Families, friends, volunteers and servicemen welcomed Sgt. Joel Tavera to his new home, Nov. 19 in New Tampa. Tavera, who was injured in Iraq over three years ago and has gone through 73 surgeries, received his house while hundreds of well-wishers looked on.
“I think this house is wonderful,” said Tavera. “A lot of people came together to make this house for me, I couldn’t possibly name every single person that was involved, but I’d like to thank all of you.”
Building Homes for Heroes, an organization put together by Andy Pujol, was the driving force behind the project. They were responsible for raising the money, coordinating the construction and gathering volunteers.
“Sprawling fields, a beautiful lake, oak trees overlooking a beautiful hill and a 4,200 square foot home that meets all of Joel’s needs,” said Pujol during the house presentation. “This is a proud, patriotic day. We are truly honored to be joined by some of the greatest military and their families, that are kind enough and care enough to stand by Joel’s side.”
Tavera, who received third-degree burns across 60% of his body and is also blind, joked with the crowd during the speech, and elicited more than a few laughs. However, Tavera’s road to recovery isn’t finished yet.
“A lot of people have come here, a lot of people I don’t even know,” he said. “I’d like to thank Building Homes for Heroes for assisting me by giving me this home. It’s a nice, secure feeling to have--to be able to go home.”
Maj. Gen. Abe Abrams, commander of the Third Infantry Division and the Warrior Transition Unit Tavera was assigned to, also spoke at the event.
“If you don’t know Tavera, you want to know him,” Abrams said. “There is no finer example of courage, selfless service, and dedication. These are some of the values that we hold dear in our Army, and [Tavera] lives them every day.
“Though seriously wounded three-and-a-half years ago-- he’s been in a battle ever since. The fact that he got out of the van and walked here today is a testament to many people. His health care providers, from the frontline medics that saved his life to all the medics, nurses, and doctors that cared for him on his journey back to the States, the great providers at Brooke Army Medical Center and of course the unbelievable treatment he has received right here at the VA Hospital in Tampa--they are all unsung heroes.”
“Tavera just finished surgery number 73, and he’s not done, there’s still more work to do,” Abrams said. “But he is a shining light, an inspiration to everyone who comes in contact with him. He loves life, and he wants to give back to not only his military community, but continue to serve his country.”
The Building Homes for Heroes team leader for this particular home, Kelly Hallman, was happy to see Tavera’s home finished. For Hallman, however, there is always another on the horizon. Building Homes for Heroes’ next house is slated to break ground in Orlando next month, and Hallman’s next project is scheduled to be in the Atlanta area.
“When I became a member of Building Homes for Heroe’s, the fact that it is a family unit drove me,” Hallman said. “Not only do they give them a home, they give them a mission. Some of these folks work tirelessly day in and day out, not only helping to raise funds and build homes for their brothers and sisters. They are also counselors and mentors to those brothers and sisters that come home.”
Building Homes for Heroes’ mission statement states that, “We provide individuals, corporations and others with an opportunity to help our severely wounded and disabled veterans and their families rebuild their lives. Building Homes for Heroes is committed to supporting those who have returned home from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan with severe wounds and disabilities, with a goal to build homes for families in dire need. It’s our honor to support those who have been called upon to make a tremendous personal sacrifice.” For the people of Building Homes for Heroes, it isn’t volunteering, it’s a commitment. “The people of Homes for Heroes are doing this out of their own commitment and patriotism,” Abrams said. “In our view, those of us that are still serving on active duty, you are all heroes to us. This is about the commitment of the American people giving back to those who willingly volunteered to serve their country and sacrifice without question. All of you are keeping the commitment on behalf of all the American people that you will support your warriors, your veterans, your Soldiers, Airman, Sailors and Marines.”U.S. Special Operations Command was represented at the event by Adm. Bill H. McRaven, commander USSOCOM, and Command Sgt. Major Chris Faris, along with their spouses.