America Supports You: Vet Receives Hero’s Welcome, New Home
By Devin L. Fisher
Special to American Forces Press Service
CASTLE ROCK, Colo., Dec. 19, 2007 A disabled Iraq war veteran thought he came here Dec. 14 to pick out colors and tiles for a bathroom remodel, but instead was surprised with the keys to a new home.
Disabled Iraq war veteran Brandon Burke, left, is surprised with a new home during a live radio broadcast in Castle Rock, Colo., Dec. 14, 2007. American Military Family, Inc. teamed with 30 contractors to provide a fully remodeled, handicap-accessible mobile home to the former U.S. Army combat medic, who was permanently disabled during a 2005 mortar attack in Baghdad. Photo by Devin L. Fisher
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Brandon Burke, a U.S. Army combat medic permanently disabled during a 2005 mortar attack in Baghdad, was speechless when presented the 1,500-square-foot mobile home, not a check for $5,000 as anticipated.
“It was so unexpected, … I didn’t know what to say,” said the 30-year-old who enlisted in the Army in June 2002 in nearby Aurora. “All I could think about was how this was going to change my life.”
Burke was presented the keys to his new home during a live radio broadcast in front of more than 100 people who weathered the snow and bitter cold to show their appreciation.
The call to assist the wounded warrior by providing supplies and labor free of charge was met with an overwhelming response. In fact, people had to be turned away, said Tom Tarver, a partner with Greiner Electric, who said he donated his time to give back to those who fight for the freedoms he enjoys every day.
“I met a young man with one leg trying to make his home (handicap) accessible,” Tarver said. “I knew I would not let him pick up another nail.”
“You just want to do what’s right,” echoed Tim White, founder of White Construction.
The project was a compilation of efforts as 30 contractors “rose to the occasion” to help the wounded warrior, said Debbie Quackenbush, founder of American Military Family Inc., a nonprofit organization established in January 2005 to assist members of the U.S. military and their families in times of need.
American Military Family is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with members of the military and their families at home and abroad.
After a five-month recovery at Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio, Burke returned to Colorado and purchased a mobile home in the town of Watkins. With the assistance of his friends, Burke began to remodel the mobile home in late 2006, but he ran low on money, and his friends were sidetracked with personal issues, he explained.
What started as a request for a grant to remodel a bathroom turned into much more after contractors determined it was not cost-effective to make the existing home handicap-accessible. The $5,000 grant -- from money raised through the American Military Family’s “Support the Troops” Colorado license plate program -- was then used to purchase a mobile home in foreclosure, offered at a reduced price by Castle Park, Inc. owner Jerry Hall.
It was then that the “passion and hard work” of many transformed the once abandoned unit into a fully functional home with many upgrades and conveniences to including widened corridors and handicap-accessible granite countertops and faucets. The inside of the home was fully furnished by Sam’s Club, and King Soopers stocked the refrigerator.
“A gift of a few weeks (of your time) ultimately became a gift of a lifetime,” Tarver said.
But, White hopes this project reaches further than Burke. “There are more Brandons out there. If we all help a little, we’ll all be better off.”
Burke said he misses the camaraderie of the Army. Fellow soldiers are “like family,” he said. “You live with them; … you fight with them.”
He said he knows he must now focus on his new future, continuing his love of the medical field. Burke is pursuing his bachelor’s degree and then plans to apply for the medical scientist program at the University of Colorado Denver.
Burke was all smiles when he talked about his new office.
“No more going to the library or local bookstore to study,” he said.
Burke wasn’t the only one overwhelmed by the generosity. “It’s phenomenal; … we never could have imaged this in our wildest dreams,” said Tom Burke, Brandon’s father.
Brandon agreed. “It’s going to be great. It’s nice to call something home; … I can’t wait to settle in.”
(Devin L. Fisher works for the U.S. Army Recruiting Denver Battalion.)