America Supports You: Group Donates Home to Wounded Soldier
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 18, 2006 Three years ago, Army Pfc. Sam Ross Jr. was disposing of munitions near Baghdad when an explosion took his eyesight, his left leg, part of his hearing and, ultimately, his military career.
Sam Ross Jr., a former 82nd Airborne Division soldier severely wounded in Iraq, stands on the deck of his new log cabin in Dunbar, Pa., custom-built for his needs by "Homes for Our Troops." Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Last month, the former 82nd Airborne Division soldier moved into a custom-built log cabin specially designed and built for his needs, courtesy of "Homes for Our Troops."
"This is my dream, and it's finally under way," the 22-year-old Ross said as his handicapped-accessible log home started taking shape on a hilltop in his native Dunbar, Pa.
Ross used to play on the lot where his new home stands when he was a child. "He wanted to get back to a place he could see in his mind," Kirt Rebello, director of projects and veterans affairs for Homes for Our Troops, told American Forces Press Service.
With corporate and private donations of money, materials and professional labor through the Homes for Our Troops program, Ross' custom home became a reality. He was so excited about it that he moved in even before the kitchen cabinets, with three-dimensional carvings of animals that he can feel, were installed, Rebello said.
"It's all in now. Everything's done now except the basement," Ross said during a telephone interview. "It's really come along."
John Gonsalves founded Homes for Our Troops in February 2004 to serve troops returning home from overseas deployments with severe injuries. The organization is a partner in the Defense Department's "America Supports You" program, which showcases America's support for the men and women of the armed forces and the myriad ways the country is expressing that support.
Since its founding, Homes for Our Troops has been building and remodeling homes for wounded troops and winning accolades from all corners along the way. President Bush praised the program during a visit to Camp Pendleton, Calif., in December, then invited Gonsalves and other America Supports You team members to the White House in March to thank them personally for their contributions. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have also pointed to the program as an example of the many initiatives under way to support the troops.
Phil Mickelson, winner of golf's Masters Tournament this year and in 2004, announced for the second consecutive year that he will play this year's PGA Tour season on behalf of the program. Mickelson is donating $100 for each birdie and $500 for each eagle he makes during the tour season through his "Birdies for the Brave" fundraising effort.
"It's too soon to tell," how much Mickelson will raise for Homes for Our Troops this year, Gonsalves said. "But the way he's playing, it looks like it's going to be a good year," he predicted. "He's on fire."
Mickelson told the Homes for Our Troops organization he feels privileged to be a part of the program. "I am honored to assist Homes for Our Troops with their efforts in meeting the housing needs of our servicemen and women who have given so much for our country," he said.
But the golf champion's contributions go beyond the dollars he raises for the organization. "It's hard to calculate the value of the awareness he is generating," Gonsalves said. "With Phil leading the way, we know awareness of the cause will be raised and a great number of American heroes will be able to get the help they need and deserve."
Gonsalves called the program an important way to acknowledge servicemembers' service and sacrifice. "The men and women of our military make great sacrifices to keep America safe, and one of our goals is to make sure they are not forgotten," he said.
Homes for Our Troops has completed six houses for wounded troops and has 11 more projects under construction or in the planning stages, Rebello said.
This effort got some boosted momentum earlier this month after an anonymous donor presented the organization with a check for $500,000, in addition to $75,000 in donations during the past year. Dozens of other wounded troops have expressed interest in receiving assistance, Rebello said.
After 12 years in the Marine Corps, Rebello said, there's "nothing else I'd rather be doing" than helping wounded troops move forward with their lives. "Nobody deserves the dream of home ownership more than someone who has sacrificed so much for it," he said.