Army Staff Sgt. Michelle Satterfield was already talking about grocery shopping and preparing a home-cooked meal as she opened cupboards and checked out appliances Monday in her new White Oak home donated through the generosity of others.
"It's still kind of a dream to me," Satterfield said, sitting in her living room with her 12-year-old son, Hunter, on her first day home.
"I'm excited to cook and do laundry, to relax and be home. I'm excited to have a place to settle."
Satterfield, 36, is renting a small apartment in Morgantown, W.Va. Much of her family lives in New Mexico, and fellow soldiers in her Army Reserve unit, the 14th Quartermaster Detachment in Greensburg, have become her family. Moving to White Oak means Satterfield is closer to them and can spend more time with them.
"And we're closer to Sandcastle," Satterfield said, looking down at Hunter.
The New York-based Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation — named for a New York City firefighter killed when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed during the Sept. 11 terror attacks — teamed up with students from McKeesport Area High School, McKeesport-based Blueroof Technologies, the Pittsburgh Steelers Foundation, Home Depot, FedEx and several other companies to build and donate the home to Satterfield.
The single mom and Army Reservist served two tours in Iraq and went on humanitarian missions to El Salvador, Peru and to areas damaged by Hurricane Sandy. The Steelers surprised Satterfield at the last regular season home game Dec. 20 against the Denver Broncos with news of her free home. That night, she was given a large ceremonial key.
On Monday, she was given a smaller set of keys at a ceremony at McKeesport Area High School.
"I swear, I'll take the best care of it in the world," Satterfield told a raucous gymnasium full of high school students, many of whom worked on the three-bedroom, two-bath modular home outfitted with "smart home" technologies.
John Hodge, chief operating officer of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, said of the 47 homes the organization has built for veterans, this was the first built by students, "who have really big, wonderful hearts." The Tunnel to Towers Foundation built a home for former Marine Corps Sgt. Doug Vitale of Peters, who lost both legs to a roadside bomb in 2011 while on patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan.
Mike Locke, who teaches the building construction class at McKeesport Area High School, was introduced during the school ceremony by running through a tunnel of his students waving Terrible Towels and the high school band playing the theme from the Rocky movies.
Locke said his students built the house from the ground up in two pieces at the school. Later in the day, he toured it with Satterfield, the first time he had seen it in one piece.
"It means everything to them," Locke said of his students, who can build a home from scratch in about a year.
American flags lined Jersey Street in White Oak to welcome Satterfield home. Another flag hung from the extended ladders of two fire trucks. Satterfield was driven from the high school to her new home in a FedEx truck. At the house, FedEx presented her with a $10,000 gift certificate to Bob's Furniture to finish furnishing the house.
"I don't think I'll ever be able to thank everyone involved enough," Satterfield said.