By Maryann Batlle of the Naples Daily News

For Geoffrey and Lara Heath, milestones have come with little fanfare.

The couple married "in some guy's living room" a few years after they met in high school. The next day, Geoffrey Heath left to fulfill his duties as a U.S. Marine. When their first child, Logan, was born in the United States, Geoffrey Heath was serving in Iraq. Years later, Geoffrey Heath's military career ended in Afghanistan. An explosion shattered his body.

The hero returned in need of care.
"There have been times I have been jaded, completely disenchanted," Geoffrey Heath said. "(But) I've had an excellent family life, and a woman who stood by my side."

Friday morning, some of the hardship slipped away. The Heaths came home.

Motorcycles escorted a silver sedan down a neighborhood street flanked with people waving little American flags. The procession came to rest near a white tent that hinted at more ceremony. Inside the silver sedan, Lara and Geoffrey Heath needed explanation. Rusty Carroll, executive director of Operation Finally Home, leaned into one of the car's windows. The Heaths are recipients of a mortgage-free house in Corkscrew Shores, a new community on the eastern fringe of the village of Estero.

He stepped back. The secret was out. Cheers rose from the crowd, louder and louder. Geoffrey Heath chuckled in the passenger seat. His chest swelled as he caught his breath. A group of reporters with cameras and cellphones descended.

He smiled. "How y'all doing?" Geoffrey Heath said.

The Heath application made its way to the right people. Operation Finally Home is a Texas nonprofit that connects homebuilders with wounded military vets or their surviving spouses.

"We simply just bring good people together to do good work," Carroll said. "It's hard to discern who enjoys it most — the family that's getting the home or those that are putting their time, effort and services into providing it."

Corkscrew Shores is a joint venture between Pulte Homes and Cameratta Companies. Carroll said Pulte, the builder in Corkscrew Shores, has provided 32 homes through Operation Finally Home and has about another 10 homes in the works.

The Heath family was chosen, in part, because of Geoffrey Heath's character, Carroll said. "He's obviously served his country. He's sacrificed," Carroll said. But the family also stood out because of their struggle.

Operation Finally Home helps those having trouble with life's "humps" after the military, he said. The group's mission is to provide those families with guaranteed shelter so they can move on with their lives.

"They can't get over it based on the service and sacrifices, so we try to look for that character piece — that spark," Carroll said.

During Geoffrey Heath's recovery, Lara Heath earned a teaching certificate to help pay the bills. Logan, 10, now has two younger sisters — Rowan, 7, and Harlow, 4. Lara and Geoffrey Heath are from Miami. They wanted to buy a home in Florida so their children would grow up in the same state they did. The family ended up in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

"We wanted to come back," Lara Heath said. "We looked and looked for months and months. "We wanted to give them roots."

The Heaths posed for photos, each with shovel tips stuck in the ground where their new home will be built. In about four months, the Heath family's nearly 2,000-square-foot home will stand on that lot. Each of the children will get a room of his or her own.

Construction begins this week, said Rich McCormick, president of Pulte's South Florida division. At the construction halfway mark, those involved in creating the house will write "notes of love" to the Heaths on the wall frames, said McCormick. The Heaths will come back to see it, and then the drywall will go up.

"It will be there forever," McCormick said.

After the ceremonies and photo opportunities, Geoffrey Heath already felt the love. Even though he was the one getting a house, people stood in line to shake his hand and thank him.

"This is insane," Geoffrey Heath said over and over.

They thought they were meeting with builders for an interview, he said. They thought nothing had been decided. Instead, the Heaths would pick paint colors that afternoon.

"This is just incredible. What these people have done for me and my family," Geoffrey Heath said. "I'm just absolutely grateful."