A Carpenter Among Us

By: Spc. Karly Cooper
15th SB, Public Affairs

CAMP TAJI, Iraq — The woodshop air fills with the musky scent of fresh, cut wood as Sergeant First Class James Stout, a Platoon Sergeant with the 15th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), moves around his wood shop to finish one of his many projects.

A Whittier, Ca native on his third tour, Sgt. 1st Class Stout knows exactly what to do to help Soldiers’ morale and make time go by quickly. Every deployment finds him working with his hands; turning scrap lumber into tables, shelves, hat racks and anything else he imagines.

He transformed an old storage shed, full of holes and crammed with debris, into his craftsman’s retreat.

“I had to reconstruct part of the beam where it was buckled because it was about to cave in.” he said.

It took four days to clean out the shed and do the necessary repairs in order to make it a safe work environment.

He uses personal tools brought along from home, with the company supply helping with what he lacks. Wood and screws get recycled from scraps others drop off outside his door. “Dumpster-diving” for wood adds to his project supplies. 

Within the first two days, word got out about his talent. One week later, he had 25 projects on back order. He’s completed a total of 192 projects since arriving on Camp Taji and continually gets work orders ranging anywhere from body armor stands to computer desks. 

“If I can make a Soldiers room a little more livable and keep up their morale, that’s great! That is my job as an NCO,” he said.

On an average day, he completes two to three work orders; with a record of fifteen projects in one day. The hardest project, a six by five foot entertainment center with bookshelves, took the sergeant two weeks to finish. Sgt. 1st Class Stout spends his time now working on an ultimate tribute to, “…one man’s trash is another man’s treasure...”; a bumper pool table.

“Every project I build, I look back when done and ask myself ‘What can I do better next time?’” he said.

Many of Stout’s projects will never see the light of the United States. Bridges built to traverse permanent mud puddles, large shelving units and other fruits of his labor to large to fit in a duffle bag find their destinies already written. This doesn’t bother the sergeant one bit.

“It helps me pass the time and it makes me feel good that the next unit will be able to come in and enjoy my projects.” said Stout.


Sgt 1st Class James Stout
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Sgt. 1st Class James Stout with the 15th SB saws through a board to finish one of his many projects, an IBA stand, which takes him a few hours to complete. Working on projects like this, helps pass the time and boost troop morale. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Karly Cooper, 15th SB, PAO)