Group building house for injured Iraq veteran

Lance Cpl. Tyler Dees is used to working on avionics systems for AV-8B Harriers at Cherry Point.

Over the weekend, he was on a ladder hammering shingles along with Cpl. Joshua Smith, an airframes mechanic.

Both are part of the Single Marine Program at Cherry Point. Members have been lending their muscles on Saturdays and Sundays to help build a home for a retired Marine who is recovering from a brain injury he sustained in an explosion while serving in Iraq. It’s just one way the Marines from Marine Attack Squadron 223 feel they can give back.

“We thought it would be fun to come out here to work together as a group,” Dees said. “I get a sense of helping, though. I would appreciate it if the same thing were done for me if I was in that situation.”

Smith said the group arrives early and stays late.

“I got involved because a Marine who was hurt overseas needed help back here in the states, so I volunteered my time to help him,” he said.

The project is an American Home Heroes Build, sponsored by Military Missions in Action.

Michael Dorman, executive director of the organization, said the project got started because Ross and Karen Richard, owners of the Nature’s Run subdivision near Arapahoe, said they wanted to donate land if the group would coordinate construction of a house for a veteran.

“That’s what got the ball rolling,” Dorman said. “So we picked a set of plans that would work for the family and the subdivision and we started building a house.”

The 1,800 square-foot house has three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths and the support of the Single Marine Program every weekend.

“Most of the labor force has been provided by them,” Dorman said. “That’s the only way we can build the house because we don’t have the funding to build a house and pay all the contractors to do it. We’ve been very fortunate to have the Single Marines.”

Donations from contractors such as Airtech, Twin Rivers Plumbing and Western Cedar Supply have also made the project a success, Dorman said.

“Little things like that is what makes it all come together,” he said.

Warren Cottrell Jr. served in Iraq and Afghanistan, joining the Marine Corps in 1997. In 2004 while in Iraq, an explosion rocked the seven-ton truck in which he was riding. He is listed as 100 percent disabled and 100 percent unemployable because of the brain injury, Dorman said. On top of that, his wife recently had heart surgery, and his daughter has juvenile diabetes.

“We took applications for the house; then screened them all and we felt that we could have the biggest impact on this family,” Dorman said.

Cottrell is on the job site most weekends.

“I went through some hard times when I got out and I really lost track of what it was to be a Marine,” he said. “Coming on weekends and working with these guys, I got a little more pride in my work again. It just brought me back to the Marine Corps and I just hope I can continue working with them after this is done.”

He said the work makes he remember what it was like to be a Marine.

“I went through some rough times and they’ve given it all back to me, so I can never repay them,” he said.

Cottrell admits he struggles sometimes while trying to help work on the house, but he feels inspired.

“Sometimes I come here and work with these guys and I go home and my head hurts, but I can’t imagine doing anything different,” he said. “And if I can work with Marines to help veterans around here, even if it’s just my knowledge, I hope that that doesn’t go away.”

Hospital Apprentice Henry Cheang, of the Naval Health Clinic at Cherry Point, worked Sunday on tile flooring alongside Lance Cpl. Joshua Ashley, of Marine Attack Squadron 231.

“At first I wanted to work on my community service hours, but eventually I started learning things about house work and stuff,” Cheang said. “It’s just hearing the stories about the people that are going to come here and live in this house, it just inspires me and makes me want to give them a nice home to live in.”

Ashley feels the same.

“It’s an inspiration to actually come out and help him achieve it,” he said.

Lance Cpl. Jonathan Velasco, of the 2nd Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion at Cherry Point, worked to fill grout in the shower.

“It’s a good cause,” he said. “Warren’s a good guy. He’s a great guy.”

Velasco has worked three straight weekends.

“I’m going to be here until the project is done, then wait for the next house building project,” he said. “It will be cool to see it final.”

Lance Cpl. Isaac Moir, also with 2nd LAAD, said the project helps build camaraderie among Marines.

“Getting out and doing jobs like this gives these Marines a chance to be with other Marines,” he said. “I’m the representative, so I try to do every project that I recommend to the Marines. I’ve been here ever since the beginning.”

Moir said the Marines get something out of the project beyond helping a retired Marine in need.

“They get to hone their skills and learn something new,” Moir said. “It also gets them out of the barracks. I want to be here until the end to see how it turned out.”

Dorman said the dedication of the Marines and sailors who volunteer has impressed him.

“We’ve had units show up with 65 people on a Friday where we’ve cooked,” he said. “We’ve had as few as eight or 10. They’re here every weekend. For us, it is a multiple-purpose thing. We want to get work out of them, but we want to teach them something they didn’t know when they showed up. So that’s what it’s about. It’s about them learning and us getting work done.”

Teresa Harrington, a civilian volunteer, drove from Fuquay-Varina with husband Daryl to install tile flooring on Sunday.

“It’s getting there inch-by-inch, volunteer-by-volunteer,” she said. “A lot of these single Marines come here on weekends and do a lot of work.”

Anyone interested in donating time, labor or materials for the project can call Dorman at 919-868-0054. Cherry Point personnel interested in volunteering can contact the Single Marine Program at 466-3027.