America Supports You: Partners Fix Wounded Soldier's Home
By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 26, 2006 Grassroots and corporate supporters came together May 24 at the home of Army Sgt. 1st Class Juanita Wilson here to honor and support her as she continues serving her country.
This is the fourth home repair project taken on by "Serving Those Who Serve," which was started in September by "Rebuilding Together," the nation's largest volunteer homebuilding organization, and backed by Countrywide Financial Corp.
"I'm very, very grateful for everything that you guys have done, the things you are doing, and the things that you will continue to do for the soldiers that are coming home," Wilson said at a news conference to volunteers helping refurbish her home. Wilson is one of 11 women injured in combat so far in the war on terror, having lost her left hand in Iraq on Aug. 21, 2004, when a roadside bomb detonated under her vehicle. She was treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and given a prosthetic limb. She chose to re-enlist in April and now serves as a supply sergeant in the Active Guard/Reserve Program.
Patricia Johnson, president and chief executive officer of Rebuilding Together, spoke about the goals behind Serving Those Who Serve. "This program is about providing assistance -- home rehabilitation modification -- for soldiers, military men and women, who return from Iraq or Afghanistan and who have sustained life-changing injuries," she said.
The nonprofit organization is a member of "America Supports You," a Defense Department program highlighting grassroots and corporate support for the nation's servicemembers and their families.
Wilson's example is "an inspiration" to all Americans, said Johnson. "As a mother and a soldier, she entered a combat zone, and, after sustaining a significant injury, she chose to return to the military because she understands the importance of keeping our country safe and secure," she said.
Johnson thanked Countrywide, primary sponsor of Serving Those Who Serve. The company also is sponsoring a program to rebuild 1,000 homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.
Rick Simon, a spokesman for Rebuilding Together, said the three previous projects completed by Serving Those Who Serve have been more invasive to servicemembers' homes because those troops were in wheelchairs. Changes to Wilson's house will focus on making life easier for Wilson and her 7-year-old daughter. Improvements include installing handrails throughout the home, re-arranging storage areas, landscaping, enhancing the lighting outside, replacing the doorknobs with lever handles, installing rocker wall switches and installing an upgraded security system.
Wilson said she had been worried about security since her husband, Charles, joined the Army and will be away for a long time.
Help from several companies and government groups made the project successful, and representatives from many of them were on hand, including John Ciresi of Countrywide, John Mills of the TW Perry building materials supply company, Justin Hayes from U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski's office, Laurie Atherholt from the Maryland Department of Veteran's Affairs, several members of the Maryland legislature, and radio personalities from the morning show at Baltimore radio station WIYY, "98 Rock." The radio station presented Wilson with a new home alarm system and two years of free service.
Ciresi, a Vietnam-era veteran, said at least 15 people from Countrywide gave up a day of work to help fix the house. Several volunteers spoke of their personal and family connections to the military.
"As I listen to the comments, I'm struck by the number of persons here who have personal relationships with the military, past and present, and that shows that the connection here is not an abstract one, but truly a personal one. And that is greatly appreciated," said Brig. Gen. William Waff, deputy commanding general of the 99th Regional Readiness Command of the Army Ready Reserve.
He joked that it is sometimes difficult to honor soldiers like Wilson, a senior noncommissioned officer who shuns the spotlight. Then he turned to her and said, "Sergeant Wilson, you have honored the country at least three times: once by your initial enlistment into the Army, second, by your service in Iraq and being awarded the Purple Heart and the Combat Action Badge, and then by re-enlisting on April 6. ... We thank you for your service to the Army and the nation."