This week Matthew and I were able to witness a very special event. It took place just outside of Reno which is a 12 hour drive no matter how you look at it from our house. But, it was well worth it.
In order to see the significance of our trip let me take you back three years, to Afghanistan. Army Specialist Mark was doing his usual job as gunner, manning the cannon in an Infantry Stryker tank when they hit an IED. Fortunately, no one was killed because the tank is heavily reinforced, but some were seriously injured. Specialist Mark’s injuries were severe enough that he was not able to return to his position and was sent home to recover. At the end of the deployment the rest of the unit returned to its home base and where they were rejoined by those injured. Specialist Mark resumed his position. After a short stay the Army decided they needed the additional support of this Infantry unit and once again they began training for deployment. It was during this time that Specialist Mark discovered the severity of his injuries. After a fall during night training x-rays revealed that the broken vertebrae in his back had splintered and bone fragments were pushing on his spinal cord. Surgery was done to stabilize the bone but the nerve damage could not be repaired. The orthopedic surgeons told Mark he was done in the Army. This wounded warrior had to take a medical retirement from the service.
Fast forward two years and now Veteran Mark has completed all the therapy and treatments as prescribed. He has no feeling in his left leg and limited in his right. Special braces help him to walk though he still needs to use a cane or a wheelchair for any distances. It’s a difficult adjustment but he remains Army tough and as he told me he, “soldiers on.”
Mark and his wife Rochelle were just starting to think about their options for the future, sudden retirement was not part of their plans, when they learned about Operation Homefront. This non-profit organization was created following 9/11 to support the military men and women and their families. Their primary target is the unmet financial hardship of the military families particularly those who have suffered death, injury or other crisis. Charity Navigator just awarded Operation Homefront with its 4-Star rating for the seventh year. As a charity they use an impressive 94% of received contributions to help families.
Our family has been aware of Operation Homefront for years because they sponsor local 9/11 events. I regularly get emails about their fundraising opportunities for collecting back to school supplies for the children and helping families who need utility or grocery assistance. But like many, we were not familiar with their Homes on the Homefront program. The agency partners with banks (in this case Chase) and home builders to place wounded veterans into a home of their own.
Mark and Rochelle filled out the myriad of paperwork and were accepted into the program. They were able to pick the general area where they wanted to move and when a home became available they applied to become its homeowners. It was an exciting day when they learned they were chosen. The house was a bank repossession and Operation Homefront worked with Chase to assure that everything was in good working order with a fresh coat of paint before the family could move in.
The key ceremony happened last week. Matthew and I met up with Mark, Rochelle and their daughter Leah who were all just as excited as could be. This was their first true home. No longer would they be renters! The family wasn’t allowed to see the house before the ceremony; they knew where it was and had been given pictures of the original inside. As we pulled up a stream of cheering welcomers from both Chase Bank and Operation Homefront came out to greet us. It was beyond thrilling as they welcomed the family and then gave the grand tour. The single story home is on a quiet cul-de-sac . The new carpet and surprise of fresh out of the box appliances gave it a brand new feel. Between Operation Homefront, Chase Bank and the VA the home will soon be made ADA compliant to accommodate Mark’s specific needs.
The rest of the week was spent helping unpack after the movers truck arrived. Matthew discovered that his friends at least feigned interest in his ever present TV Guide. He and I did a good job of pretending to be working while in reality we didn’t do very much. We did pick up Bob who flew in and was able to install Rochelle’s new dining room light as well as some minor Mr. Fix-it projects before we headed back home.
Thank you Operation Homefront and supporters. Thank you Chase Bank. Thank you Mark for your service and Rochelle for managing the homefront.
It was so fun to witness this ceremony. We are thankful that Mark and Rochelle allowed us to be part of it. We are especially thankful that men and women like Mark continue to risk everything in order that the rest of us can sleep safely at night.
And the title? I invited Rochelle and Mark to join us for the holidays…after all, it’s only a 12 hour drive… but they declined. They are eager to be Home for the Holidays.