A disabled veteran from Wilkes County has moved into a new house thanks to efforts led by the Wilkes-Yadkin Home Builders Association and Texas-based Operation Finally Home.
Chance Cleary, 27, was presented a Wilkes County Inspections Department certificate of occupancy for the house and U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx spoke during a ceremony Saturday at the Lowe’s Home Improvement store in Wilkesboro.
Cleary nearly died when an improvised explosive device blew up the Army MaxxPro armored vehicle he was driving in Ahmad-Kheyl, Afghanistan, in 2012. He suffered head trauma, two collapsed lungs and numerous broken bones. Due to ongoing complications from wounds, Cleary’s right leg was amputated below the knee in January 2016.
To help accommodate him, the new home’s unfinished basement has a drive-in entrance and mechanical lift for access between the basement and ground floor. It has a front door ramp and other features that comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
With two-bedrooms, 1,200 square feet of heated space and a wrap-around porch, the home is mortgage free and was built on land in western Wilkes already owned by Cleary.
Cleary spoke during the event, thanking everyone who was involved for coming together to make the home a reality. “I’m finally in a home that I love. It’s what I always wanted…. It’s exactly what I wanted.”
Foxx presented Cleary an American flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol on May 6, the anniversary of the day he was severely wounded. She told Cleary that she hoped being in his new home would be a reminder of the love she, her staff and other people have for him and his family, as well as their appreciation.
Foxx emphasized her support of the nation’s veterans and said nothing makes her happier than attending events with them, especially where community groups are doing things for veterans.
She congratulated the Wilkes-Yadkin Home Builders Association and Operation Finally Home for what it accomplished for Cleary.
“Our country has come together in supporting veterans in the last few years and it’s such an encouraging thing to see…. We have an all-volunteer military force now and the best military force since World War II.”
Foxx continued, “We will always be able to have the best and the brightest serving in our military as long as we treat them right and our veterans right. We have to show people that we appreciate them…. Without veterans who have served since the Revolutionary War, we’d be speaking a different language.”
Cleary enlisted in the Army after graduating from East Wilkes High School in 2010. He was an Army Airborne private first class when he was severely wounded.
Cleary’s father, Lynn Cleary of Hays, secured a $78,000 U.S. Veterans Administration grant, but a 501(c)(3) organization was needed to receive donations. Wilkes Habitat for Humanity volunteer Gary Newman learned about this and contacted the Wilkes-Yadkin Homebuilders Association.
Builder Ken Canter, a member of the association, remembered meeting the founder of Operation Finally Home, a Texas-based nonprofit that works with donors and builders to construct mortgage-free homes for wounded veterans and widows of those who died serving their country.
This led to Rusty Carroll of New Braunfels, Texas, Operation Finally Home’s executive director, coming to Wilkes to meet Cleary, his father and Wilkes-Yadkin members in early 2017.
Marshall Long, executive officer of the Wilkes-Yadkin Home Builders, said Canter provided the building plans and obtained necessary permits as general contractor.
Long said Homes by Combs Construction, owned by Chuck Combs, did the framing, and Huffman Brothers Construction, owned by Ronald and Eric Huffman, took care of the plumbing. Nate Griffin of ExCo Contractors also worked on the project.
Carroll said completion of Cleary’s home was delayed by challenges, including record rainfall that delayed construction and exacerbated problems with a private road to the home. He acknowledged Jefferson-based Vannoy Construction Co. for its work on the private road.
“God’s hand is in these projects and time and time again we find that the houses are completed on God’s time and not our time,” said Carroll, adding that the reasons often aren’t clear until later.
After pausing due to emotion, he said, “not a day went by without us thinking about Chance and Chrissy (his fiancé) when we were trying to get into this house. It was painful for us and I know it was painful for him.”
He said a lot of people came together to make sure the home was completed despite difficult circumstances.
Carroll said that of the projects Operation Finally Home has been involved with, he has never seen one in which people stuck with it despite the challenges.
Operation Finally Home works with nonprofits in their communities to help build homes for wounded veterans and surviving spouses of military personnel who died in service. Carroll said this has resulted in completion of 190 homes across the nation, with about 100 more in planning stages.
He mentioned Michael Gutschenritter, a Veterans Administration specially adapted housing agent, for his commitment to Cleary. Gutschenritter helps disabled veterans secure VA Special Housing Adaptation Grants.
He also mentioned Long, Newman, Huffman Brothers, Jack Wagoner and Buddy Hughes, a builder from Lexington.
Carroll said involvement of the Lowe’s store in Wilkesboro led to Lowe’s Companies Inc. awarding a $250,000 grant for Cleary’s home and other Operation Finally Home projects nationwide. Chad Maddox is store manager.
Rider’s Roost Motorcycle Resort and Campground in Ferguson and the Wilkes County Chapter of the Winston-Salem Regional Association of Realtors were among other donors.