By Keith Pannell/The Cannoneer
FORT SILL, Ok. (TRADOC News Service, Feb. 23, 2007) -- Extreme Makeover Home Edition has selected the family of SFC (R) Gene Westbrook of Lawton, Okla., for their next home makeover project. The family was surprised and overwhelmed when they were "called out" of their home this morning by Ty Pennington, the star of the popular ABC-TV show. The crowd that greeted them included approximately 40 Fort Sill Soldiers in uniform, including the commander, drill sergeants and Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 19th Field Artillery, the training unit to which SFC Westbrook was assigned as a drill sergeant before he deployed to Iraq. While there Westbrook was severely injured in a mortar attack and has been confined to a wheelchair since then.
Others present this morning included Lawton Mayor John Purcell; representatives of the Lawton Chamber of Commerce and Industry; local builders; SFC Julie Hamilton, who submitted the original application to HMHE on behalf of the Westbrooks; the pastor and several members of the Westbrooks' church; and the principal and teachers from the school attended by James Westbrook, the son who is also confined to a wheelchair.
Following the "calling out," Soldiers and friends helped the Westbrooks empty the old home of their belongings, and pack for their week-long vacation arranged and paid for by EMHE. They were expected to depart Lawton today. Hundreds of volunteers from Lawton and Fort Sill are already at the site working to demolish the Westbrooks old home and construct a new one in a week's time. The show will be aired nationally sometime in the next few weeks.
Westbrook, a former Fort Sill drill sergeant, deployed to Iraq and was severely wounded in a mortar attack in 2004, leaving him confined to a wheelchair. Since then he has been medically retired and living in Lawton, OK. When members of his church took a collection and bought the family a specially-equipped van which allowed him to be mobile, it was major news in the area. Last year, however, a serious accident in the van re-injured SFC Westbrook and severely crippled their young son leaving him also in a wheelchair. The accident left mother and daughter having to take care of two paralyzed family members in a small home. An effort by hundreds in the Lawton-Fort Sill area brought the family to the attention of the Extreme Makeover Home Edition program.Until this morning, the Westbrooks had only known they were among five finalist families being considered for the program.