In Washington, D.C., last Friday the 23-year-old Elizabethtown actress donned a tool belt, grabbed a paintbrush and got to work. Her assignment? To help the volunteer group "Serving Those Who Serve" retro-fit the home of Sgt. Robert Bonner – who lost his legs while serving in Iraq – to make it wheelchair accessible.
"It's really important for me to give back to the veterans, to the men and women who are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, whose lives have been upended with disabilities or are even just trying to get back into their normal lives," Biel told PEOPLE.
Biel, who has a cousin stationed in Iraq, had a chance to meet Bonner and his family. "It felt good to be able to put a face to a name and see the family that has been going through major changes and trying to get their life back to what it was before he left for war," she said.
"What the public often doesn’t understand is how much (our troops) have gone through and how difficult it is to regain normalcy in life, especially with a disability."
Biel said that before her volunteer experience, even she didn’t fully understand the sacrifices our solders and their families make. "It just wasn't in my life. I couldn't taste it, I couldn't feel it. But now I see how much these soldiers need to know that we support them, respect them and honor them."