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Construction begins on Kerns house
J.B. Kerns helped get the site for his new ‘smart home’ ready Thursday by pushing down trees with a bull dozer. Kerns lost both legs and his right arm in an IED attack in Afghanistan in 2011. (Bulletin photo)
J.B. Kerns has come a long way since the April 2011 IED blast that cost him both legs and an arm. The triple amputee demonstrated his never-give-up attitude Thursday from the seat of a tractor, pushing trees into the woods to make way for his new home.
About 50 people — including the Patriot Honor Guard — attended Thursday’s groundbreaking in Ararat for Kerns’ new “smart home,” which is being built through the efforts of two foundations that aid wounded veterans.
Many in the crowd watched intently as Kerns wielded the tractor like a bulldozer, clearing trees from the site selected for his home, according to John Hodge, director of operations for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation.
That foundation partners with the Gary Sinise Foundation to build “smart homes” for severely wounded veterans through a program called “Built for America’s Bravest.”
The homes are equipped with technology that allows the veterans to live independently.
Kerns, now 23, was a Marine corporal assigned to Afghanistan when he was wounded in 2011. He lost both legs and his right arm after an IED (improvised explosive device) attack and then underwent months of surgeries and rehabilitation to reclaim his life.
Driving a tractor and physically participating in the groundbreaking for his new home is quintessential Kerns, Hodge said.
“J.B. is atypical” of many wounded warriors, Hodge said.
Kerns “is vital. He’s vibrant. He’s ready to go. A lot are not in that same strong position,” Hodge said shortly after leaving the 15-acre site that overlooks the Ararat River.
The property was bought for Kerns’ single-story log cabin-style home, which will feature a stone façade, green roof and a two-car garage.
Hodge said he anticipates excavation will begin “very quickly and the contractor ready to go. We hope to have J.B. in his new house and doing a barbecue from his back deck by July 1.”
But Hodge was quick to note that there are several factors that will come into play in that timeline, including the weather and incorporating the smart home technology.
“If we were just doing the log home, I’m sure we could finish it by then, but it is contingent on” many other factors, he said. However, “we are hopeful and we think it will be done” by July 1.
Hodge said he does not know how much the home will cost because “we still don’t have a final number,” mainly due to incorporating the technology into a log structure.
The groundbreaking took a while longer than some smart home projects because Kerns’ home is being built in a remote location, “the fact that he had asked for — and we had promised — a log home, and it took a while to find a vendor who was able to do a true log home and be able to work with smart home people. There are a lot of unique qualities” surrounding Kerns’ home, Hodge said. “But the end is in sight and we are looking forward to getting his home built.”
Sinise, an actor known for his roles in “Forrest Gump” and “CSI:NY,” who also performs in the Lt. Dan Band, was in Martinsville in 2012 for a concert that raised funds for Kerns’ home. Sinise wrote a letter that was read during Thursday’s groundbreaking.
“It is truly our honor to support such an upstanding young man as Cpl. J.B. Kerns,” Sinise wrote. “This home, surrounded by its quiet, natural beauty, will be a symbol of the peace you’ve helped bring to our nation. We hope it will provide you ... a place to realize your incredible potential. I only wish I were there to thank you personally, J.B., for the remarkable sacrifices you’ve made for each and every one of us. It is our wish that this home represents, in some small way, the sincere gratitude we feel.”
Also in a statement read at the event, NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth praised Kerns’ sacrifice, as well as those that other servicemen and women make daily.
“Our soldiers like J.B. Kerns make sacrifices every day that I don’t think anyone can truly comprehend, so I am grateful for the bravery he has shown,” Kenseth wrote. “J.B. served this country with great honor and I’m thankful that he will now get a new smart home that will help him in his daily life. I was fortunate enough to meet J.B. and his family last year at Martinsville when we ran a special paint scheme in his honor, and I’m glad to hear his house is underway.”
Kenseth was referring to a special paint scheme on his No. 17 Ford that honored Kerns during last year’s Goody’s Fast Relief 500.
Hodge said Kerns’ home project would not have been possible without Sinise, Kenseth, the Martinsville Speedway, Jeb Bassett and others in the Martinsville-Henry County area.
Recalling that the kickoff event for the fund drive was held at the speedway, that Bassett said Bassett Furniture Co. will donate all of the furniture for Kerns’ home, support of Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band concert and others who have helped, Hodge said, “Martinsville should take a bow.”
The area, its residents and businesses “have played a huge role in making this possible,” Hodge said. “You all should take a bow.”