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Nonprofit foundation pays off mortgage on fallen 7th Group soldier's family home

Sgt. 1st Class Javier Gutierrez, 28, was killed in action Feb. 8 in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province while serving with the Eglin Air Force Base-headquartered 7th Group.

U.S. ARMY

By JIM THOMPSON | The Northwest Florida Daily News | Published: December 15, 2020

CRESTVIEW, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Just in time for Christmas, the mortgage on the family home of an Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) Green Beret soldier who died earlier this year in combat in Afghanistan has been paid in full.

The mortgage was paid by the nonprofit Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation through its Gold Star Family Home Program. The foundation honors the memory of Stephen Siller, an off-duty New York firefighter who died while responding to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the city.

Sgt. 1st Class Javier Gutierrez, 28, was killed in action Feb. 8 in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province while serving with the Eglin Air Force Base-headquartered 7th Group. He had served in the Army for 10 years, including four years with Special Forces.

He left behind his wife, Elena, and their four children — 8-year-old Gabriel, 6-year-old Eden, 5-year-old Helen and 3-year-old Emee.

"It gives me strength and hope for the future," Elena Gutierrez said of having the mortgage paid on the home, which the family moved into in August of last year.

"My husband was actually the first one who fell in love with the house," Gutierrez said.

A big part of the reason for that, she added, is that the home has a big backyard where her husband could play with their children, something their previous home didn't have.

The gift from the Tunnel to Towers Foundation is about much more than having a roof over her children's heads, Gutierrez said. It also gives her the gift of being a stay-at-home mother to her children.

It is, she said "a little light to my heart" that "gave me gratitude to fight for my kids."

Gutierrez said the children are still learning to cope with the absence of their father. Recently, one of them was upset that "his dad wasn't here to play with him," she said.

The children don't yet know about the circumstances of their father's passing, Gutierrez said.

"The only thing they know is that Daddy is in heaven," she said.

Things also are challenging for her, Gutierrez said.

"My sorrow and my grief are overwhelming at times," she added.

Initially, even after learning that the mortgage on the family home was being paid off, the thought of celebrating a first Christmas without her husband and the children's father was daunting, she said.

But recently, she said her thoughts have turned to Siller, who left behind a wife and five children of his own after responding to the terror attacks at the World Trade Center, which left both buildings as piles of rubble and claimed the lives of almost 3,000 people.

Siller's story is made even more remarkable by the fact that in responding to the attacks, he returned to the Squad 1 Fire Department in Brooklyn, strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and ran three miles from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, which had been closed to traffic for security purposes, to the World Trade Center.

This Christmas "will be very different than last year," Gutierrez said. But, she added, recalling Siller's heroics and the sacrifice of her husband — both in service to the country — "gives me the light to fight through the storm."

A little bit of that light recently prompted Gutierrez to decorate the home for the Christmas season, she said, as she has begun to realize that the best way to honor the sacrifices made by the two men is to celebrate the holiday.

The family was chosen to have its mortgage paid off through an application and vetting process established by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Among other requirements, the program is limited specifically to families of U.S. military service members killed in action in a combat zone within the past three years who are survived by at least one young child.

The Gutierrez home is the 10th home for which the Tunnel to Towers Foundation has paid off the mortgage in its second annual Season of Hope. Between Thanksgiving and New Year's Eve, the foundation will deliver 36 mortgage-free homes to qualifying families.

"I feel so grateful and blessed to know the kids and I have a home given to us in honor of Javier," Gutierrez said. "It gives me more peace of mind knowing we will be more secure and stable for the future. As a stay-at-home mom, it is truly a blessing. ... Thank you to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and all the people that support it. Because of all of you, this is all possible."

"SFC Gutierrez gave his life in service of our country," said Tunnel to Towers Chairman and CEO Frank Siller, a brother of Stephen Siller. "This holiday season, we at the Tunnel to Towers Foundation want to assure Elena and her children that his service and his sacrifice will never be forgotten."

For more on the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, go online to tunnel2towers.org.

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