Retired General Gives Homes to Heroes

By AFM – December 30, 2011

Tim Horton, a champion softball player, and Jonathan Wheeler, a recent graduate of the Golf Academy of America, had just finished a round of golf together in San Antonio when they sat down to tell the story of how they each were given—yes, given—a home. These two have more in common than their athletic prowess; they served in the armed forces, came home wounded, and struggled mightily to attain independence. Along the way, they each received an impossibly generous helping hand from Lt. Gen. Leroy Sisco, USA (Ret.) and the Military Warriors Support Foundation in San Antonio.

Gen. Sisco started his career with NCR Corporation and then, on his own, built companies that were financially rewarding to him—and he made lots of friends along the way. In addition to serving as the CEO for Texas Trophy Hunters until a few years ago, Gen. Sisco is currently a Board Member of the National Rifle Association. Having a civilian as well as a military career, he spent many weekends and summers serving in the National Guard and retired as a Three-Star General.

“You take that uniform off after 42 years, but your heart is still there for the heroes,” he said. He wanted to help veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Specifically, he wanted to provide fun experiences for the veterans, and that grew into a vision for more. “We went to Peter Holt, of the San Antonio Spurs team, Gov. Rick Perry, to Clay (Walker, the country music star and a hunting buddy of Sisco’s), and Dr. Jim Linager, and we looked into forming a foundation.” The Military Warriors Support Foundation (MWSF) was founded in 2007. In March of 2010, they added the Homes 4 Wounded Heroes program. “We started out with scholarships and getting them jobs, and providing outside activities,” he said. The outside activities included hunting on two leased ranches and golfing on beautiful private courses. Partners who work with the MWSF include Wal-Mart, Humana Military, Home Depot, Red Bull, Chase Bank, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and the PGA, among others. “We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, no affiliation with the military or government,” Gen. Sisco said, though he acknowledged his rank has helped open some doors. “Being from the military, we know who to talk to,” he said.

“Our cost is about $20,000 to give a house away,” Gen. Sisco said. “New paint, new carpet, new appliances and landscaping. When the heroes get these beautiful homes, they are like new. We verify that the home is in a good neighborhood, and we confirm that the schools are the quality we want for the hero and his family. They don’t receive (ownership of) the home right away; we teach them how to own a home first. For three years we provide them with family and financial mentoring. We make sure that they know the value of what they have. After completing our three-year mentoring program we deed the home to the hero and his family, still 100 percent mortgage free.”

Tammy LeValley is MWSF’s Family Transition Program Manager. “We have two mentoring programs that we require our families to go through during the first three years they’re in the home,” she said. “The first is the Family Mentoring program, which is their first form of communication when they take occupancy of the home. They go to the Family Mentor with how to get repairs, any questions they have about home ownership. Families are provided a Financial Mentor to help them create financial goals and keep them on track.”

“The people we meet with have tools,” said Wheeler, who moved into his home in July. “We are only one month into our mentoring; the first month was only financial mentoring. Part of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the impulse buy, and learning how to manage it. Before, I would go to the store for milk, to spend $5, but I’d spend $50. I now go to Wal-Mart and put things in the cart, and as I walk around I realize I don’t need it, so I put it back. Now she [his wife, Candace] asks for receipts. It’s all about being accountable. In Florida, if I wanted golf balls, I’d go buy golf balls. A lot of it is having respect for your partner, and communication. It’s been great. We just got into a two-week, penny-by-penny budget. I found out I spent $103 last month on fast food.”

Wheeler pointed out that the communication training is as meaningful for his family as the financial training—learning to manage money and learning the skills to talk about it without emotional distortion of the conversation. His wife said the relationship with the mentors is vital.

“Even though we only talk to these mentors over the phone, you can tell they really care about you and they genuinely want to know if you are having a problem,” she said. “They get answers for you and they get back to you very quick. You already feel like they’re friends and family. It’s a special relationship.”

Hearing the Wheelers tell the story of the desperation they felt after he returned from the war, wounded and without any in-patient or physical therapy care (Wheeler said the National Guard retirees don’t get that benefit), is heart wrenching. Wheeler lost his job because of the short-term memory loss resulting from his injuries. Without a job and with debt piling up, he slumped into a depression because he felt he could not take care of his wife and two children. He attempted suicide thinking at least they would get the death benefit he had from the Guard. He survived the attempt and went on to graduate very high in his class from the golf academy in Orlando. But after a job fell through back home in Arkansas, they wound up living with his wife’s parents in a trailer. “Four adults, four dogs, and two kids,” she described. When his wife felt him falling into another depression, she found the MWSF on the web and made a call. Because golf is one of the key outings, they found a place for Wheeler to volunteer giving clinics. He also found out that Ken Eakes, the executive director of MWSF, was an avid golfer so they immediately became friends. After the move to San Antonio and the award of the home, he now has a job in operations at a local golf course.

The family is still amazed at their home. “We call it our forever house,” Candace Wheeler said. “Every afternoon at 4 o’clock, I can count on that doorbell ringing and kids from the neighborhood asking if our kids can come out and play. It’s just wonderful.” The Wheelers hosted her parents for Thanksgiving this year.

Both Horton and John Hyland, another hero who was recently awarded a home, lost a leg in combat. They, like every hero who has been awarded a home, were shocked to hear the announcement. Hyland had been told he was to receive a new volunteer award and to bring his two young sons; he is a single parent. “My son thought I was going to get some sort of Army medal,” he said. “I don’t remember much of it, but I was crying. It really is an incredible gift…no one just gives you a home.” Hyland also spoke about the value of the outings the Foundation provides. “A lot of us learn golf for physical rehabilitation, but to go out to some of the best golf courses where most of us are not able to afford or live near, it’s amazing. When you’re wounded that way, you’re ripped out of your Army family, but to be able to get out and hang out with them, we learn a lot about the VA system and the retirement system from each other.”

Horton, whose parents were both Marines, grew up after their service as the son of a minister and a teacher. He also wanted to serve and six months after his deployment to Iraq in September 2004, he was injured by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED).

“[The explosion] resulted in the loss of my left leg, they had to reconstruct my left eye lid, I had broken ribs, broken elbow, I was pretty torn up.” His eyelid was reconstructed from skin taken from the roof of his mouth, which made it difficult to eat. He dropped from 150 pounds to 110. “I stopped counting after a while, but it was over 50 surgeries.”

Today, Horton has a home and two weeks after his home was awarded, he got a job with the Wounded Warriors Project. “Everything worked out for me,” he said. “This is unbelievable to have a house and a paid-off truck.” He plays on the Wounded Warriors’ champion softball team, which was recently featured on ESPN. He is very fit, but has set more goals for himself. “Most of my therapy has been lifting weights and I try to run. One of my goals is to run a marathon. I’ve run a 5K and am working for a 10K.”

Gen. Sisco tells other stories of surprising wounded veterans with homes, and the joy it gives everyone involved. “You don’t like making people cry in your life, but I can honestly say it’s a pleasure here. It’s tears of joy.”

The Foundation’s goal is to give away 1,000 homes over the next four years. The application process is as simple as completing the form on the web. Then a team of 12 reviews the applications, including interviews and significant research, to select finalists and identify the recipients. If an applicant does not get a home on the first try, subsequent applications are accepted. The Home Recipients are not always the most wounded or have the most impressive story. The Foundation staff takes great care in finding the best “fit” for each home. For information you can visit their webpage at www.MilitaryWarriors.org. The MWSF encourages you to be a “hero to a hero.” Encourage any combat wounded hero you know to apply.
 

 
 

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