Contractor Rob O'Brien is an active-duty Marine. In August 2005, when he learned he was to be deployed to Iraq, he fully expected to participate in some of the riskier support operations his unit would be performing from its base in Al Anbar Province. But during training, his commanding officer found out he was a builder, and Staff Sgt. O'Brien received a single assignment: Build housing for the senior staff members on the base so that they could move out of the aircraft hangars serving as their home.

O'Brien knew that finding supplies and tools would be a challenge. Only a few basic materials — 1-inch, 3/4-inch, and 3/8-inch plywood; 2x6x16s and 2x12x16s — are shipped from the States and stored on base. Before departing, he contacted a number of tool manufacturers for contributions; DeWalt responded with some saws and cordless tools, and...

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