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Finally Home

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

(Photo)
Photo submitted Shaun Meadows, his son, Trevor, and wife, Nicole, stand together with the American flag.
By Clint Confehr

Senior Staff Writer

A non-profit group backed by construction and development companies is set to break ground on a home Friday in Lynnville for an Afghanistan combat veteran who lost most of his legs during an IED explosion.

"They've done a lot for me," Staff Sgt. Shaun Meadows (USAF Ret.) said when asked about Operation Finally Home, a Galveston Bay-area group of former servicemen and friends. They joined forces with Nashville-based LP Building Products and Goodall Homes, a developer of subdivisions in Nolensville, Franklin and other Nashville-area cities.

On Veterans Day at 10 a.m., Operation Finally Home starts construction on a custom-made, mortgage-free home for Meadows, 31, his wife, Nicole, and their son, Trevor, 6. The homesite is about 18 miles from the Marshall County line. The house will have 3,500 square feet of floor space.

The Meadows family has been renting a house at Lynnville for nearly a year. The son has been playing for the Warriors in the Marshall County Youth Football League.

"He didn't do too hot this year, but last year, they were league champions," the player's father said. "Last year, they lost only one game. This year, they won only one game."

Meadows played quarterback for his youth and high school teams. He joined the Air Force because of the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.

William Kenneth Alphin, a country music singer professionally known as Big Kenny of the duo Big & Rich on Warner Bros. Records, is scheduled to open the groundbreaking ceremony by singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at 2037 Petty Hollow Road North in Giles County.

Meadows is "not 100 percent sure" how Operation Finally Home found him and selected him as a recipient of a new home, but it's probably a sure thing that Goodall will be constructing the house with manufactured lumber made by LP.

Meanwhile, LP Field in Nashville is where Meadows was on Sunday afternoon when he was introduced to the crowd as the "12th Titan" for the Tennessee Titans. He then raised an American flag in honor of military veterans.

The Meadows' home is to be built on a hill. Other than a partial basement, the three-bedroom, three-bath house will be all on one floor. The 3,500-square-foot home is to have formal living and dining rooms and a two-car carport.

Meadows was born in Culpepper, Va., played youth ball in Virginia and high school football in Winder, Ga.

When it was clear the military wouldn't be a career for him, he started an Internet search for land.

"I was originally looking in the Knoxville area because I really enjoy the mountains, but ... it became clear that it's not practical for a guy with no legs," Meadows said.

"I do a lot of hunting, so walking straight up and down isn't convenient for me."

His Internet search continued.

"I didn't want flat land and I found this," Meadows said. "I just sort of fell in love with it."

Last week, he was getting the property ready for the groundbreaking.

Ten years ago, Meadows was a supervisor working for a transport company. New vehicles arrived on auto trains. He worked with the crewmen who unloaded the automobiles, took inventory and had them available for trucks to haul them further on their journey to dealerships.

Like most Americans, he saw the 9/11 attacks on TV. He watched in the transport company's break room.

"Right then and there, I wanted to kill some terrorists, and after work I went to the recruiters," Meadows said. "Kill terrorists, really, was my initial thought."

During a telephone interview that lasted more than an hour, Meadows was asked if he'd been able to accomplish what he set out to do, given his initial reaction to 9/11. Apparently, so, but much more of those years were military life with camaraderie and the hell of it all. He was also asked how he feels about the war.

"I had some good times," he said. "War is war. It's dirty. It's bloody.

"I was for the war from the beginning. I'm still for it."

Such an answer was followed with a request for his thoughts on the President's announcement of the withdrawal from Iraq.

"I'm not going to get into current leaders, or all that. It is what it is," he said, accepting the reality of the world.

Another thought on 9/11: "I'd rather bring the fight to them rather than them bring it to us."

Nearly five and a half years after 9/11, he and his team "were on a multi-day operation in a small convoy," Meadows said. "Our vehicle had problems and the convoy was rearranged."

The heavy American military vehicle he was on was traveling behind a much lighter Afghan Army vehicle. It didn't have the weight to trigger the improvised explosive device that wounded him.

"It takes pretty good weight to set it off," he said.

"I'm so tall that I had my legs hanging over the tail gate... The IED went off under my feet.

"The blast took my legs off immediately.

"Once the medics found me, they did what they do," he said. "They brought me back a few times.

"I was pretty stable" despite the massive wounds, he said, then describing - with considerable understatement - the condition of what he'd been riding in. "The whole vehicle was inoperable after that."

It was the last of July 2008. He refers to the military air evacuation as a "turn and burn," as in the aircraft turns around after rushing to the scene and then burns a lot of fuel real fast to get to the next destination.

He's not exactly sure where he went first, but his next destination was Germany. After another turn and burn, he was in Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. He believes he arrived at Walter Reed on "maybe Aug. 4." Less than a week passed since the IED exploded halfway around the world.

"There are eight or nine days that I don't remember."

Additional surgery was required. Medically, the operation is called a revision. More amputation was required. His knees are gone.

His artificial legs are computerized with programs for different ways of walking. They can be locked. The legs can be allowed to swing out. There's a tension mode with settings to restrict the legs' movement so he may walk in different ways.

He and his wife lived in the nation's capitol for about a year during his rehabilitation.

Shaun and Nicole met while they were in the military.

"We went to a leadership school. We met there," he said. "She got out in July of 2010," some two years after he was wounded.

A few weeks before Nicole mustered out of the Air Force, Shaun "became the first active-duty double amputee to successfully participate in a personnel drop," according to the Air Force News Service which made a photograph of him smiling on the ground. He was among 39 of his co-workers who "conducted a practice parachute jump from a C-17 Globemaster III, in preparation for a change of command ceremony."

It was his first jump after his injury and shortly thereafter, he mustered out of the service.

It was "a huge accomplishment for Shaun to come back from being injured on a mission and to then go up in the air again," Master Sgt. Angela Fernandez, the 22nd STS first sergeant said in an Air Force story published online. "He's doing what he loves."

Meadows began walking two and a half months after he was wounded. He was starting to run again some three and a half months thereafter. He retired from the military in January 2011.

Now, he says, "I pretty much do almost all kinds of hunting. Whatever season it is, that's what I'm doing... mainly deer and turkey."

He's hunted wild hogs in South Georgia and was interested in learning about wild hogs in Marshall County's Berlin Community and neighboring parts of Maury County.

"I've been holding off on getting a job. I originally thought of building the house myself and would wait to get a job...

"I'm not sure what I'll do. I've got a couple of ideas; maybe some contract work through a contract agency."

Project Healing Waters, a group started by a military captain, introduces wounded vets to fly fishing, teaching them how to cast and tie flies. There are Healing Waters chapters across America and Meadows was taken to Montana on a fishing trip. He's thought about being a fishing guide. He's been down the Buffalo River and on some creeks and streams in South Central Tennessee. He's not been on the Duck River yet.

Operation Finally Home was created in Texas at Galveston by Bay Area Builders Association Support Our Troops, a group started in 2005. A retired command chief asked Meadows if he'd heard of Operation Finally Home and suggested that he submit an application to the program. He did and, as the retired sergeant said, "The rest is history."