover the entire cost.

“Cristal has waited a long time (to be a homeowner). We selected her, and she has just been a tremendous asset to work with,” Groce said. “She always smiles. Even when things seem like they’re not going as well as we had hoped, she is smiling.”

Boyles was joined at the ball by her two loved ones who will live with her in the Habitat house — her teenage son Alex and her husband Larry. The family currently lives in Guyton.

A long-time Habitat for Humanity volunteer, Larry has worked on several Habitat homes as one of Effingham’s construction supervisors. He and Cristal met through Habitat for Humanity and were married two months ago.

“We depend on God to put people like Larry in our path,” Groce said. “The skills we need for these projects to help people in our community come from you and other volunteers who make themselves available.”

Alex also is active in Habitat, according to his mom, so the whole family will be involved in building their house — and others. Like all homeowners in Habitat for Humanity’s Christian housing ministry, Cristal must log at least 250 hours on building projects.

“You don’t stop when you get a house,” she said. “You’re part of the Habitat family and you get to help other people. It’s never-ending.”

Along with the proceeds from the military ball, Habitat is raising money for the Boyles’ house by selling “square footage” in the house. Everyone who makes a $10 donation will be entered into a drawing to win a three-day, two-night stay at the Dillard House in north Georgia.

However, the Boyles’ house is just part of Habitat for Humanity’s outreach to veterans. Along with Habitat’s familiar mission of building homes for low-income families, the Effingham chapter is helping veterans with critical home repairs.

Groce, himself a retired Air Force captain, told the audience at the ball that Habitat conducted three home repairs for veterans last year and has three more planned. The organization can contribute up to $15,000 in materials to make home repairs, as long as the veteran meets Habitat’s financial guidelines.

“If they need a ramp, we can build a ramp. If they need a roof, we can help them with a roof,” Groce said. “We have also reached out to other veterans who did not qualify for the program, but we were able to help them. They provided the materials, and we provided the labor and skill.”

After the Boyles family was introduced to the audience, the podium was turned over to two guest speakers — Lucas Hynes and Franklin Goldwire — who shared their experiences in the military.

Laughing at danger
Hynes has an interesting outlook for someone who was wounded in combat twice in one week.

“Some people call me unlucky. I like to consider myself lucky,” said Hynes, a full-time National Guardsman who works as an infantry instructor with the 122nd Regional Training Institute.

Hynes was first wounded on Christmas Day 2005, while serving in Iraq. Shrapnel injured his face and neck when the Humvee he was riding in took a direct hit from a roadside bomb.

Four days later, Hynes said, the same thing happened again. Again, he was not seriously wounded, but he was knocked out by the force of his vehicle being hit by an improvised explosive device.

“When I came to, I started laughing,” he said. “My guys were looking at me like I’m crazy: ‘Why are you laughing?’ I said, ‘Because I’m laughing, I’m alive.’”

Hynes told the audience he learned a great deal from his deployment to Iraq and his two to Afghanistan. He logged more than 30 months of combat action in those three tours.

Upon arriving in Afghanistan in 2001, he said he learned “how absolutely spoiled and blessed” Americans are to have the freedoms they enjoy every day. He saw children playing barefoot in the street in the December cold and thought, “they must be crazy.”

“But my young, inexperienced self didn’t realize that they — obviously because of us — had just been liberated,” Hynes said. “The Taliban didn’t allow them to play in the streets, didn’t allow them to play soccer, didn’t allow them to go to school.”

Another lesson Hynes learned is that fear can be a good thing. In fact, he said, fear can actually keep a soldier alive.

“We’re trained to turn fear into productivity,” he said. “Any soldier who says they weren’t scared when they were shot at is either lying or crazy. And I definitely would take the liar over a crazy guy next to me in the battlefield.”

Those lessons were invaluable to Hynes, who joked about not graduating from college (Georgia Southern, in 2008) until eight years after he graduated from Effingham County High School. Of course, he was sent on deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan between those two graduation days.

Hynes, the son of Bob and Julie Hynes of Springfield, recalled being at his parents’ house after he returned home from his third tour of duty. Talking on the porch with his father, Hynes wondered if he measured up to former classmates who had started families or embarked on lucrative careers.

“Dad told me, ‘Son, what you’ve experienced and learned, no college can teach you,’” Hynes recalled.

Hynes said another deployment awaits him in 2013. As always, he will be ready.

“A lot of people ask me, why do I keep going back?” he said. “It’s as simple as this — the same reason that million of vets have before me, and millions will after me — I believe in what I do.

“I don’t want to be that guy who looks back on his life and says, ‘Did I really make a difference to someone?’” he continued. “I know that I’m making a difference.”

A ‘privilege’ to serve
The night’s first guest speaker was no stranger to Hynes. Goldwire had been his principal at Effingham County Middle School.

Along with his 30 years as a school teacher and principal, Goldwire served 37 years in the military. He enlisted in the Army three months after graduating from college, and one year later served in the Vietnam War.

“It has been a privilege for me to serve as a soldier over the years, protecting the freedoms we all enjoy,” Goldwire recalled. “If you don’t remember anything else I say tonight, remember this — the freedom we enjoy in this country is worth fighting for.”

Following his three years on active duty, Goldwire joined the Georgia Air National Guard. He served as commander of four different squadrons, including the 165th Airlift Wing Security Forces.

“The unique thing about being trained as a security forces commander was learning when to use deadly force — in essence, when you fire your weapon against another human being,” he said.

Goldwire, who retired from the National Guard in 2007 as a lieutenant colonel, said the world is a much more dangerous place today than it was when he began his military career in 1970. Whereas battles used to be fought under rigid rules of engagement, he said, “For the first time in the history of the world, a small number of individuals with limited resources can create havoc against freedom-loving people around the globe.”

“But there is one enduring quality that has not changed for centuries,” Goldwire said. “That is the quality of our soldiers and their commitment.

“They are the backbone of this nation.”

About Habitat

For more information about the local Habitat for Humanity chapter, call development director George Groce at 826-6433, visit the Habitat ReStore at 3605 Highway 21 South in Rincon, or go to