Union volunteers help build home for injured Iraq war veteran

Members of several trades unions were among scores of volunteers helping to build a new home for injured Iraq war veteran SPC Kevin Pannell.

Pannell, 32, and his wife, Danielle, received the keys to their new place in Sandy, Oregon, at a special ceremony Dec. 11.

“It’s a little overwhelming right now,” Pannell said. “I don’t think any of us who were over there thought we deserved anything like this.”

The home was built under a program called Homes for Our Troops, a national non-profit organization founded in 2004 by Massachusetts resident John Gonsalves. The program provides specially adapted homes for soldiers who have been severely injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is estimated that more than 1,000 veterans are in need of such homes.

Homes For Our Troops operates on donations of cash, materials, and volunteers.

Members and apprentices of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 1, Cement Masons Local 555, Iron Workers Local 29, and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48, donated their expertise to help build Pannell’s home — a one-story house with no steps, 5-foot-wide hallways and doors, lowered sinks and cabinets, a wheelchair-accessible shower and other amenities for the disabled.

Advantis Credit Union was the sponsor for Pannell and another soldier, Christian Bagge, who will move into his new home in Parkdale, Oregon, next month. Sponsors help raise funds for specific projects.

Pannell was serving in Iraq with the 1st Cavalry Division when he was severely injured on June 13, 2004. His 12-man unit was on a routine patrol in Baghdad when he was ambushed in an alleyway.

Pannel heard two “clinks” behind him. He said the sounds were from grenades, thrown by insurgents, landing at his feet. One of the grenades rolled against his right foot and exploded, knocking him down and ripping his legs apart.

After tourniquets were applied by his fellow soldiers, he was transported to the 31st combat support hospital in Baghdad’s Green Zone. He was eventually transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he underwent 13 operations, including the amputation of both of his legs; one below and one above the knee. Following 18 months of rehab, Pannell went to work at the Pentagon. He left the service in 2007, returning to his home state of Arkansas. He moved to Oregon in 2008.

Prior to the move-in on Dec. 11, Parnell and his family were living in an apartment in Gresham that barely had space for his wheelchair.

The goal of Homes For Our Troops nationwide is to build 30 homes a year. The organization is on track to complete its 80th home by the end of this year. Another 31 homes are in the planning stage or under construction.

For more information about Homes for Our Troops, call 1-866-787-6677 or log on to their web site at www.homesforourtroops.org.

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