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Homes for Our Troops resettles soldier and family in Chapin in a mortgage free home

Chapin, SC (Paul Kirby) – Homes for Our Troops, a national non-profit that builds disability compliant, mortgage free homes for American soldiers who have been wounded in service to our country, handed over another beautiful home to a wounded soldier in the Chapin area of the county Saturday morning. The ceremony was held in and outside of the ADA compliant home on Glenwood Court in the town.

Sgt. Robert Barber was serving as a military policeman in the SC National Guard in June of 2012 when he was wounded by a suicide bomber who blew up a backpack filled with explosives in Afghanistan. He lost a leg, and the use of the other in the blast that wounded Barber and killed several other guardsmen.

Many remember the date, June 20, 2012, as the deadliest day every experienced while operating abroad by the SC National Guard. In that same blast, we also lost Lt. Ryan Rawls, a native of Lexington County who graduated Lexington High School, attended the Citadel, and worked at the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. Besides Rawl, Spc. John David Meador II, 36, of Columbia; and Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Bradford Thomas, 30, of Easley also were also KIA in that same suicide explosion.

After the blast, Barber was flown back to the US where he has been recovering and returning to as much of a normal life as possible. He and his wife have three beautiful children, and live as close to an ordinary existence as possible with the assistance of prosthetics, wheelchairs, therapy, and a reliance on modern medicine.

One thing that often caused an inconvenience in the Barbers' lives was a living space that was nice, but did not necessarily meet the special needs that Barber had. Most who have never experienced special physical challenges never know the difficulties of trying to maneuver a wheel chair through a home with standard width doors, or how high a regular kitchen cabinet seems when just standing may be an ordeal.

A number of years ago, Homes for Our Troops was founded with a special, specific mission statement. Its goals are simple; to build mortgage-free, specially adapted homes nationwide for severely injured veterans, post– 9/11, to enable them to rebuild their lives. Sgt. Barber and this caring organization were obviously a perfect match!

According to HFOT’s website, since 2004, they have built 229 specially adapted homes nationwide. Their goal is to build a home for every veteran who qualifies for one of the specially modified homes.

The average cost to construct each specially adapted home nationwide runs $430,000. Once again, quoting from the HFOT website, "Homes for Our Troops is privately funded, and it relies on the generosity of donors.” Over 60 percent of their operational budget is generated by private and family foundations, individual donors, and community fundraisers nationwide who step up to help our American heroes by coordinating everything from lemonade stands to golf tournaments. The remaining financial support they receive is from corporations, foundations and our corporate sponsors.

During each build, special corporate donors give materials, discounts, and other needed items and services. Additionally, volunteers swarm across the build sites doing everything from digging holes to driving nails. In the case of the Barber home in Chapin, the local Longhorn Steakhouse even provided the meal that was served during the key ceremony Saturday.

In the case of the Barbers' new home, Gage Construction of Chapin acted as the general contractor. Their employees worked tirelessly to make sure that the project was completed on time and just so. In short, their efforts were absolutely amazing and the house they delivered was magnificent.

After each build, a key ceremony is held. During this ceremony, friends, family, local government officials, volunteers, and lots of US veterans gather to welcome the deserving vet to the new home for the very first time.

Saturday, Sgt. Barber and his family were escorted to their new home by a large contingent from the SC Patriot Guard Riders. When they pulled up, their new driveway was lined by a crowd of more than a hundred supporters waving small American flags. Several shouted, “Welcome home Robert,” as the family climbed out of their truck to a rousing greeting.

A unit from the US Army presented the colors and a soloist, joined by the assembled, sang the national anthem. The speeches made by a number of Barber’s friends, officials of several veteran’s groups, and others, brought the crowd to tears several times. These speakers included Stanley Rawl, father of Ryan Rawl, who died in the same attack that wounded Barber, Terry Cotney, the director of the Freedom and Hope Foundation, and several others.

Just before the keys to the home were handed over, Sgt. Barber rose to speak. With tears streaming down his face, he talked about his brothers who had been lost in the battle. He spoke of his love for his country and just how much he appreciated the help of Home for Our Troops. He also expressed the gratitude of his wife Heather and his family. Few were able to maintain their composure as he expressed his heart-felt feelings on the bright, sunny morning.

When all the speeches were made, the Barber family was led to the front of the home where a flag pole had been installed. Barber lowered the Homes for Our Troop’s flag, and raised an American flag over his new domain before he and his son cut the ribbon on the front porch. He was then given a wireless remote that automatically opens the front door when activated.

As the auto door swung open, it revealed a home that is phenomenal inside. It is spacious and modern, all the appliances are stainless steel and were gleaming, and everything is adapted so that Barber can access them while standing on his prosthetics or seated in a wheelchair. Each part and portion was made with ease of use of someone with special needs in mind.

In the kitchen, the stove's hood fan and lights can be operated from a switch at counter height. The shelving is made so that it can lower and be accessed while seated. Each counter is made so that Barber’s wheelchair can roll under if necessary.

The master bath has a huge jacuzzi tub with a sliding, built in seat. The faucets are the latest technology, all of which are designed for ease of use. The blinds and window coverings are operated by remote, and once again the shelving in the walk-in / roll-in closet are a high-tech model that will lower to the height of someone seated who is trying to access and select clothing.

As you would expect, the three Barber children all loved the high-tech, automatic, push button doors. They also were excited about the large back yard with an expansive grassed yard lined by beautiful trees.

Heather Barber, Robert’s wife, said the new home was a great deal of an improvement over the one they had been living in. It was two-stories, and simply presented too many challenges for her husband and his special needs.

Heather was also excited about the great school district that their children will be attending in Chapin. She asked lots of questions about the programs and said she had heard the District Five experience was almost as if you had enrolled your children in private schools. She had already completed the paperwork necessary for the children to begin classes in Chapin on Monday morning.

When the ceremony was over Saturday, all the guests had been greeted, all the contributors thanked, and a great lunch was eaten, the Barbers were finally able to take a moment to soak it all in. They are the proud owners of a new home that has no mortgage. More than that, they have a new community who has welcomed them with open arms in Chapin.

They also have a new extended family, the fellow soldiers, the staff, the huge team of contributors, the other wounded soldiers who have benefitted from the homes, and all the people who came together to make their new home a reality at Homes for Our Troops.

To learn more about Homes for Our Troops and how you can be a part of this great charity or to help a disabled soldier apply for a home, go to their website at www.hfotusa.org. To find out about the quality and value of the construction performed by the great people at Gage Construction and Remodeling, check out their website at www.gageconstructionsc.com.

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Call Paul Kirby

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