Turning a Hero’s Hardship Into a Home

Soon after his 18th birthday, U.S. Army Sergeant Ethan LaBerge followed his lifelong dream of enlisting in the Army. He was deployed twice to Afghanistan during his five years of service.

In May 2012, Ethan arrived at Fort Campbell and was placed in the storied unit of 1st battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment. During a combat mission, his life was forever changed.

Ethan’s platoon was leaving a meeting with a local official in Afghanistan when a civilian detonated a suicide vest about 10 feet from his group. The blast resulted in two deaths and multiple casualties. He was left in critical condition. 

Ethan suffered a concussion, many broken bones and head-to-toe shrapnel wounds. He still battles post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury. To date, he has undergone 11 surgeries, and still struggles with memory loss, intense pain and cognitive challenges. He medically retired in 2016. 

For his service, Ethan was awarded a Purple Heart, a Combat Infantry Badge, an Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars, and more.

Army Vets Ethan and Arin Have a New Home

The challenges Ethan and his wife, Arin – also an Army veteran – will face for the rest of their lives are obvious. And this is exactly why Operation Finally Home was established.

Recently this organization based in New Braunfels, Texas informed Ethan and Arin they would be recipients of a brand new, mortgage-free home in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.

​​Ethan and Arin were surprised with the news that they were receiving a mortgage-free home on Veterans Day 2020 at the Grand Ole Opry.

In August 2021, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the couple, their young daughter and infant son moved into the home.It was a dream come true for the LaBerges, thanks to Beazer Homes, Ashlar Development and Operation Finally Home.

Grateful Family Excited About the Future

“When we first found out about receiving the free house, I was shocked,” Ethan said. “Immediately my mind began racing with everything we needed to accomplish before moving.

“And that was quickly followed by the possibilities this opened up for my kids. My excitement quickly grew when Arin and I began talking about everything this means for our family.”

“When we were able to see our home completely finished,” Arin said, “I was so excited. This home is where our kids will grow up and play. Our safe place.

“Picturing family meals, holidays, birthdays… I couldn’t help but feel overwhelming gratitude. We can’t thank everyone involved enough.”  

Mt. Juliet Community Responds

Rusty Carroll has been the executive director of Operation Finally Home since 2013.

Here’s what he told WTVF, the Nashville CBS television affiliate following the ceremony. 

“We just felt like they were a model for the type of veterans and families that the community wants to come together, support and provide them the foundation so they can continue to move forward.” 

Rusty said what really stood out to him regarding the event was how enthusiastic the community was. “From the city manager to police officers to the fire department, they were all there to honor Ethan and Arin with their presence and flag presentations. That was what was unique.”

4Patriots Donates Preparedness Bundle

Based in nearby Nashville, 4Patriots did not want to miss an opportunity to help these folks get started in their new home. 4Patriots employees attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and presented the family with an emergency preparedness bundle to cover their basic food, water and power needs.

The items included a 4-Week Survival Food Kit, a Survival Sweets Kit, two Solar Sentry Security Lights, three Blackout Beacon Emergency Lights, two HaloXT Tactical Flashlights, a Patriot Power Sidekick generator, an Ultimate Water Filtration System and a USB-Basic Rechargeable Battery Kit. 

Lori Naylor is an account payment specialist at 4Patriots. Arin and Ethan are her daughter and son-in-law.

“I want to thank 4Patriots and my co-workers who came to the ceremony and showed tremendous support for my family and other veterans as well,” Lori said. “I have never been so proud to work for a company than I am 4Patriots. Thank you again.”

Lifting a Financial Burden

Operation Finally Home is a national nonprofit organization that brings together homebuilders, remodelers, building suppliers, and supporters to provide custom-built, free homes and home modifications for America’s wounded, ill and injured veterans, first responders, their spouses and families. 

It was founded in 2005 by Dan Wallrath, a longtime builder who had responded to a request to remodel the home of a wounded Marine, working with the community to do the work at no cost to the Marine’s family. Rusty and Dan met at the International Builders' Show.

Operation Finally Home realizes that when these veterans return home, they often confront extreme hardships. One of the most pressing needs is where to live. 

Providing a home or home modifications removes a huge financial burden from these soldiers, allowing them to focus on healing and preparing for their family’s futures. 

‘A Hope in Their Eyes’

“For many of these veterans, we’re meeting them at the worst or lowest point of their lives, with housing being a big part of it,” Rusty said. “In the past, some of them have owned an unfit home or they’ve been renting, but they can’t obtain a mortgage.

“When they learn they’re getting a new or remodeled home free of charge, you really see a physical weight lifted off their shoulders and a hope in their eyes that wasn’t there before.”

Operation Finally Home has three case managers who utilize a network of military resources, veteran service organizations and non-profits to proactively identify home candidates. Most of the home recipients return from service with the most severe, category 3 injuries and are unable to continue to serve in the military.

To date, Operation Finally Home has more than 350 homes in 30 states that have either been completed, are under construction or are currently in the planning stage. The goal is to expand the program to all 50 states and build hundreds of homes for wounded veterans.

Recipients Experience the Build Cycle

Rusty said Operation Finally Home takes the home recipients’ needs into consideration while building or remodeling a house.

“We bake that in as we go through the vetting process to understand what their needs are,” he said. “We want some level of surprise there, but the customization is often in the form of wider doorways and hallways, and roll-in showers. 

“They typically have the ability to make some choices, and the building community goes out of their way to provide things for them, and build their personality into the design and amenities of the home.

“We typically surprise the new home recipients as we’re breaking ground so they can experience the build cycle. That surprise also invokes an emotional response from the community that wants to honor these families.

Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony Caps Pillar Events

“Another pillar event is the ribbon-cutting, including the notes of love the recipients see on the walls of their new home and the dedication involving the turning over of the keys,” Rusty continued.

“These types of events also allow us to talk about the needs of these vets and others, and help other vets reach out for help. And the community comes together for them. In reality, we’re helping to bring the community together, including the builders and donors.” 

The organization unites everyday Americans who respect and value our country’s military heroes and the sacrifices they make to defend our freedoms, as well as the widows of the fallen, in the unique opportunity to honor these heroes with a home.

The work of Operation Finally Home is made possible through its network of supporters providing monetary and gift-in-kind donations. From donated building materials to in-kind labor and gifted land, local projects are driven by industry and community support.

Home Where They Belong

For some time now, Ethan and Arin have enjoyed going to the zoo and the park with their children. Ethan also enjoys attending car shows and attending sporting events.

Now, when they return from those ventures, they walk into a brand new home that’s all theirs.  

Anyone interested in making a financial donation to Operation Finally Home may visit OperationFinallyHome.org and click on “Donate.”

Rusty also recommends following the organization on social media channels, including Facebook (facebook.com/OperationFINALLYHOME). “That’s where you’ll get to see life-changing events through the eyes and voices of our veterans,” he said.

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Comments

Lori Naylor - September 26, 2021

Reading this still gets me choked up. I’m so grateful to Operation Finally Home and all of the companies and citizens that made this possible. I’m truly amazed at the kindness of strangers and the Mt. Juliet community. I’m very blessed to have these two amazing veterans in my life and I’m so proud of 4Patriots support of not just Ethan and Arin, but ALL veterans.

Allen Baler - September 14, 2021

Congratulations Ethan and Arin! Bravo to Operation Finally Home for their amazing work! And kudos to Lori and her terrific colleagues in finance for supporting this family and our veterans!

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