Veterans given keys to new home in Texas

By TERRY EVANS | Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram/MCT | Published: December 22, 2012

ARLINGTON, Texas -- When she walked into the spacious kitchen of her new home Friday, retired Army Sgt. Natasha Green almost fainted.

Her husband, Tobias Green, also a retired Army sergeant, was speechless as they checked out the new appliances, including an island cooktop, a double oven, a massive refrigerator/freezer and a large dishwasher. Adjoining rooms held a big pantry and a new washer and dryer.

"I am shocked," Natasha said. "I'm about to pass out."

The house was given to the Greens by the Military Warriors Support Foundation and Bank of America during a ceremony Friday morning.

Changing lives is the point behind a program that has given 256 houses to veterans injured during Middle Eastern deployments, said Paul LaVoie, a founding board member of the Military Warriors Support Foundation.

Its goal is to give 1,000 houses to such veterans in the next three years, he said.

Tobias was injured in 2005 in Baghdad.

"Young men like Tobias come home with financial difficulties and medical issues that will take time to straighten out," LaVoie said. "Now he has a place to raise his family, somewhere his grandchildren can come to visit him. How many people even when they get that old have the titles to their homes?"

While her parents looked around the kitchen, daughter Lamaya, 7, danced around impatiently, her mind focused on one thing -- the upstairs bedrooms.

"Can I look upstairs now?" she shouted.

With her parents' blessing, she sprinted up two flights of steps leading to a wide landing that served three bedrooms. She claimed the center one, with a big window that looks onto the front yard. The other bedrooms will go to her brother, 13-year-old Tobias Jr., and her cousin, 4-year-old Camille.

The Greens will get the title after living mortgage-free in the home for three years if they comply with such requisites as paying property taxes and maintaining the property, LaVoie said.

But it was easy to see that they were already feeling at home and feeling grateful.

"It means a lot to my family just for someone to be there after we got out of the Army," said Natasha, 30. "It means a lot that people still care."

Medically discharged

Caring about veterans who have returned wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan is part of the motivation for Bank of America's involvement, said Mike Pavell, president of the bank's Fort Worth branches.

Almost 160 Bank of America-owned houses, including 64 in Texas, have been donated to veterans and first responders through the program. It returns empty properties, some of them foreclosures, to usefulness, Pavell said.

"We're helping to improve communities and strengthening neighborhoods," he said. "The Bank of America military affairs advisory group focuses on education, employment, wellness and housing for veterans returning to the civilian world."

The Military Warriors Support Foundation finds qualified recipients and matches them to properties held by financial institutions, Pavell said.

Tobias, 33, said being selected means that he can raise his family in a beautiful home in a nice neighborhood. It also means that he can attend nearby Tarrant County College Southeast to prepare for a career that will accommodate the physical limitations that led to his medically mandated early retirement.

"I wanted to do 20, but I was medically discharged because of a back injury," he said.

The injury

Tobias, who was a fire direction specialist with the 176th Artillery Battalion, said he was in a Humvee escorting a convoy between outposts in Baghdad in 2005 when the convoy was hit with an improvised explosive device carried by a vehicle. His injuries seemed fairly insignificant at the time.

"I finished my tour, came back and did more training and was ready to deploy again when my back started hurting again," he said. "I had surgery in 2009. They couldn't make it better. It just kept getting worse. I was discharged in 2011."

Natasha was in 88M transportation for seven years, doing two deployments in Iraq -- 15 months in 2006-07 and 10 months in 2009. She found herself under fire from time to time but was never injured.

Her husband received the Purple Heart, among several other medals.

Both were discharged in Georgia, where they've been living for the last year. The Greens are keeping Camille for Tobias' sister, who's still in the Army, Natasha said.

"We were living in a three-bedroom house in Hinesville, Ga.," she said. "We chose to come here because my family is here and we had no family in Georgia."

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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