Kindness to soldiers

Home Depot Foundation renovation project

Back in October, I was at a Wounded Warrior Project event for wives of wounded service members in Utah. They were an amazing bunch of wives. I was in my bedroom one night sleepily checking Facebook as I am part of a few closed pages that serve as resources for other caregivers of wounded veterans and wanted to make sure there wasn’t anyone in my own Austin area group needing critical help.

I saw the post from Heroesnightout.org mentioning a Home Depot Foundation project and that you had to log into the ap on Facebook and vote for them. So, like I do for most of their posts as they are an amazing non-profit that is local to me, I forwarded it on publicly and said,”Please vote for Heroes Night Out.” This voting had been going on for a few weeks, and Heroes Night Out was in a close tie off with Amvets. About an hour or two later, I get a call from the Co-founder, Wes Pierce who tells me that if HNO gets picked as the winner, they are nominating Todd and I to get the prize so we can get our home up to code.

I couldn’t believe it. I said, well, all we need is a riding mower for Todd and a shed to store it in as Todd tries to mow with a push mower and he just can’t do it and like most men, he won’t let me do it, nor will he let our fully capable son do it.

The very last night I was in Utah, it was the end of the contest. I could see that Amvets (also a great organization), was leading. I published a thank you concession post to Facebook and thanked all of the people near and far who voted for us to win. It was astonishing at all of the support from people we did not know. It put tears in my eyes to see how much people support their veterans.

I get another call from Wes, telling me that second place winners get $5k and I thought, “Sweet!!! There is the riding mower and the shed!” I was thrilled. At breakfast, one of my new friends, Taryn Esco (also a fun-loving sass like myself) said,”Tara, I think you won.” I did not believe her as she was smiling in a way that looked like she was kidding. It turns out she was right! The voting was so close and furious that the ap crashed and the Home Depot Foundation awarded the prize to both Amvets Ohio and Heroes Night Out! It was incredible as I did not expect that at all.

I called my husband and was so excited I’m sure I spoke in a tone only dogs could hear and in his typical stoic, calm way (sounds like Eeyore due to his brain injury) he said,”Yes, I know we won. Mrs. Gray told me at band practice early this morning.” I was ready to jump through the ceiling at the thought of $25K worth of home improvements! He was going to take a nap. Isn’t that funny!

Heroes Night Out held a big meeting and press conference with staff from the Home Depot Foundation’s office. They met us and shook our hands and it was incredible. They had so many people there ready to help and pick up a hammer. This was in November and our project was scheduled to begin in January, but we did not get rolling until February because the people putting this together are good and were still working other projects around ours. Let me tell you, we have a beautiful, modern kitchen in which I can have a toaster and a coffee maker on at the same time without blowing a fuse! I also have a nice beautiful central AC and heating system thanks to the awesome guys at Allgood Heating and Air.

It took about three months for the project to be completed. During that time, Heroes Night Out parked their RV in front of our home so Todd had somewhere to go and put his legs up when he was getting fatigued from helping with the projects. It also gave me a temporary kitchen to cook from while ours was being remodeled. It was a huge help.

This was a lengthy project as gutting of our home was needed. The roof where it connected to our wall studs had to be reinforced. There were things not so right that the expert eyes of Bill Bratrud caught. Our home is old, had suffered water and mold and did not have any existing central air conditioning. It had yucky paneling on most of the walls that was moldy. This seriously wrecked havoc on our allergies and asthma for my son and I. Allgood had to do the plumbing and a group of terrific electricians who volunteered from Dell Computer’s Facilities group took care of updating the electrical so we could handle the needs of a beautiful AC unit.

I met Michael Reichert, Manager of Home Depot Pflugerville, Jonathon Sprinkle with Integrity Constructive Solutions, LLC, the Contractor who created the plans for the entire remodel, Bill Bratrud, of Home Depot, who became our main project manager and Faeydra Shworm, of Home Depot, Pflugerville (she is the master behind kitchen planning). http://austincustomremodeling.com/

Jonathon called me and said can we come over and show you the plans? I said sure! The drawing he showed me was amazing. It was our old kitchen that had the clothes washing machine next to its 1950’s Imperial gas stove that was very temperamental. It even showed recessed lighting, dry-walled ceilings, walls, and brand new beautiful cupboards. It looked like the kitchen of a grown-up as everything matched. The people who put our initial kitchen together used whatever scrap cupboards they have so it was a hodgepodge of yuck. We had a roof leak years back while Todd was deployed and I couldn’t repair the asbestos ceiling tiles and they had turned colors and molded during the years. All of that is gone! Jonathon even installed granite counter tops, which was beyond my expectations.

I have beautiful new, reliable and well-insulated appliances. It is amazing how well my new GE Oven works! It is gas, but has the convection in it. It is amazing not having to take hours to bake something as this is new and works like a dream!

More than 2 people can be in my kitchen now, vs before where there was no floor space, certainly no counter space for more than one person to work in there at a time. Now my son can do his chores while I prepare meals. Yay! We even have brand new, energy-efficient windows. No more using a can or a ruler to hold the open windows open like we did with our old windows! These are beautiful. Todd can walk in with his cane and have room to stand in front of the fridge or in front of the counter to grab something to eat and not have any problems.

The Home Depot team put a new shed together in two days! It is really nice and they painted it and put a ramp on it so Todd could drive his riding mower into the shed after he mows the lawn. It was really amazing how fast they put that together.

Home Depot provided most of the volunteer labor and most products needed for all of the projects. Todd, Liam and I are eternally grateful to all of you who contributed to the renovation of our home. It is such an improvement to our daily quality of life. To all of the people who helped with the new shed and the home labor, we can not thank you enough. Our remodel is beautiful and we are amazed that this newly redesigned home is ours.

If you are a veteran in need of repairs to your home, contact your local veterans service organization as they have to contact the Home Depot Foundation on your behalf.

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Welcome Home Todd!

When my husband joined the National Guard back in ’04 it was right after the horrors of 9/11. He was 34 and went through Basic Training and then AIT. He was home for about a month when he received the call he was being sent to Iraq.

We knew he would be sent right over. He picked a MOS (Combat Engineer) that guaranteed that, plus it was what he wanted to do. So there he went, off to Camp Caldwell. There he spent time at Anaconda, Stryker, and more that I don’t know about. He was a gunner and operated the .50 Cal. When I would express concern that he was vulnerable on the top of the vehicles with the giant gun, he said,”Love, don’t worry. No one fucks with the .50 Cal.” He explained that people would scramble from the soldiers when they would see them coming down the road.

Yeah, as if it was just that safe or that easy, right? Well, after spending his time in a group of guys that basically patched up a battalion from Tennessee that needed some Combat Engineers. There he and the few other Texas Guardsmen were looked at like the red-headed bastard step children that show up at a family reunion. All of the promotion slots were given to the Tennesee guys and they supported each other. This is not unusual. When Todd returned home, he went back to Texas and since it was just him returning, there was no ticker tape parade or any sort of big deal made. It was business as usual in Austin. No one on the airplane asked what he was up to or welcomed him home. I make it a point when I am on a plane to inquire on soldiers with combat patches as to if they are coming or going. Usually my son and I will buy them a drink or a snack if they need one.

The only welcome home was the one of his son and I. That was it. Nothing. Months later, he saw in the National Guard magazine, pictures of the Tennessee guys getting their fancy welcome home parade. How nice for them.

Liam and I tried to make it fun, tried to make it a big welcome for him. Two people and a senior citizen dog can only do so much. I know he appreciated it, but I know how really disappointed he was.

When Todd deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, his return home was very exciting, but not in the way any soldier wants it to be. He came home via Medivac. They did not think he would survive the flight from Bagrum Airforce Base in Afghanistan, to Landstuhl Hospital in Germany. To the delight of my son and I, he made it all the way home to Texas. He did not get a parade at that time, either.

It wasn’t until April 19, 2012 that he received the true heroes welcome he really deserved. Thanks to a non-profit group called WarriorBeachRetreat.org, he was truly welcomed. Warrior Beach Retreat is a non-profit started by Linda and Phillip Cope, of Panama City Beach, Florida. They started this group after their son Josh was severely injured in Iraq. They realized how couples really need a source of recreation and fun to help balance with all of the seriousness in life after injuries and PTSD.

On Thursday, April 19, Todd received so many thanks I swear my face was hurting from smiling. There were so many people standing on the main streets and the bridge that went over the water to connect to the other side of the city. It was the prettiest thing I have ever seen. The most touching scene for me was to see the young Navy (forgive me for not remembering what the newbies are called in the Navy) cadets were saluting all along the fence perimeter at the Navy Training Academy. I cried because they saluted us so well as if we were important officers or something. I also looked at them like potential children of mine as they were all around 18 years-old and I am 41. I prayed for their safety when they ever had to face deployment. I never want any of them to end up like my husband.

So many flags, it was the prettiest sight to see.

Here is the prettiest thing ever! Make sure you zoom in so you can see the flags and the townspeople holding them.  After we drove our wonderful red shiny brand spanking new Toyota Camry in the motorcade and saw everyone out with their flags, we went to the First Baptist Church where we got to have dinner and see a wonderful program recognizing our heroes. As soon as the video is available of it, I will post links. It had me crying my eyes out again. It is soo nice to see my husband’s sacrifice being appreciated. So many Viet Nam Veterans stood outside holding flags in formation as we walked by. Todd refused to use a wheel chair and there was a ton of walking. He couldn’t use his leg brace because he was wearing his dress shoes. I admire him so much, even if he is stubborn and causes himself more pain. He walked all the way down to the front row of the auditorium.

After the program, a man came up to me thanking me for my service (which made me cry yet again) and told me how Todd inspired him as he could see the grit and determination held in his firm jaw.  He inspired me as well. He walked so much that his leg was so swollen from the day before. It did not bother him. He kept on. He walked because he could. Everyone smiled at him. After the program was over, we were put in the foyer to sit and meet and greet the people that came for the program. I am so glad Linda gave us our own box of tissues as it was very emotional watching Todd process the welcome he very much needed. It was cathartic for both of us. I have always felt badly that he never had the parade or anything the media shows many soldiers receiving. I can proudly say he was welcomed home.

The Copes have done tremendously with their group and it was truly a blessing for us. I have not seen my husband smile in so long. He was actually giggling and he told me he had fun while playing on the beach in a Beach Scoot. This was graciously provided for us by the owners of the company. The Scoot looks like a Gator and a Rascal had a baby with really fat tires so it can maneuver on the sand. Fabulous!

Here is a picture of Todd sitting on the Beach Scoot. Note the smile. He was kind of tired, but still happy in this shot. 

That killer smile – note the appearance of dimples. Indicators of a good time.

That beach was so nice I never wanted to leave. Here we are on the far right.

Here are some other couples with us on the beach. As you can see, they were a blast and the beach at St. Andrew’s State Park in Panama City was gorgeous. Some of the softest sand I have ever felt and the water was clear, unlike the murky water I have seen in the Atlantic on the other side of Florida.

We were flown to the event thanks to www.aircompassionforveterans.org. That was really nice. We never have been the recipients of such huge amounts of kindness like this, it was absolutely mindblowing.
We got to stay at the Wyndham Bay Point resort, which was gorgeous.
Here is their web link so you can see better quality pictures of the place as mine don’t do it justice.
http://www.wyndhambaypoint.com/?gclid=CJub27DY0a8CFQ7Ctgod8lDMEw

We can’t thank the Spa Director enough. The wives of the soldiers got to go to the Spa at the Wyndham or go Deep Sea Fishing. Of course I opted for the Spa. Good decision, hands down. I got a lovely deep tissue massage and custom facial. My skin looked amazing. I didn’t even want to wear face powder on it for the rest of the trip, they made it look so good. They made us feel so pampered and spoiled, much like movie stars or royalty or something. I honestly did not want to leave. I joked to my husband,”Is there a button we can push so our son can be sent here and our dog, too?”

I can’t thank The Copes enough and I will write again about some of the other activities. It is time for bed as I have hit the ground running since coming home on Monday. It has been doctors appointments as usual. Today was a 4 hour marathon at the VA. Goodnight, all. More to come.

With a big smile in my heart and on my face, I close this one.