Senior Staff Writer
While leading a tour of his home that's being built near Lynnville, Shaun Meadows was the first to climb up onto the just-placed floor decking, up from ground level without a ramp or step ladder.
Maybe it's not so exceptional until you realize that the tour guide -- a retired U.S. Air Force staff sergeant -- lost both legs to an improvised explosive device blast during a reconnaissance patrol in Afghanistan in July 2008.
Nearly four years later, Shaun, 31, his wife, Nicole, and their son, Trevor, are the beneficiaries of Operation Finally Home, one of several independent, tax-free groups of American businessmen and women who are providing homes for veterans who nearly gave their all, came back to tell about it and get on with their lives.
The Meadows live near the construction site. Nicole prefers to shop in Lewisburg because it's got the small town feeling she prefers, and while Trevor, who turned 7 last month, attends Giles County's Richland School, he's been playing for the Warriors in the Marshall County Youth Football League.
The latest on the home construction project that was started with a ceremonial groundbreaking on Veterans Day nearly four months ago is that the foundation is done, concrete is poured for the basement, garage and storm shelter, and one week ago today, the floor decking was nailed down. Construction is to be completed by Memorial Day.
Created in Texas at Galveston by Bay Area Builders Association Support Our Troops, Operation Finally Home exists to provide custom-made, mortgage-free homes to wounded and disabled veterans and the widows of the fallen. Goodall Homes, a Middle Tennessee construction and development company, and Nashville-based LP Building Products, the building materials manufacturer for which the Titans football stadium is named, were the lead sponsors for Meadows' home. Keith Porterfield, LP's chief operating officer, was a soldier for seven years, including work as a helicopter communication and navigation systems repair specialist during the first Gulf War in 1990 and 1991.
In Meadows' basement, Goodall Homes' COO was asked about the economy and the construction business.
"We've been dragging along the bottom," Porterfield said. "Now, things are picking up."
He'd been at a builders' conference in Orlando, Fla., where he heard his counterparts say the same thing he's seeing. December and January saw improvement. "January had the highest sales numbers in 28 years," those that he's experienced, Porterfield said. Business is up by a fifth to a quarter compared to the last half of 2011. The sentiment was uniform among his colleagues. There's an "up-tick."
Rusty Carroll of LP Building Products, the company that's providing floor decking, engineered wood that's flatter and stronger when configured like I-beams, says, "There's a cautious optimism... [The economy] is still fragile, but it's improving."
Porterfield: "Plus there's a fear of inflation with fuel prices" going up.
Both men know the homebuilders' maxim that their industry leads the economy. New home construction leads to the purchase of home furnishings, appliances and a host of other home and garden products. It's an engine for a growing economy as well as an economic indicator.
Another aspect of the tour was the labor market. Both companies continue to look for skilled labor. It's true on the construction site and in the factory. It was obvious that Friday morning that a number of the workers are Hispanics. Asked about that, Porterfield replied that his company has a policy of checking backgrounds and complying with labor laws. Regardless, what they want is skilled labor.
Still, it's a challenging time for building materials companies and home construction businesses. Porterfield and Carroll made it clear as they shifted the subject back to the reason they got out of their offices on a bright, if windy Friday morning. Their message is one of support for people like Shaun Meadows.
The Meadows' house will have a wrap-around porch, a screened in area, a fireplace, some 3,500 square feet of floor space and a gazebo built into one corner.
"I told him what I wanted," wife Nicole said. "And he designed it."
She was especially interested in having a big bathtub, many windows to let in "lots of light" and a "double oven," she said.
Nicole enlisted in the Air Force "out of Cookeville," she said. "It was a spur of a moment thing, but it worked out and I never thought it would bring me back to Tennessee."
She worked in support services for air transportation, drivng a forklift and loading planes and related work in the Mid-East.
Since Meadows' home was the subject of a story on Nov. 11, and area residents became aware of what the veteran was receiving, some asked why one man should get so much when there are others who've also suffered as a result of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and combat elsewhere during wars fought by American troops.
"There are multiple organizations out there," Meadows replied. Another is Helping a Hero. "I don't know them all. It's not like I'm the only one." Operation Finally Home wants to double the number of homes built for veterans. The organization looks for caseworkers. Injured soldiers have caseworkers and they know what their clients need.
"It would be great if everyone could get one, but with the economy and manpower, they do what they can," Meadows said.
Porterfield points out that LP and Goodall have partners who've joined the operation. Local businesses include: RECS and Rogers Group, costruction road installation; electric and cable work; crushed stone donations; Southern Electric, electric work; JWC Foundations, footings and concrete foundation walls; Wright Footings, donations; Mid South Concrete, ready-mix concrete donations; Concrete and Masonry Shop, steel; Edgar Perez, block work; Alley Cassetty, block and brick donations; Hutson Brothers Plumbing, plumbing; Jake Huckaby, slab concrete.
Asked if he might want to get into the construction business, Meadows repied,"You never know.