2016-06-23 / Front Page

Iraq veteran gets a real homecoming

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer


Harry Lewis, left, and Waylon Holbrook, cut vinyl siding for a Habitat for Humanity home, which Holbrook hopes to move into by August. Holbrook is an Army veteran who served a tour in Iraq. Servicemen and veterans have been volunteering to help build the house. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) Harry Lewis, left, and Waylon Holbrook, cut vinyl siding for a Habitat for Humanity home, which Holbrook hopes to move into by August. Holbrook is an Army veteran who served a tour in Iraq. Servicemen and veterans have been volunteering to help build the house. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) SACO/ KENNEBUNKPORT – Two Saco Army veterans have found a kinship building a Habitat for Humanity house on Kennebunkport’s Beachwood Avenue that will be the new home of Waylon Holbrook, whose four years of duty included a tour in the second wave of Iraqi Freedom. Holbrook returned to civilian life in 2005.

Holbrook, 37, who lives in Saco, said he hopes to move into his newly built home by August, a home that’s the first ever Habitat for Humanity house built for a veteran in York County.

Sharon England, grant writer for Habitat for Humanity York County, said the project is the 26th Habitat for Humanity home built in the county.


Air National Guardsman Dan Wilson and active duty Navy man Tyler Chapman install vinyl siding on a Habitat for Humanity house that will be given to an Army veteran, Waylon Holbrook. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) Air National Guardsman Dan Wilson and active duty Navy man Tyler Chapman install vinyl siding on a Habitat for Humanity house that will be given to an Army veteran, Waylon Holbrook. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) Brad Howard, 45, also of Saco, said he saw a Habitat for Humanity call for volunteers posted at his church and decided to get involved. Howard served 17 years in the Army, including a tour in the third wave of Iraqi Freedom, and returned to civilian life in 2006. Howard said HE didn’t have any carpentry skills before working on the house but learned as a volunteer.

“Doing a lot of volunteerism can be therapeutic for me,” Howard said.

While volunteering, Howard met Holbrook, who must volunteer at least 400 hours toward the building of the house, and the two veterans discovered how much they had in common. They were both married with two children, had sons attending Young School in Saco, and had fought in Iraq while in the Army at nearly the same time.

“I like helping vets because both us have the same experience,” Howard said. “There’s always that bond of brotherhood with other vets, too … being veterans is like a brotherhood – instant friendship.”

Holbrook said the experience building the house has helped him become more social, too.

“Being non-social, not relating to anything around you. Once you go to war, you don’t look at things the same, nothing’s the same,” Holbrook said. “Being outdoors, it’s so much more helpful for your mood than being reclusive.”

Holbrook said he initially didn’t want to apply for the Habitat for Humanity home because he didn’t want a free house. However, he soon found out that the house wasn’t free and he would have to help to build it and pay the organization back a “silent” mortgage – an interest-free loan that once paid back will be used to finance another house for somebody else.

Out of 20 applicants for the home, he was selected as the recipient.

Holbrook said it will be the first Habitat for Humanity home built in York County in more than five years. The organization plans to build two more houses in the county in the next year, one in West Kennebunk and another in Wells.

Holbrook said the organization was accommodating during the design process and agreed to put in a 6-foot bathtub instead of a 5-foot bathtub, and install more windows than originally planned.

“They know how light affects me and put in more windows,” he said. “I used to do the opposite, close all the curtains and stay inside.”

Howard said it’s not uncommon for veterans, including those from the Korea and Vietnam wars, to become reclusive.

“Even when I was working, on the weekends I would mope around. I wouldn’t leave the house,” Howard said. “Especially combat vets, we have more of that connection that we’ve been through that. It doesn’t matter if you’re a World War II vet or now, if you’ve seen combat, you have similar experiences.”

“This is the most active or social I’ve been in 10 years,” Holbrook added.

To help both himself and other veterans, Howard said he has signed up for the Vetto Vet program of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging, which pairs younger veterans with older house-bound veterans.

Holbrook said he too, has found fulfillment helping others. He and some Army buddies of his formed a nonprofit, Lancer Legacy Ranch, and bought land in Texas where veterans with PTSD can receive therapy working with animals.

The two men often talk about the lack of resources and support services for veterans, having decided that the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t adequately support veterans returning from war.

“The VA, when I got out, was not even ready for anything,” Holbrook said. “We kind of essentially, got put on the backburner to the wave of others that got out after us.”

“The VA is just getting caught up with us even though we got back first,” Howard added. “They say you’ll get this, this and this, but when you get out, it’s not like that.”

“The VA needs to stop finding ways to save money over treating vets,” Holbrook said. “They’re more concerned about how they can save money treating vets than what’s the best treatment for them.”

Holbrook said he thinks it’s unfair that many soldiers acquire PTSD from combat and then get dishonorably discharged for erratic behavior and receive no benefits.

“A lot of guys see what they see and do what they do and then they get kicked out,” he said.

Holbrook said a friend of his who got shot in the shoulder also developed PTSD because he had shot a child, and was discharged “other than honorable” for behavior that resulted from the PTSD.

For the most part, Holbrook said he doesn’t talk about his experiences in combat.

“Some days I talk about things, but I don’t even tell my wife everything.”

As for his Habitat for Humanity home, Holbrook said he hopes more veterans will be able to acquire their own houses.

“It’s important that vets have a stable home that they can live in that’s well built,” he said.

Habitat for Humanity relies on volunteers to help build its houses, but pays for the supplies and materials and hires one general contractor to oversee the project.

When active Air National Guardsman Dan Wilson and active duty Navy man Tyler Chapman heard there was a Habitat for Humanity home being built for a veteran, they volunteered to help. Chapman said he is going to recruit some people from the Portsmouth Shipyard to volunteer.

“It’s good to help out a serviceman, even if he was Army,” Wilson said, “but they do like our gunships.”

“The Air Force takes care of us,” Holbrook said.

Volunteer Harry Lewis served in the Navy for 22 years and has one son in the Army and another in the Air Force.

“The more important part (of being a general contractor) is helping people be organized, more than actually building the house. It’s a lot of manpower. You’re really more of a teacher than a builder,” said Jack Rodie, general contractor for the project.

Rodie said he has worked with Habitat for Humanity for a year now and enjoys helping others learn construction skills.

Howard and Holbrook both said when the Beachwood Avenue house is completed, they intend to volunteer to help build the next Habitat for Humanity home in West Kennebunk, slated to break ground next year.

To volunteer for Habitat for Humanity York County, call 985-4850.

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