Turning a Hero's Hardship Into a Home
Soon after his 18th birthday, U.S. Army Sergeant Ethan LaBerge followed his lifelong dream. He enlisted in the Army. He was deployed twice to Afghanistan during five years of service.
In May 2012, Ethan arrived at Fort Campbell. He 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. That's when a civilian detonated a suicide vest 10 feet from his group. The blast resulted in two deaths and multiple casualties. Ethan was left in critical condition.
He suffered a concussion, broken bones and head-to-toe shrapnel wounds. Ethan still battles post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury. He has undergone 11 surgeries. And still struggles with memory loss, intense pain and cognitive challenges.
For his service, Ethan was awarded a Purple Heart. Plus a Combat Infantry Badge, an Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars, and more.
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 why Operation Finally Home was established.
The organization is based in New Braunfels, Texas. Late last year they 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 on Veterans Day 2020 at the Grand Ole Opry.
In August 2021, following a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the couple and their two children 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 executive director of Operation Finally Home since 2013.
Here's what he told the Nashville CBS-TV 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 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
4Patriots also wanted to help Ethan and Arin get started in their new home. Employees attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony. And presented the family with an emergency preparedness bundle.
The items included a 4-Week Survival Food Kit and a Survival Sweets Kit. Plus two Solar Sentry Security Lights and three Blackout Beacon Emergency Lights. As well as two HaloXT Tactical Flashlights and a Patriot Power Sidekick solar generator. And an Ultimate Water Filtration System and a USB 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," 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. They bring together homebuilders, remodelers and others to provide custom-built, free homes and home modifications. Recipients are America's wounded and ill and injured veterans. Plus first responders, spouses and families.
It was founded in 2005 by Dan Wallrath, a longtime builder. He had responded to a request to remodel the home of a wounded Marine. At no cost to the Marine's family.
When Operation Finally Home provides a home or home modifications, it removes a huge financial burden from these soldiers. It allows them to focus on healing and preparing for their family's futures.
"For many of these veterans, we're meeting them at the worst or lowest point of their lives," Rusty said. "With housing being a big part of it."
"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."
Home Where They Belong
Operation Finally Home has more than 350 homes in 30 states that have been completed, are under construction or are in the planning stage.
For some time now, Ethan and Arin have enjoyed going to the zoo and the park with their children. Now, when they return from those ventures, they walk into a brand new home. And it'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).