MT. JULIET. TENN. (WTVF) — A U.S. Army Sergeant and his family received the keys to their new home in Mt. Juliet mortgage-free, thanks to the "Operation FINALLY HOME" organization on Monday.
U.S. Army Sergeant Ethan Laberge served for five years. During a combat mission in Afghanistan, a civilian detonated a suicide vest only about 10 feet from his group, killing and injuring some of his colleagues and leaving him in critical condition.
LaBerge suffered a concussion, many broken bones and head-to-toe shrapnel wounds. He now battles PTSD and a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). To date, he has undergone 11 surgeries, and still struggles with memory loss, intense pain and cognitive challenges. He medically retired in 2016.
For his service, LaBerge was awarded a Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars.
His wife, Arin, also served in the military and when "Operation FINALLY HOME" heard their story, they decided to offer help to the family.
"The final straw was just considering what's going to be best for our family and give them the best opportunity, and so, that's what finally pushed us to a plotting, and it's been an absolute whirlwind and we're so incredibly grateful for all the support that we've had and Operation FINALLY HOME has had," said Ethan.
They broke ground on their home in March 2021, had special letters of encouragement written inside in May and accepted the keys to the finished property Monday afternoon.
"It means everything to have this for them to grow up in, and this created a lot of opportunity for our kids which allows us to be a lot more invested in, in their lives, and we could not be more ecstatic," explained Ethan. "We are sure that we're going to have a roof over our heads, be able to go to all the, all the band, you know, all the art projects; be able to go to all sports. We're super excited about being able to have that luxury of, you know, being there for whatever may come up."
The Mt. Juliet Police Department, along with Wilson County community members, joined together to welcome the family into their home Monday.
Linda Salerno heard about the family and Ethan's service and showed up Monday with a quilt she had custom made for them.
"It was the story," Salerno explained, "And I guess the injuries, the fact that he was in the hospital for several weeks. You know, you have that line there between life and death and you don't know if they're going to survive. And it just, the Lord laid it on my heart. The Lord had this story to touch me. And as I said, Ethan is the first; I want to continue this work. I will have to find the veterans and let them know how much we appreciate what they have done."
Salerno and her husband donate quilts to veterans with a project called Quilts For Heroes. If you know someone deserving of her handiwork, email Salerno at firstname.lastname@example.org.