Community builds home for wounded soldier
It was a busy scene early in the morning on Friday, February 11 when a local contracting company, Hallmark Homes teamed up with Homes for Our Troops to break ground and begin to build a home in Lake Carolina for a wounded veteran, SSG Ronell Bradley.
The Friday morning event began with a ceremony to launch a three–day Build Brigade where the community at large including businesses and volunteers all came out to construct a specially adapted home for Army SSG Ronell Bradley, a soldier wounded in battle and currently living in a non– handicapped accessible home in Georgia.
Bradley, who dismisses his injuries as just a part of life serving his country, said he was amazed at the turnout for the Building Brigade. Approximately 600 people came to donate their time and to build the home.
“My wife Cynthia and I were shocked that so many people cared and were there to support us,” the injured sergeant said. “It was a pretty amazing weekend knowing so many people cared about me and us.”
On his third deployment in September 2005, Staff Sergeant Ronell Bradley lost both his legs and suffered severe hand injuries when his vehicle ran over an IED in Baghdad, Iraq. The impact of the blast instantly severed his right leg, severely injured his left leg, and caused SSG Bradley’s weapon to explode in his hand, resulting in the loss of his right thumb and palm. SSG Bradley has spent several years in physical therapy since his injury and now serves as assistant chief of prosthetics in the Department of Veterans Affairs in Columbia.
David Tuttle is the president of Hallmark Homes International, Inc., the construction company that donated its time and talent to building the home for the wounded soldier and his family. Tuttle is also president of the Lake Carolina Development Company. He said when Homes for the Troops contacted him, and he heard SSG Bradley’s story, he and his companies immediately wanted to be part of the team. This is the first such home to be built in Columbia and the second in South Carolina. The first home was built on Lake Keowee in the Seneca area, Tuttle said.
“Lake Carolina was glad to be selected and then when we heard Ronell’s story; there was no way not to be involved,” Tuttle said.
Tuttle said he met the sergeant’s father at the building brigade on Friday and was touched by what he told him about his son.
“During all of his rehabilitation, even with those horrible injuries he was dealing with, Ronell’s father said that his son’s biggest worry was that he would be unable to continue serving his country,” Tuttle said.
Bradley laughed when he heard what his father said.
“The men in my company who went on the helicopter when I was flown out of battle to the hospital said I kept telling them to please not let them kick me out of the army,” he said. “I don’t remember it, but everyone tells me I kept worrying about being discharged.”
He admits there was a period during his recuperation at Walter Reid Hospital when depression set in.
“When you are lying in a hospital bed with a mangled body, I don’t think you can help but be a little depressed,” the sergeant reflected. “But at some point you realize life is going to go on, and you have to deal with things as they are. I had a lot of support, and my wife was by my side the entire time. I have two stepsons, and I just finally came to the conclusion I was going to make this work. I had to. And I wanted to help other wounded vets get through after they were injured. When they see me I think it helps them believe that they can make it too.”
Homes for our Troops, a national non– profit, non–partisan organization, was founded in 2004. Their webpage said they are strongly committed to helping those who have selflessly given to the country and have returned home with serious disabilities and injuries since the attacks on September 11, 2001.
“It is our duty and our honor to assist severely injured servicemen and servicewomen and their immediate families by raising donations of money, building materials, and professional labor and to coordinate the process of building a home that provides maximum freedom of movement and the ability to live more independently,” the website said.
The homes are built and given to the veterans at no cost to them or their families through corporate and individual donations such as Hallmark Homes International, Inc. The labor and materials come from the communities that want to give back to those who fight for our freedom.
Bradley and his family are expected to move into their new home sometime in May. The February 11 event raised the home, complete with its roof, walls, and sidings. Tuttle said the home was weatherproof, and the next public event will be for landscaping the yard. That date is still undetermined as the finishing touches such as plumbing, electricity, and painting continue by the volunteers.
Bradley said that it will be wonderful to live closer to work.
“Right now we live in Evans, Georgia, so I have to travel 87 miles each way to work,” the sergeant said. “I won’t miss that drive.”
The injuries to his legs and hand cause Bradley to rely on his wife Cynthia and stepsons to help him move around their current home. The new specially adapted home will feature large door openings and wide hallways, hard surfaced floors, a master bath with large roll–in shower, and much more. These features will allow the sergeant to move around the house more independently and do basic activities such as cooking and bathing.
“Our current home is two stories and not very handicapped accessible. I am looking forward to the independence this home will bring me and my family,” Bradley said.