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Planned veterans community in Texas will put focus on learning high-tech job skills

From front to back, Ted Acheson, retired Maj. Gen. Michael Terry and Conley Giles are working to build a community with houses and job training facilities for Purple Heart recipients who are ready to start a new career.

RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

By CLAIRE OSBORN | Claire Osborn | Published: July 27, 2019

GEORGETOWN, Texas (Tribune News Service) — Three Georgetown residents, including a former Army combat photographer in Vietnam and a retired major general, are planning to build a community where severely injured veterans can live in homes specially adapted for them and learn high-tech job skills.

The community, called the Purple Heart Integration Project, will be the first of its kind in Central Texas, if not the nation, said Ted Acheson, one of the founders. Acheson and the other founder, Conley Giles, have started raising the money they need to buy 17.6 acres for the project on County Road 105 in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Georgetown.

Retired Maj. Gen. Michael Terry has joined the nonprofit project's advisory board and is also helping raise money. Terry is a 35-year Army veteran whose service included being the commanding general for 21,000 troops in Iraq in 2006 in the 13th Expeditionary Sustainment Command.

When the community is completed, it will feature 80 homes ranging from 400 to 1,200 square feet and an 8,000-square-foot facility with rooms for high-tech training, a co-working space, a computer lab and a health clinic, Giles said. It will also have a small banquet facility with a commercial kitchen, a swimming pool, a recreation center, raised gardens and a rainwater collection system.

Although the land costs $700,000, the men need to raise only $400,000 to start the project because the landowner, Homer Thomas, is financing the rest, Acheson said.

Thomas, an Air Force veteran who has owned the land for 47 years, said he could not think of a better purpose for his property. He said that he and his wife, Bobbi, are "proud of the veterans who keep us free and safe, and anything they need is wonderful."

The estimated cost of construction is $8 million, Giles said. Many businesses have offered to make donations, he said. Giles, who imports and sells electric bikes, said the plan is to raise the construction money through donations and grants.

Construction of the first phase of the project could start early next year. It will feature 10 homes and the job training facility, as well as the swimming pool, the gym and the banquet facility. Veterans will rent the homes at the project and can stay in them for at least 18 months while learning job skills. They will be able to participate in a research and design facility at the project to help with home designs for people with significant physical challenges, Acheson said.

Giles, who came up with the idea for the project, said he was inspired by Alan Graham, who has raised millions of dollars for the Community First Village to house homeless people in East Austin.

"With Georgetown taking the title of the first Purple Heart City in Texas, we can pull together $8 million to do this for some of the most deserving people out there who have given so much," Giles said.

Mayor Dale Ross said the city supports the idea of providing a community for wounded veterans. As a Purple Heart City, Georgetown educates children about what the meaning of the Purple Heart is and hosts an annual ceremony to remember Purple Heart recipients, Ross said. The Purple Heart is a U.S. military award given to those who have been wounded or killed in action.

The Purple Heart Integrated Project will be working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to choose the veterans, including amputees and burn victims, who will live at the project, Acheson said. The residents will include Purple Heart recipients as well as other severely injured veterans.

"We want to make them feel like part of the community again and actually get a salary and have work," said Acheson, who received the Purple Heart after he was hit by shrapnel while working as an Army combat photographer in Vietnam in 1968.

Veterans Affairs did not return requests for comment about the project.

Terry said he wanted to help develop the project because of all the soldiers he saw wounded and killed in Iraq.

"I feel this project is something very important to give assistance to veterans," he said, "particularly the seriously disabled veterans when they deserve everything good we could possibly give them."

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