There is a need to make the dream home of Charles and Traccy Hargrove habitable. The need includes men and women crafters skilled in the building trades along with donations of labor and materials.

Also needed are donations of cash which will be set aside in a nonprofit account to help veterans like Charles who find themselves in need of help through no fault of their own.

Persons wishing to help can contact Jim Sowers at 456-5563 or call Mike Moser at the Chronicle office at 484-5145, or evenings at 707-9475.

Charles Hargrove is a youngish-looking 36-year-old who continues to weather the storms that life throws at him. Considering the price he paid serving his country, one would expect him to be older, or at least, look older.

The ready smile on his clean-shaven face paints a pleasant facade covering up the storm that lies underneath. A veteran of three tours in war-ravaged countries, all the ex-warrior wanted was a quiet place of his own, a quiet and serene escape from his former life as a soldier.

If it weren’t for the ticks and the twitching that take over control of his body, one would never know that Hargrove and his wife, Traccy, live with a potential firestorm every day. One of the problems is that there is no one on the horizon to help him recover from his war wounds.

“My rubber band snapped,” Hargrove puts simply a complex problem that he faces. There are no purple hearts for soldiers like Hargrove who come back injured from the war. And now nature has decided to test the soldier one more time.

Strangers are starting to band together to offer a helping hand to the Hargroves so that they can put their dream home back together and Charles can devote attention toward healing himself.

Always wanted to

be a soldier

Charles Hargrove, by his own definition, was an Army brat. His father, Louis Hargrove, a native of Middle Tennessee, was a career soldier. Mom Joyce, a soldier’s wife. They lived in the Murfreesboro area until the day the Hargroves decided the city had become to big for them. So the Hargroves moved to Lake Tansi where Louis enjoys working on the golf course two days a week. It allows him to stay close to his retirement passion.

All Charles ever wanted to do was follow in his dad’s footsteps and be a soldier.

“Mom made me a uniform on her sewing machine,” Charles said, recalling his childhood as he sat in the shade outside his Breckenridge home. “She had to wash it at night so I could wear it the next day.”

Charles didn’t waste time entering the U.S. Army upon graduation from Antioch High School. On May 3, 1989, not long after his 18th birthday, Charles enlisted in the U.S. Army and trained for his Army job, that of military police. He was assigned to the Third Infantry Division, First Brigade.

His military journey took him from Ft. Stewart, GA, to Ft. Wainwright, AK. His first experience in war came in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan where jobs included patrolling and seeking out members of al-Qaida in “spider holes” (like the hole in the ground Saddam Hussein was found), caves and ravines. The climate in that part of Afghanistan is unforgiving but Charles completed his mission without major incident.

Next came Operation Iraqi Freedom and his first taste of war-torn Iraq where the mission was basically the same, but the ground rules were dramatically different. Instead of seeking enemies in caves and holes, the enemy is seeking U.S. soldiers and the enemy looks just like everyone else in the country. Fighting is in an urban setting and you never really know if the civilian you are facing wants to kill you.

He survived that tour and military life was being good to the little boy turned man who had always dreamed of being a soldier.

Then came the second tour and suddenly things just went wrong.

Bombing changed

his life forever

Something went terribly wrong and Charles still doesn’t understand why he changed, why his mind reacted as it did to the horrors of war.

“It can be tough,” Charles admitted. “Friends, soldiers ya know, dying around you.”

While he didn’t talk about the specifics, he remembers it all began in the twinkling of a second with an explosion and the body parts he found on himself. “I obtained it when I had bodies blown all over me.”

That was the day the rubber band snapped.

Suddenly Charles couldn’t stand for people to touch him. He reacted irrationally to people bumping into him, unintentionally sneaking up behind him. He couldn’t eat unless the food was cooked and cooked again. And he started wearing gloves day and night, afraid to touch anything that might not be clean.

Hargrove was shipped from the war zone to a hospital in Germany where he was at first given out-patient treatment.

While on an outing to a country club-style venue he received the one elbow to the head that he doesn’t regret. A pretty little U.S. Air Force cook from Texas was tying her hair in a ponytail when her elbow accidentally hit Hargrove in the back of the head, initiating what had become a typical rage response. But the object of his anger quickly captured his heart and on April 1, 2006, Traccy and Charles were married.

He describes Traccy as the calming force in his life and marvels at the fact that she married him, knowing what they would be facing together.

In typical military style, Charles was ordered to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. for further treatment of what now had been diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) compounded by an excessive compulsion disorder (the touching and germ phobia). Six days after their wedding, he was sent to the states while Traccy remained with her assignment with the 435th Air Wing in Ramstein, Germany.

For almost a year Charles was hospitalized at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. About all Charles says about Walter Reed is that news reports on conditions at the military hospital are as bad as what was reported, or worse.

The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder defines PTSD as follows, “After a trauma or life threatening event it is common to have upsetting memories of what happened, to have trouble sleeping, to feel jumpy, or to lose interest in things you used to enjoy. For some people these reactions do not go away on their own, or may even get worse over time.”

In April of this year, Charles was offered a 20-year retirement with 50 percent disability and after just over 18 years of service, the young couple was facing the uncertainty of the future. He is still trying to settle with the Veterans Administration. He meets periodically with a psychiatrist that he was referred to in Cookeville but so far is not on the list for treatment at the VA facility in Murfreesboro.

Not easy to deal with

Charles is very aware that he does not look like a war-injured warrior. “I mean, there are guys coming back with the arms blown off, their legs blown off, and then people look at me and they wonder, ‘What’s wrong with you??’”

He even calls it embarrassing and fears it is embarrassing to his family. Still, the PTSD has prevented him from pursuing his career training, not only in the military, but in civilian life. There was nothing left for him to do but accept a medical retirement.

“People just don’t understand this and I am not making excuses or asking for sympathy. This is just the way it is,” Charles says. So it’s one day at a time.

His dream home

Having visited his parents in the Lake Tansi area, Charles ventured out to the Lake Breckenridge area and found his dream home — a very modest single-wide mobile home with a million dollar view.

“I had a little nest egg I had been saving and I put it all down on my dream home,” Charles said. “I bought it on April 21 and on April 26 the tornado hit.”

The couple had set to work immediately fixing up the place, investing in insulation and other materials that the trailer needed to make it home. The day the tornado touched down in Mayland, a second funnel cloud passed over the southern end of Cumberland County and while not touching down, it dipped low enough to peal off a large section of the roof and some of the sides. What wasn’t wind damaged was water damaged and the trailer had to be basically gutted.

“We weren’t at home when the tornado hit,” Charles remembers. “We had gone to Lowe’s to get more supplies and were returning home. As we got closer to home, we started seeing pink bits scattered along the roadside. We both said something about it looking like what we had just put in. Then we turned the corner, and, oh my God.”

To make things worse, Charles has since learned that his military insurance does not cover mobile homes. The loss is his.

Since then Charles, Traccy, and Louis and Joyce peck away. The trailer has been cleaned out and debris burned. “Every day I get up and do a little more.” And the young couple continue to reside in what is left of the mobile home.

“You know, I have a choice. I don’t have to live here but I choose to live here. This is my home. My dream home. I could go to Tansi and move in with Mom and Dad but that is not me. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to stay.’

Besides, Charles pointed out, being in the military, both he and Traccy have lived in worse conditions than what their dream home now affords.

Until his case is settled, he is living on little more than the equivalent of a low end Social Security check.

Word of their plight became known after Charles wandered into the Cumberland County Chapter of the American Red Cross office recently. That attracted the attention of volunteer Jim Sowers, himself a military veteran.

“Charles needs the seclusion and the tranquility of his home,” said Sower recently after visiting the Hargroves. Sowers has helped “dry in” the mobile home and is now looking for ways to help the couple, both financially and with labor and materials.

Sowers has contacted Habitat for Humanity and Creative Compassion but has no commitment. He does not even know if the couple qualify for those programs.

The next best thing, according to Sowers, would be an extreme home makeover, fashioned after the popular television show by the same name, except Cumberland County style.

In fact, Sowers would like to see a permanent fund established to not only help the Hargroves, but other veterans who find themselves in similar situations. It is a simple way to say thanks to those who serve their country.