REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--It will literally be the key to a new way of life.

Cpl. Jeffery Williams was on his first deployment to Iraq in 2004 when the Humvee he was riding in was involved in an IED ambush, killing two of his fellow Soldiers and paralyzing him from the chest down. Seven years after the attack that destined him to live the rest of his life in a wheelchair, Williams is about to reclaim his independence.

In appreciation for his service and his sacrifice, within the year, Williams will become a homeowner, thanks to Homes for Our Troops, a national nonprofit organization that builds specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans, at no cost to them. Gone will be the wheelchair scuffs on the walls of the apartment he currently lives in that is not handicap accessible, and the limitations he has faced because of it; with the keys to his brand new home comes a renewed sense of pride and privacy. Local individuals and professional tradesmen are encouraged to donate material, equipment, services and money to help build the home for Williams. Tod Yarbrough with Renaissance Builders Inc. in Madison has been named the general contractor for the project.

"If anyone thought for a second about what these guys are doing for us, why wouldn't you want to do something for them'" Yarbrough said.

Since its inception in 2004, Homes for Our Troops has built 100 homes nationwide and is aiming for 100 more. Williams' home will be the third home built by the organization in Alabama, the first two completed in Irvington in 2008 and Trussville in 2010. Each veteran is given the opportunity to select the city he would like to live in, the floor plan, which typically runs around 2,600 square feet, as well as the colors. The homes are completely handicap accessible - front doors are flush with the ground eliminating the need for any ramps, hallways and doorways are wider and showers, stoves and other everyday items are easy to get to.

"It's more than just a home," said Larry Gill, veterans' liaison for Homes for Our Troops. "It's going to renew his independence."

Once the foundation and rough plumbing is complete on Williams' home near Nick Davis Road, currently awaiting sale of the land to close, more than 200 volunteers will inundate the site for a weekend in what is called a "build brigade," transforming the site to a full weather tight house, a job completed in three days as opposed to 10 weeks. Skilled workers are given the tools of their trade, while unskilled workers help move materials, serve meals and assist in other ways that don't require them to pick up a hammer. Typically within 90 to 120 days of the build brigade, the veteran is handed the keys to their brand new home.

"The turnout from the local communities is really what drives the success of our programs," Gill said. "We simply couldn't do what we do without them. It would not mean near as much to both the veteran and their family and the community. There's enough people in the U.S. that want to get involved and do something to say 'thank you' to these wounded troops. We provide that tool for them."

It is that connection between the veteran and the men and women that are reaching out to do something good for them, that makes the building process that much more special and the home, as a result, that much better. In an industry where most builders never get to meet the men and women that inhabit their livelihood, a unique bond is forged.

"If it's not plumb or square, it's just not good enough," Gill said.

For Gill, the connection between him and the wounded warriors he works with is ever apparent as well. It was a grenade attack in Iraq in October 2003 that robbed Gill of his ability to serve in combat, but his desire to continue to serve that brought him to Homes for Our Troops.

"I realized from my injuries that I would be retiring," Gill said. "I saw that as an opportunity. I had accepted the fact that I could no longer take care of troops on the battlefield, so I could help take care of them in the aftermath.

"It could have very easily been me. I was unlucky enough to have permanent injuries to my legs, but I've still got them. I think that brings a certain sense of understanding when we're dealing with these veterans."

To learn more about Homes for Our Troops, or to donate time, talent, materials or money, visit www.homesforourtroops.com or call 866-7-TROOPS. Monetary donations can be made at any Regions Bank in the Huntsville/Madison area.

"These men and women that are hurt, they are an asset to anywhere they want to live," Gill said. "The neighbors see who these homes are being built for and they're saddened on one hand because of the severity of their injuries, but they're happy because they know they're getting a good, sound, quality neighbor. Automatically the people know the caliber and integrity of the people moving into their neighborhood."

Page last updated Fri May 6th, 2011 at 00:00