REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The house at 148 Autumn Cove in Madison is more than just four walls and a roof. For Cpl. Brandon Johnson and his wife Tiffany, it will be home.
The deserving wounded warrior and his family, which includes daughters Amy and Rebecca, and son Michael, will receive the keys to their new house for the first time come Veterans Day, in a Home Dedication ceremony from 3 to 5 p.m. All are invited to welcome the Johnsons as they unlock the door to the newest chapter in their lives, made possible by Operation FINALLY HOME and Jeff Benton Homes.
"We're excited about having a home, just having a place of our own that we can make memories and raise our kids," Tiffany said.
The Johnsons received word June 27 in a surprise groundbreaking ceremony, that they would be the recipients of a mortgage-free home, located in Legacy Cove off Zierdt Road in Madison. The family thought they were one of two families being considered for the new home. When they arrived at their new address to hear the words, "Welcome to your new homesite," they were left speechless.
"It was just shock from there on out," Johnson said.
Johnson was only 17 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps, having heard that they were the "best and hardest." Serving in the Marines for just under four years, his plan to become a "lifer" was cut short by an IED blast during his deployment to Iraq that left him with a traumatic brain injury, post traumatic stress disorder, degenerative disc disease, arthritis in his back and complex regional pain syndrome. With nerve damage in his left leg, Johnson is constantly in pain, no matter what the sensation -- air, water, clothing -- anything that moves the hairs on his leg hurts immensely.
His time in Iraq also left emotional scars.
"There's a lot that has come from my time in the military, both good and bad," said Johnson, who said he would've stayed in for 20 or 30 years had the Marines let him. "It has definitely skewed my view of people and being trusting. In Iraq you never knew what you were going to come across. I used to be able to look at a person and decide, 'That's a good person,' or 'That's a bad person, I've got to watch out for them.' But after being in Iraq and being fired on by kids, elderly people -- we had a 4-year-old used against us as a bomb, an IED, their parents blew them up -- it's definitely given me a view of the worst humans can be.
"But then when I got back here and there's so many people who care -- it's taken me a long time to get me back to where I am now, and I have come a long way."
The Johnson's new home is the ultimate symbol of that love and generosity that has helped change his opinion about the world, love that is encased in the walls of their new home. Members of the community were invited to write messages of encouragement and congratulations on the studs of the walls Aug. 21.
"They'll always be in the home," Tiffany said. "They don't even know us, but it's all good wishes for great things for our future."
The 2,600 square foot home, complete with four bedrooms and three and a half baths, is a far cry from their 1,000 square foot rental in Gurley, where the family is in tight quarters. Each child has their own bedroom with its own theme -- camouflage and military for Michael, under the sea for Rebecca and safari for Amy. Johnson himself even gets his own space for a "man cave" within the home, where he can showcase his Crimson Tide and Marines gear. The move will enable the kids to ride their bikes freely, and the Johnsons to do something together they love, cook.
The house is also handicap accessible, if and when that day should come for Johnson, with zero entry doors, widened doorways, an intercom system, and cameras both inside and outside the home.
"We don't think about it, but we don't put it far away," Tiffany said of the chance that her husband may one day be wheelchair bound.
In addition to the new home, the couple were also able to make a wish list, in the event there were resources left over. At the top of that list is a new kitchen table, where they can share in meals together as a family, as well as a couch large enough for them to snuggle and spend time with one another.
"The possibilities are endless, and every door is open," Tiffany said.
Operation FINALLY HOME provides wounded and disabled veterans, as well as survivors of the nation's fallen heroes, with a place to call home. The national nonprofit brings together corporate sponsors, builder associations, builders and developers to build the homes. About 60 have been completed nationwide.