11/21/10 — Volunteers renovating hero's home

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Volunteers renovating hero's home

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on November 21, 2010 1:50 AM

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Several volunteers help construct a deck just off the house of an 11-year Marine from Duplin County who sustained a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder when an Improvised Explosive Device went off during one of his tours in Iraq.

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Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, former Marine Warren often retreats to a small shed in his back yard to avoid the stress associated with seeing his home fall into disrepair. But for the past week, a group of volunteers has been fixing their hero's residence, hoping to help him cope with life out of the Corps.

EDITOR'SNOTE: The full names of the Marine and his family are being withheld at his request.

BEULAVILLE -- Warren couldn't help but smile when his daughter, Faith, wrapped her arms around his leg -- pulling herself in for a long embrace.

"My daddy's a hero. I won't ever forget," the little girl said, backing away so she could stare into his eyes. "He's the best daddy you could ever have."

But what Faith doesn't quite understand is just why, for the past several years, happiness, for her father, has been fleeting -- why he chooses to sit alone in a shed behind the family house instead of playing with her and her sister; how he can get so mad so quickly; what terms like "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" and "Traumatic Brain Injury" mean.

She is, after all, only 8 years old.

But that is old enough to realize that the people who have been working for the past week to renovate her house are doing so because of Warren's sacrifice -- that they want to make her life, and her father's, better.

"I can't wait until it's done," Faith said. "I just can't wait."

With the help of volunteers from Duplin County and beyond, members of Military Missions In Action are currently putting in long hours at a simple house off N.C. Highway 24 day after day -- vowing to, by Christmas, pay back an 11-year Marine for all he lost when an Improvised Explosive Device went off during his most recent tour in Iraq.

And the organization's founder, Mike Dorman, said Saturday he couldn't think of a better cause.

"Seeing the condition of the house and seeing how overwhelmed Warren was ... is what made us decide to get involved," he said. "And Warren is a great guy who has a great love for his country ... and he wants to be a good father, a good husband, but because of his injury, he has to relearn how to do all that.

"So what we are doing is trying to be a part of that healing process. I mean, the house was in such bad shape that most of the time, he would just go out to the shed. He got so overwhelmed that it was the only place he felt safe. Well, hopefully, by the time we're done, he'll be able to feel safe inside that house with his family."


It started when a combat nurse contacted Dorman about one of her patients.

The man, she said, was a Marine who was wounded in Iraq -- the kind of person who would never ask for help, no matter how much he and his family needed it.

"After talking to her ... I finally came over to the house. It was in really bad shape," Dorman said. "There were holes in the walls, there was a lot of mold in the kitchen, the deck was falling in."

And he learned about Warren's condition -- about the mood swings and his tendency to isolate himself in that backyard shed, how he wakes up with severe headaches that seemingly never subside.

"But when you look at him, he looks fine. On the outside, he's OK," Dorman said. "Well, inside, he's not. It's easy for someone to understand a disability when they can see it, but when they can't, they just don't get it."

No one knows that more than Warren's wife, Maria.

"Some people, they still judge him because he doesn't look hurt. They don't understand," she said. "But they don't live here. They don't know what we've been through.

"Just yesterday, I asked him one little thing, and he just lost it. It's like he came back from Iraq a totally different person. It's not an easy road."

But despite all she has been through since her husband returned from the desert, Maria said she could never walk away from the man she fell in love with almost instantly.

"It's an every day battle, but God I love him," Maria said, watching Warren interact with their daughters. "I'm going to be by his side until the good Lord takes me away."


While the man Maria knows her husband can be -- the one he was before he went to war -- motivates her to support him through his many hardships, those who showed up to renovate the couple's home have different reasons for standing behind Warren.

For Forrest Roberts and other members of the Beulaville Methodist Church congregation, it's all about helping those in need.

"That's our main thing, we do what we can, and this is something that needs to be done," he said. "Our veterans, they need all the thanks and help they can get -- especially the wounded warriors."

American Legion Post 511 Commander Richard Gore agrees.

"We just don't praise our veterans enough and until somebody's been overseas ... they just don't know what they go through," he said. "And what's happened here, it's something that Warren can't help. He's got no control of it. Hopefully, by us doing this, he'll get back to being Warren again."

And 25-year-old Brad Johnson, who was part of a group that traveled from Raleigh to participate, also felt compelled to honor a man he says fought on his behalf.

"Serving our veterans is so important right now," he said. "So it's great to help out. It's awesome."

The result of their labor, Dorman said, will be "awesome" in its own right.

By the second week of December, the home will have, among other things, a new deck, kitchen, laundry room and hardwood floors.

And if enough funding is available -- Military Missions In Action is a non-profit organization and everything being done at the Marine's home is being paid for via donation -- landscaping will be completed, too.

"By the time we're done, I think it's going to look great," Dorman said.


Not too long ago, Faith came home from school with a list of things she wanted for Christmas.

"One of the items on the list was, 'I want Daddy to come in more,'" Dorman said.

And once the stress of a deteriorating house is lifted from her husband's shoulders, Maria is confident that Warren will feel safe outside the shed where he has spent so much time since his tour ended.

"Do you know what the best Christmas present would be? For us all to be in there together," she said, looking beyond those volunteers at the house that, in a few weeks, will have a new life. "So I don't think people understand. This is the biggest thing that could ever happen."