A rumbling motorcycle escort guided retired U.S. Army Sgt. Rubin Anderson into Lookout Valley on Thursday morning. A clutch of more than three dozen well-wishers stood in his new yard and driveway snapping photos as Anderson stepped out of his pickup truck and toward his new home.
Sweat beaded the 38-year-old Iraq War veteran's close-cropped scalp as he listed to first the bank representative, then Chattanooga's mayor, then others as they said how grateful they were for his service and thankful they could help with this home.
Volunteers had patched wallboard and gathered donated furniture, a lawnmower and food from local stores so the Anderson family wouldn't step into an empty house.
Moments before Bank of America/Merrill Lynch representative Carol George handed over the key to Anderson's mortgage-free house near Browns Ferry Road, the veteran had a few words of thanks of his own.
"I'm really overwhelmed," Anderson told the crowd. "I've heard nothing but good things about the community, the area, the overall love. And I'm feeling it right now."
As Anderson and his family turned to enter the home, one of the motorcycle riders who had escorted them from the nearby interstate shouted from the crowd, "Sgt. Anderson, we don't have a 'move that bus' but we have a 'welcome home Sgt. Anderson.'"
The man, who identified himself later only as "Preach" was referring to the former popular ABC network TV show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The program renovated homes for disadvantaged families.
Anderson served two tours in Iraq as an infantryman. He was part of the invasion force in 2003. Two years later, he spent a tour in the Sunni Triangle of Death, where he lost three fellow soldiers and a lieutenant weeks before an IED blast wounded him.
He left the Army on a medical retirement in 2008.
Those combat wounds qualified him for a program known as "Homes 4 Wounded Heroes" run by the nonprofit Military Warriors Support Foundation.
The foundation's senior director, Andrea Dellinger, said Thursday that the group has placed veterans or spouses of veterans killed in action in 576 houses since 2010.
Bank of America is one of the group's major partners. The bank has placed 41 military members in homes in Tennessee and more than 1,000 people nationwide in homes in the past three years, said George.
This was the first such home placement in Chattanooga, George said.
Any veteran wounded in combat or combat-related training may apply and must pass a qualifications check, Dellinger said.
Inside the Andersons' home, cupcakes and sandwiches awaited the family, along with a desk, two beds for children, a couch and a kitchen table with chairs and full place settings.
Anderson's children, ages 6 to 12, scampered around and tugged at Dad's arm while he thanked volunteers and talked with local media.
"It's amazing," Anderson said. "I didn't believe it would turn out like this."
Contact staff writer Todd South at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...