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A Place to Call Home

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A Place to Call Home

Last January, the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, Nev. played host to some of the industry’s largest names and brands. However, it was one of the industry’s own nonprofit organizations, Operation FINALLY HOME, that stole the show.

The Texas-based organization, established in 2005, provides wounded and disabled veterans and widows of the fallen with custom built, mortgage free homes. At the 2013 IBS tradeshow, Operation FINALLY HOME in conjunction with American Country Countdown with Kix Brooks and LP Building Products rallied building industry professionals to join them in their mission.

Often after fighting overseas, severely wounded and disabled service members return home only to combat extreme hardships of a different kind, from physical and emotional disabilities to financial ruin, joblessness and homelessness. That’s where Operation FINALLY HOME comes in, with partners like LP and American Country Countdown, to address the number one need of these returning heroes: a home of their own.

At a private Kix Brooks concert during IBS last year, builders from across the country committed to build six homes over two years for wounded soldiers all over the U.S. in partnership with LP and American Country Countdown, an estimated $2.4 million commitment.

“The sense of community in our industry has always set us apart. I’ve never seen it more evident than when I watched these builders come forward to offer their time and resources in order to provide homes for our nation’s veterans,” said Rick Olszewski, executive vice president of specialty products, sales and marketing at LP Building Products. “Our company is honored to be a part of an effort bringing together so many companies and people across the industry in support of these wounded heroes.”

The first of these sponsored homes was built for Army Cpl. Christopher Bales. Stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky. in the 3/187 Infantry 3rd Brigade, he served two tours of duty, deployed to Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and redeployed to Afghanistan in 2010. On his second tour of duty in May 2010, the father of three sons was on patrol in Afghanistan when he saw his troops heading into an ambush. Acting as a deterrent, he and his spotter purposely drove into plain view of enemy fire. Bales was shot in the lower back almost immediately and then again in the left thigh shortly after. The latter wound destroyed all the nerves providing mobility and control to his lower left leg. His sacrifice in action earned the soldier a Purple Heart.

Nashville-based builder Carbine & Associates surprised U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Luke Van Dorston on stage at LP Field in Nashville during the CMA fest in June with an announcement of a new home. The property in the Kings’ Chapel community of Arrington, Tenn., was donated by the development. The groundbreaking took place in late September, and the home will be completed this spring.

As a highly decorated combat veteran with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Van Dorston flew over 140 combat missions, was involved in more than 64 direct action raids, and directed 194 Close Air Support missions. The 33-year-old’s combat engagements earned him two bronze stars, one with valor for heroism. In 2011, Van Dorston was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He and his wife have a one-year-old son.

Classica Homes of Charlotte, N.C. also joined forces with LP, American Country Countdown and Operation FINALLY HOME, committing to build a custom home in Huntersville, N.C. for Iraq veteran U.S. Army Sgt. Ronny Wiley and his family. The home was presented to Wiley and his family in December.

Wiley served in the Army for 17 years, including two tours in Iraq, receiving numerous medals throughout his military career. It was during his second tour in Iraq that he hit an IED while behind the wheel of a Humvee, suffering a traumatic brain injury. Degenerative disk disease also limits his physical abilities, while severe post-traumatic stress disorder keeps him significantly homebound. Bill Saint, president of Classica Homes, said he was proud to build a new home for Sgt. Wiley and his family because it was simply the right thing to do to honor his service.

Operation FINALLY HOME teamed up with Ironwood Homes to surprise U.S. Army Specialist Nathan Mason during a concert at the Iowa State Fair in August. There, he and his wife learned that the Des Moines–based builder along with Knapp Properties and supplier Gilcrest/Jewett would be providing their family with a brand new home.

Mason earned a Purple Heart after he was injured in Afghanistan when his guard duty position was ambushed with RPGs and small arms fire. He received a gunshot wound to the leg and a skull fracture upon his fall. Specialist Mason joined the Army in September 2005 and served in Operation Enduring Freedom through January 2007. He and his wife, Cassie, have two children.

The fifth build in the works will be home to combat veteran U.S. Army Sergeant Stephen Jackel and his family. Sgt. Jackel served several tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and his long list of service awards includes a Purple Heart, an ARCOM-4 Award for Valor and an Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two Bronze Stars, among others.

In August 2011, Sgt. Jackel’s convoy was performing security duties in Afghanistan when an IED exploded under his vehicle. He helped save the lives of his team by pulling them from the burning vehicle while physically putting out a fire with his own leg. His injuries resulted in bilateral leg amputations as well as a traumatic brain injury.

He was surprised by Operation FINALLY HOME, LP and American Country Countdown on stage during a Kix Brooks concert last September. with the news that Dallas area homebuilder Tim Jackson Custom Homes would be building he and his family a home. Groundbreaking was underway by October.

Since 2005, Operation FINALLY HOME has built more than 100 homes for wounded and disabled veterans and their widows and families. These first five builds in their partnership with LP and American Country Countdown served to reinforce among those in the building industry the importance of honoring those who have sacrificed so much.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Kix Brooks at IBS last year. “Our goal was to raise awareness of Operation FINALLY HOME and their mission to take care of our soldiers when they get back home. We never expected the overwhelming response we got. Turns out, so many of us are looking for ways to give back to those who have given so much for our country. Being a part of this effort with Operation FINALLY HOME and LP is an amazing way to do just that.”

Dan Wallrath, founder of Operation FINALLY HOME, agreed, saying these builds and the partnership between LP, American Country Countdown and builders all over the country has been tremendously impactful on his organization. “The momentum of support felt from the building industry reinforces the importance of our organization and mission to enable the valiant men and women from our armed forces to more easily transition from the battlefront to new productive lives back home.”

Home is where the heart is, after all, and nobody understands that better than Operation FINALLY HOME. Their single-minded vision to provide custom-built, mortgage-free homes to so many deserving veterans across the country is inspirational to say the least; but for the nonprofit, it’s all in day’s work.

This information and the websites identified above are provided solely as a convenience to the reader. They are not intended to state or imply that the editors of Engineered Wood or LP Building Products sponsor, recommend, endorse or are affiliated or associated with the companies or products listed.