“Everywhere you look, it looks just like that,” Drew Wagster said.
The Itawamba resident was pointing at the excess sand around the slab of his newly built home.
He had spent the last year deployed to the hot sandy terrain of the middle east. He serves with the 155th and was stationed at Camp Buehring Kuwait. He spent time in Iraq as well.
“There’s just sand over there. There’s no grass, no tree’s, just sand and dust and the days are hot and long,” he said. “It’s good to be home. I just wanted to touch the grass when I got back.”
Drew and his wife Shanna, along with their young daughter Bristol make their home just a few miles outside Mantachie on his Grandfather Thornton’s old home place. It’s a place he has loved since a child and always hoped he could build his home there one day.
In early 2018 the young couple decided to do just that...build.
When they began their new home, they knew Drew’s deployment was inevitable, but it came much sooner than they had anticipated. While Drew was boarding the plane to head to the middle east, his new home was barely started and his wife was pregnant with Bristol.
“It was tough,” Shanna said. “Drew was only able to come home for two weeks after Bristol was born and that was it.”
When his two week leave was over, Drew boarded a plane again and returned to active duty. Meanwhile Shanna was caring for a newborn, working full-time as a surgical tech and contemplating what her next move would be concerning their home.
Her voice still carries a tone of purpose and determination as she talks about it. She said she made up her mind, finishing their home was NOT an impossible task.
So she rolled up her sleeves and went to work. She was joined by a host of family and friends, Drew’s parents, Chris and Kristy Wagster, Shanna’s sisters, Stephanie and Samantha joined in too.
The plan was to surprise Drew with a completely finished home when he returned.
In the midst of it all, Shanna jokingly says “Pinterest” became her best friend.
The couple had only selected a few of the homes components before he left, the style, the cabinets, the color of the brick. It would be up to Shanna to get the couples likes and dislikes “nailed” so to speak.
It was a “hurry up and wait, step-by-step” process and like any construction project. Drew had been sent a few pictures of plywood and brick along the way. As far as he was concerned, as soon as he returned he had a big job ahead of him.
“Once we got the sheet rock up we were able to move along pretty quickly,” Shanna said. “But it did make for some very long nights.”
As Drew’s homecoming approached, they had no time to lose. The more tedious and time consuming aspects of the home had to be completed, tile, flooring, trim and interior design. That’s when longtime friends Max Campbell, Billy Raper and Nikki Gardner stepped in.
“We were all working on things we hadn’t done before be thank goodness we had friends ready to help. It was down to the wire, but we got done,” Shanna said. “It would not have been possible without the help of so many family members and friends.”
The only thing left to do now, was surprise Drew.
In the weeks prior to his homecoming, he had only seen a couple of photo’s of items Shanna was considering for their home when the time came. In his mind, he still had a lot to do when he got back to Itawamba County.
Finally it was “home”coming day.
When his plane landed and the couple were headed to Mantachie , Shanna insisted Drew be blindfolded.
“That was not easy,” Drew said. “I’m pretty claustrophobic and I didn’t really know what to think. I really thought maybe just a little more of the house was done and they wanted to surprise me.”
Shanna escorted her husband to the front of the home where friends and family were gathered.
She finally asked Drew, “Are you ready?!”
His “yes” was quickly followed by his speechlessness. He said couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Not only was he back with his family, standing in the place where he had always dreamed he’d live, but his home was completely finished.
“For a couple of days after I got back I would just walk out onto the front porch and just stand there,” he said. “it took me a little while to convince myself this is really MY house. I’m just overwhelmed and thankful for my wife and for everything that our friends and family have done for us.”
The Wagsters are busy completing their driveway and have plans for landscaping and watching the grass grow over the sandy area’s where construction once took place. Drew especially likes the view from his front porch, the same view his Grandfather Thornton enjoyed.
“You see those trees over there?” he asked this time pointing across the way. “They may not look like much to you, but that’s the most beautiful sight in the world to me.”
The Wagsters are enjoying their new home with their daughter Bristol and their beloved dog Roxy.
Drew has re-enlisted in the National Guard for two more years of service.