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Family of fallen airman given new home

ABERDEEN — Last October, Krista Harvell thought she was attending a military appreciation event on the Pinecrest High School football field.

Instead, the Golden Knights jumped into the field and handed her blueprints to a new house being built just for her and her two young sons.

"It was a shock to say the least," she said.

The home is courtesy of the Moore County chapter of Operation Finally Home, a group that provides custom-made mortgage-free homes to wounded and disabled veterans and the widows of the fallen, and the Moore County Home Builders Association.

Harvell's husband, Staff Sgt. Andrew Harvell, was killed Aug. 6, 2011, when a CH-74 Chinook helicopter he was aboard was shot down by the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was a combat controller for the 24th Special Tactics Squadron, an Air Force Special Operations Command unit based at Pope Field.

The $350,000 home - about three miles from where the Harvells lived in Southern Pines - also is a product of the Moore County community. Almost all the money to build the home has been raised through fundraisers, donated supplies and labor, not to mention dozens of volunteers and the cooperation of a group of normally competitive builders.

Only $30,000 remains to be raised to complete the 2,600-square-foot home.

Harvell said the home, which is expected to be finished by next month, exceeds her expectations.

"If I designed it myself, it wouldn't be this great," she said.

Krista and Andrew Harvell met in 2006 when she was visiting her brother, Tom Klonk, who served in the same unit. They started dating the next year, a week after she moved to Moore County following her graduation from Ohio State University.

Andrew Harvell was kind of shy, but sweet and funny, she said.

"He was hilarious," she said.

Andrew Harvell joined the Army in 2002. He loved his job, Krista said. Combat controllers coordinate air support with troops on the ground in hostile situations.

"He was a good family person," she said. "That and his career were the number one things."

Everybody who met Andrew liked him, she said.

"He was a really good person," she said.

He was on his fifth deployment when he was killed. He was among 38 who died in the crash, including other Air Force special operators, Navy SEALS, members of the Army National Guard, Afghan soldiers and an interpreter.

He died on what would have been the couple's second wedding anniversary.

Andrew Harvell's unit put in an application for Krista to get a house from Operation Finally Home.

After Andrew died, Krista took the couple's sons, Hunter and Ethan, to California, where her husband was raised, so his family could see their kids. She also got her master's in business administration while she was there from July 2012 to November 2013.

She was living in California when representatives from Operation Finally Home contacted her.

They asked her where she would like to live. She wanted to move back to North Carolina.

"All my friends are here," she said. "It's a really good support system."

Harvell didn't hear anything for about a year. But then Operation Finally Home officials called and asked her if she could come to North Carolina in October for an interview.

"I thought they were probably interviewing hundreds of people," she said.

She knew she'd be able to visit her family while she was in Moore County, so she flew back to the East Coast. Then Klonk, her brother, asked her if she wanted to go to the military appreciation event.

At Pinecrest High School, Krista was recognized with two other people. She thought the other two people were contenders to get a new home as well and expected to hear an announcement that one of them had been selected.

What she didn't know was that she was the only one being considered.

A new house would be built for her and her sons, 5-year-old Hunter and 3-year-old Ethan.

Operation Finally Home has built two other homes in North Carolina and is working on two others, said Daniel Vargas, a spokesman for the organization. By the end of the year, the group will have finished more than 120 homes across the country.

Harvell's home will be the second for a military widow, Vargas said. The other was built in Texas for the wife of a Marine.

Vargas said Operation Finally Home teams up with communities to build the houses.

"This is really a 21st-century barn raising," he said.

The organization contacted the Moore County Home Builders Association about constructing the house for Harvell.

"Several builders jumped up and said, 'We'll make it happen,'" said Danny Adams of Daniel Adams Construction in Pinehurst.

The other builders are Densel Williams of Integrity Builders in Southern Pines, Bob Van Houten of BVH Construction Services in Seven Lakes, Mark Stewart of Stewart Construction in Seven Lakes, Les Murray of Big Sky Construction in Aberdeen, Bill Huckabee of Wemmark Properties in Pinehurst, and Jon Potter of Masters Properties in Southern Pines.

"There are a lot of strong egos, but we were able to keep it together," Adams said. "We're excited about that accomplishment."

The builders divided the areas of construction and met weekly to make sure everything stayed on track.

"It's been the most cooperative project I've ever worked on in my life," Huckabee said. "Everybody has contributed that has been asked, and dozens have come to us to volunteer without being asked."

Johnsye White of Pinehurst handled the home's interior design. J.D. Cuff, manager at Locust Lumber in Southern Pines, secured material for the house.

Altogether, Cuff said 40 to 60 companies contributed to the effort.

"It wasn't really difficult to rally the troops," he said. "It wasn't difficult to pool the resources."

Non-profit organizations and schools have sent volunteers to help with the house, too, said Meredith Sledz, the association's executive officer.

As Harvell stood in in what will be her front yard, she said she appreciates everyone who contributed money or labor to complete the home.

"It's awesome," she said. "Look at it."

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