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Salute to service: NWFA, R.I.S.E give wounded soldiers a place to call home

November 12/19, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 11 

By Reginald Tucker

 

St. Louis—The flooring industry continues to step up in a big way in support of severely wounded U.S. veterans. Industry associations, manufacturers and distributors are partnering up to improve the quality of life for soldiers returning home following their deployments.

A shining example is the work the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) is doing in conjunction with actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise. In 2011, Sinise established his namesake foundation to serve and honor our nation’s defenders, veterans, first responders and their families. The Gary Sinise Foundation (GSF) developed the Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment program—or R.I.S.E.—which provides mortgage-free, fully customized smart homes for America’s most severely wounded heroes.

In 2015, GSF partnered with NWFA to provide wood flooring in R.I.S.E. homes. According to Anita Howard, NWFA’s COO, all R.I.S.E. homes are custom built to meet the specific needs of the recipient. Project size has ranged from 1,700-6,000 square feet depending on family size. Nearly all of the homes are slab construction, so engineered is the preferred option. And due to tight construction schedules, prefinished flooring is typically utilized. “We’ve had one exception, which was solid, site finished,” Howard said. “And all have been wood, except one, which was polished concrete.”

The latest completed project (R.I.S.E. home #34) illustrates just how these coordinated industry associations and philanthropic efforts are changing the lives of severely wounded veterans. The home dedication for United States Army Sergeant Legrand Strickland (Ret.) took place on Nov. 9, in Wildwood, Mo. “It was a real honor to attend his dedication ceremony,” said Michael Martin, NWFA president and CEO. “And since his home is right around the corner from NWFA’s office, we look forward to becoming a part of his family’s local support system.”

Sergeant Strickland joined the Army two years out of high school. After his first enlistment, he entered the National Guard as an Infantry Rifleman and attended college, receiving a degree in graphic design. Upon re-enlistment, Sgt. Strickland was part of the 82nd Airborne Division stationed in Afghanistan. While returning from a mission on Feb. 2, 2010, Sgt. Strickland’s convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device. He watched as his commander’s vehicle was struck in front of him. His commander survived and joined Sgt. Strickland in his vehicle, which was then also hit. Both his commander and driver were casualties of the second hit. Sgt. Strickland suffered the loss of both legs above the knee, and he also sustained a traumatic brain injury.

“Sgt. Strickland has faced tremendous obstacles during his ongoing recovery,” Martin added. “Yet you’ll never see him without a smile. Despite the challenges his injuries present, he faces each day with an attitude of gratefulness that should be an example for us all.”

Another recent project (R.I.S.E. home #33) entailed the home dedication for United States Army Sergeant Eric Hunter (Ret.), who joined the military at age 22 and was first deployed in 2010 to Iraq. During his second deployment in Southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan, Sgt. Hunter was on a dismounted patrol with his unit when he stepped on an IED. The bomb took his right leg, shattered his left leg and caused many other injuries as well.

After being transported to three different hospitals following his injury, Sgt. Hunter spent four years at Walter Reed National Medical Center. “Sgt. Hunter has endured 61 surgeries so far, and the possibility exists that there will be even more in the future,” Martin said. “His determination to overcome his physical injuries is inspirational.”

NWFA held another dedication for USMC Corporal Joshua Brubaker in Bakersfield, Calif. Cpl. Brubaker joined the Marines after receiving an A.S. degree in Criminal Justice. During his deployment to Afghanistan, his team was sent on a mission where he stepped on an IED, resulting in the loss of both legs. Cpl. Brubaker has endured daily surgeries as a result of his injuries.

“Even while he was fighting for his life, he was determined to make a full recovery,” Martin said. “He remained focused on his physical therapy to regain his mobility and has become an inspiration to those who have had the honor of meeting him.”

NWFA currently is working with its members to source wood flooring for 16 additional R.I.S.E. homes in various stages of planning and construction.  Currently, 57 NWFA member companies have donated product, logistics and installation services in locations throughout the United States, with a total value of more than $4 million. By the end of this year, 70 specially adapted smart homes will be completed or underway through the R.I.S.E. program.

 

INSTALL supports vets via career placement program

Glassboro, N.J.—INSTALL is taking veteran support to the next level through a successful career placement program with Helmets to Hardhats (H2H). The program—now two years running—was designed to help military service members successfully transition back into civilian life by offering them the means to secure a quality profession in the construction industry.

In April 2016, INSTALL and H2H forged a partnership calling on INSTALL contractors to sponsor veterans with the goal of bringing new skilled workers into the floor covering industry through apprenticeships.

Since then, more than 200 veterans have shown interest in an apprenticeship, and INSTALL is actively working to connect them with contractors for possible career opportunities.

Case in point is Roderick Deas, a U.S. Army veteran who reached out to his recruiting agent to find a program designed for veterans. With an interest in the construction field, he pursued a floor covering career because it offers year-round stability that ensures he can support his growing family of five.

Now, in his second year as an INSTALL apprentice with sponsor contractor Circle Floors, Somerville, N.J., Deas is progressing quickly. He values the program because he is not only being taught how to install flooring, but the “why” behind each step. “The hands-on training I receive at school and in the field is incredibly comprehensive,” he said. “First, INSTALL helps us understand how to properly install flooring in the classroom, followed by instructor demonstrations. Then you get to try it for yourself.”

INSTALL is encouraged by the strides veterans are making through the program. “We are committed to helping veterans succeed in all stages of the program, from application to completion,” said John T. McGrath Jr., executive director. “We hope to build on our success by continuing to open doors for veterans through our partnership with the H2H program and contractors.”

INSTALL contractors who would like to support this partnership must commit to sponsoring a veteran in the INSTALL apprenticeship program and hiring him or her. For this commitment, contractors will be recognized as partners of H2H. Once a contractor has committed to the program by contacting INSTALL, Helmets to Hardhats will match the company with potential candidates.

Flooring contractors interested in this program may contact McGrath via e-mail at install@carpenters.org. Veterans interested in pursuing a career in floor covering through the INSTALL program are invited to send an inquiry via e-mail to rschwartz@helmetstohardhats.org in the U.S. or info@helmetstohardhats.ca in Canada.