In early 2009, while I was thumbing through Green Builder Magazine just before leaving the office, I stumbled upon an advertisement for homesforourtroops.org, a 501C, Non-profit orgnization which builds specially adapted homes for severely diasbled Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans. The ad sparked deeply buried personal emotions of mine from my experiences in Desert Storm as an Marine Armor Officer, in 2nd Tank Battalion, 2d Marine Division, out of Camp Lejeune, NC., and my early departure from service when I was transferred to the "Permantly Disabled-Retired List" as a newly mented Major. I never, ever expected how a saying that, "I once complained of not having new shoes until I met a man without any feet" often recited by one of my former Gunnery Sergeants would ring in my ears almost 20 years later during my journey as a volunteer contractor for Homes For our Troops.
After absorbing the advertisement for Homes For Our Troops, I phoned one of my mentors, Gary Palmer, to find out if he thought Birmingham's leaders could get behind one of the Homes For Our Troops projects. Since I am authoring this blog, I will take license by describing Gary as a great Christian, American, Southern Gentleman. Gary is the President of the Alabama Policy Institute (API), a non-profit conservative think tank which protects Alabama's Christian-Family oriented values (Grossly understated). Gary reminded me that a former colleague of his at API, Bart Fletcher was a senior officer at the Greater Birmingham Area Home Builder's Association, and would certainly be clued into these sort of projects. It proved to be a small world because I had once flown both Gary and Bart on a trip that was sponsored by yet another great gentleman, Robert "Bo" F. Stanford, President of American Printing Co., Birmingham, AL.
It turns out that Bart Fletcher had already been working with Ryanne Noss, the wife of U.S. Army Ranger Staff Sergeant Scot Noss, in her quest for suitable housing for she and Scot in the aftermath of a horrific event while Scot was serving in Afghanistan. After listening to Bart's account of the Noss' journey, I knew that I was all in. Right there, at that moment, I committed myself to see that Scot and RyAnne had a friend in Birmingham. I have a wonderful wife, beautiful children, a good career; however, I had not felt the intense emotional commitment that I felt that afternoon, since 2d Tanks launched forward into the oil field abyss in Desert Storm. When I told Bart that I was all in, he simply said, "God Is Good". I would soon learn just how much.
Bart was attacking RyAnne's house hunting from a few different angles, one of which was as a POC for Homes For Our Troops. Homes For Our Troops, as described above, was founded by Mr. John Gonzalves, and is headquartered in Taunton, Mass. Their official website is at www.homesforourtroops.org. At this stage, Bart introduced me to the Homes For Our Troops project manager, Mike Duckett, which had been working with RyAnne. Mike handles about a dozen projects at any given time, and was understandably scrutinizing of my abilities to handle one of his projects. I promised him that I could not possibly build a specially adapted home on my own, but that I was surrounded by a great number of patriotic citizens that wouldn't allow me to screw things up. I suspect being backed up by Bart, Gary, Bo, and others, Mike decided to pull the trigger, and destiny was set. Ray Building Company was going to lead the Noss project.
Early in the project's life, I recruited Lamar Moore to help us with the dirt work, Bart Carr to help us with the engineering, Arch Trulock to help with architectural oversight, and Nancy Cox and Reb Baker for Design and Quality Control. Our build team, complemented with the Gardendale, AL equivelant to the Unsinkable Molly Brown, Christina Leigh Brooks, and U.S. Army Sergeant Noah Galloway, a double amputee veteran from the Iraq War, set forth on a public relations blitz and final design work for the future Noss Residence. Witnessing the sincere generosity and commitment of everyone that we came into contact with was almost overwhelming. The Southern Living, Green, Specially Adapted house design was the first of it's kind to be involved in by myself and many others. Some of our subcontractor leaders included Patrick Leonard (Plumbing Professionals), Mark Anderson (Advanced Electrric Co.), Bama Painting, Blake Sanders (Aero Mechanical), Joe Harvel Framing, Alabama Power Co., Automated Fire Systems, Betsy Bloodworth Hayes (Blackjack Gardens-Landscape Design Division), Tommy Trimm (Trimm Landscaping), Joe Howle (Vulcan Materials). Other contributors included Accu-Blinds, Attic Insulation Co., Nelson Glass Co., David Harrison (NeedCo.), Joe Little (Stone Concepts), Mike Luther (Allsouth Appliance),Angie Little and Jesse (Don's Carpet One), Cheri Davis and Michelle Blackwell (Crossville Tile Co.), Brett Bartlett (Hannah Tile and Marble), Bobby Tolleson (Tolleson Masonry), Dunkin Donuts, Sheriton Hotels, Sunshine Supply, Michael Tortomase (Sentry Plumbing), Brent Chapple and Tebra Davis (V&W Supply), Fergusan Supply, Paul Earle (Colonial Properties), The Overhead Door Company of Birmingham, Steve Bate (Bate Elevator), Steve Horton (HD Innovations), Drainright Guttering, Ron Luvell (Alabama Concrete Finishes), Alabama Mailbox Company, USA Concrete, Kirkpatrick Cement, Sherman Concrete, Carl Jones (CPK Concrete), and Mayer Electric Co.
Being situated in the Trussville, AL inspection jurisdiction, we outreached to Mayor Melton's office for support, and were in turn, practically adopted by every city official. Make no mistake about it, we had to do our home work, and meet all building codes, but everyone at the City of Trussville, were extremely cooperative. Building Inspector's Dan Sergeant and Ron Smith were very professional and taught us alot about Building Code, without being condescinding in any way whatsoever. In many respects, our relationship was more as teacher-pupil. It was obvious that we all had a commn goal; to get the job done!
Another element to our build team were the various patriotic supporters. These individuals and groups represent the heart of our core beliefs of God and Country. I do want to call out as many as possible:
Paul Marrs, Frank and Ann May, Navy Sea Cadets of Trussville, Janet Stewart, Betsy Stewart, Irondale Baptist Church, Carpenters For Christ, Marvin's Supply of Trussville, Bill Morrison, and Sunblet Rentals.
Our project took many turns as we battled weather, terrain, economic strains, and design adjustments, but by the grace of god, Birmingham paid due repsect to Scot and RyAnne, and rose to the occassion. As we turned over the keys to RyAnne on the Key Awarding Ceremony, there were certain ironies to the conscience; however, with open eyes and clarity of mind, I witnessed more good than evil on that day, and my old Gunny's saying, " I once complained of not having new shoes until I met a man without any feet," hit me in the stomach like a ton of bricks. The basic truth of the matter is that somewhere out there, there is someone worse off, or less fortunate than yourself that needs your help. The Alabama Homes For Our Troops Coordinator, Larry Gill, most appropriately said that Homes For Our Troops is ready to begin its second 100 homes, but that he wished that he didn't have to build another. Well Larry, we don't either, but we will!
Thank you Homes For Our Troops, my wife Marguerite, Bart, Gary, Bo, all of the volunteers and participants, and most importantly, God Bless America and Staff Sergeant Scot and RyAnne Noss.