By Sgt. Robert Schaffner, Jr., Fort Stewart Public AffairsJanuary 28, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Hundreds of volunteers made up of community members, Soldiers and contractors turned out on the morning of Jan. 21, to begin construction of a specially-adapted home for one of their own, Staff Sgt. Jason Letterman, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
Letterman lost both of his legs in an improvised explosive device blast in May 2008, when the gun truck he was riding in rolled over a pressure wire, causing an explosion that threw the vehicle 20 feet into the air. All of the passengers in the vehicle were severely injured. The driver was mortally wounded.
Support for this worthwhile effort was so strong that it has been called the largest build brigade turn out since the organization "Homes for Our Troops" began building homes for seriously-injured servicemembers in 2004. Letterman's home, in Hinesville, Ga., is the 86th home to be built by Homes for Our Troops at no cost to the injured servicemember.
"Due to the overwhelming turn out, this is the first time that we have run out of hats and t-shirts for the volunteers for a 'build brigade,'" said Doreen Lewis, the community outreach coordinator for Homes for Our Troops. The organization refers to the group of volunteers who help build the homes as a "build brigade."
The effects of the massive and enthusiastic volunteer support was witnessed and felt by many, including 3rd Infantry Division senior leaders.
"The cohesion and strength of this outfit is still sky-high, even after seven, eight, nine years of combat and a treadmill of constant deployments. We still got it," said Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo, 3rd Infanty Division commander, who helped raise the first wall of Letterman's home, Jan. 21. "There are no words to describe his family of 3rd ID Soldiers out here. It's amazing."
The community-involved weekend, which took place Jan. 21-23, was set in three phases - with a goal each day. On day one, the walls were all standing, roof trusses were set and sheathing the roof began, said Larry Archer, the Homes for Our Troops construction manager for the Letterman home project. On day two, the roof sheathing was completed and shingles were installed and exterior doors and windows were set; on day three, brick was laid around all four sides of the home.
The contractors were not alone on the job every night until almost midnight, preparing the home and ensuring to meet the rigorous schedule.
"Jason has been here at all hours, including every night, shaking every hand and thanking everyone he possibly can," said Steve Will, an assistant project manager for Hardin Construction of Savannah, the company that volunteered to be the general contractor for the Letterman home. As he spoke, Letterman was sitting in his wheelchair parked on dark roadway in front of his new home, despite the frigid 30 degree temperature Saturday night.
"Meeting Jason has been a very humbling experience," Will said.
Letterman is thankful for the new home that he, his wife Elena and their three sons; Daniel, 12, Nathaniel, 11, and Alexander, 5, will live in, because he now won't have to worry about many of the things most people take for granted.
"It's going to a huge change now," Letterman. "I don't have to worry about getting into the bathroom in my house. I won't have to worry about getting into all the rooms in my house. The counter tops will all be down at my level, so everything will be easier for me. You can't put a price tag on that.
"I think it's unbelievable, in this time, in the state this country is in, that people still want to volunteer and do all the things they're doing for veterans," he continued. "We really, really appreciate it. I can't put into words how huge it is what you're doing for us to make our lives easier."
The home for Letterman, who is now retired from the Army, is expected to be completed mid-February.