Staff Sgt. Jason Letterman lit up as he described how Alex, his 5-year old son, couldn’t wait to help build the specially adapted house where his father, 12-year old brother Daniel and mother Elena will make a lasting home.
"Alex looked at us and asked, ‘We’re building a house? But there are only four of us. We’re going to need tools,’" Letterman said, quoting his eager little boy. "So he ran into the (apartment) laundry room and got out his toolbox."
Along with little Alex, who helped his big brother Daniel hammer some nails into blocks of wood, around 200 volunteers from Fort Stewart and Liberty County arrived at the Homes for Our Troops build site Friday morning. The Lettermans’ new home is in the Oak Crest subdivision on Forest Street in Hinesville.
Larry Archer, HFOT Build Brigade construction manager, told volunteers they were "most special," as organizers ran out of red HFOT T-shirts because so many people came to help. "This has never happened before," Archer said.
Homes for Our Troops is a national nonprofit organization with a mission to build specially adapted homes for service members severely injured in combat operations since Sept. 11, 2001, HFOT spokesperson Kaitlin Sanderson said. Letterman broke several bones, suffered liver lacerations and traumatic brain injuries and was left a double amputee following a roadside bomb explosion in Farasiyah, Iraq, in May 2008.
Before raising the walls on the wounded warrior’s new house, a ceremony was held to acknowledge Letterman’s service and sacrifice.
"This morning is all about strength," 3rd Infantry Division commander Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo said. "It’s about the strength of a NCO whose spirit would not die."
Cucolo said he first met Letterman at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where the sergeant was receiving treatment for his severe injuries. Letterman told the general he wanted to go back to work, training other soldiers.
"I committed to that, that day," Cucolo said.
Lt. Gen. William G. Webster, a former Fort Stewart commander who is now commanding general, Third Army, served with Letterman from 2003-2006.
"Kimberly (Webster’s wife) and I decided we just had to come back and be a part of this," Webster said.
During the ceremony, Cathy O’Hagan, store retail operations executive with VIP Office Furniture & Supply and Caesar Walker, general manager of Applebee’s restaurant in Flemington, presented a $3,050 check to HFOT. Applebee’s hosted three pancake breakfasts last year to raise funds for the build.
Russ Aldridge, with Hardin Construction Company, said the build was a way to show gratitude for Letterman’s sacrifice and give him "the freedoms so many of us take for granted." "A handshake, a hug, a thank you," falls short for "soldiers like Letterman," Aldridge said.
During the three-day build construction workers, with the help of volunteers, will frame, side, and roof the house and install windows and doors.
"The 2,600-square-foot single-level specially adapted home will feature large door openings and wide hallways, hard surfaced floors, roll-under work areas in the kitchen and a master bath with large roll-in shower," Sanderson explained. "The adapted home provides Staff Sgt. Letterman maximum freedom of movement and the ability to live more independently."
"Right now, I can’t help around the house; sinks are too high, doorways too narrow," Letterman said. "I’m most excited to have peace of mind knowing I’ll be able to do anything I want in my new home. I can help Elena cook dinner and wash the dishes and then put my boys to bed at night.
"This house shows how much everyone in the community and organizations like Homes for Our Troops care about veterans like me, who have been injured," he continued. "I feel really grateful to be given something like this."
Letterman stressed there are more veterans like him, some triple amputees, needing specially adapted homes such as HFOT can provide.
"It’s amazing to see everything fall into place, brick by brick, board by board," Letterman said the day of the build. The Army veteran added he was truly moved by the support of so many people involved with the project.
For more information, visit www.homesforourtroops.org.