see Joel's Sean Hannity Video at: http://vimeo.com/34343275Army
Sgt. Joel Tavera could hardly make his way through his new home because many in the crowd kept congratulating and thanking him.
Tavera, who was severely injured March 12, 2008, while in Iraq, was presented the four-bedroom, four-bath, 4,300-square-foot home in Grand Hampton on Nov. 19. It was built by William Ryan Homes in partnership with the Hillsborough Firefighter's Benevolent Association and Building Homes for Heroes, a nonprofit organization.
About 1,000 family members, friends, supporters, military leaders, neighbors and community members greeted him at the unveiling ceremony. Flags lined the streets of the subdivision as a motorcade escort brought Tavera and his family to the house, where they were greeted by a parade and a hometown BBQ.
Tavera was injured while riding in an armored SUV inside the Tallil Airbase in southeastern Iraq when it was struck by five rockets. The blasts killed three other soldiers and Tavera was initially also thought to have been killed. He lost sight in both of his eyes, his right leg, four fingers on his left hand, and suffered serious head trauma and critical burns to 60 percent of his body. He has been through 73 surgeries to help repair his injuries.
He doesn't consider himself a hero, although called that by many speakers at the ceremony on the lawn of the home, valued at $456,580.
"I signed up to do my job and I got hurt," he said as he accepted the keys to the mortgage-free home, which has handicap accessibility, a pool with therapy jets, a home automation system controlled by a smart phone and many other amenities.
He said a few days prior to the ceremony, he did a walk-through "and I was thinking this is a huge home. I might get lost in there."
This is the ninth house built though Building Homes for Heroes, which was founded by Andrew Pujol, a businessman who volunteered to assist at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, following the attacks in New York City.
Home builders, firefighters, landscape services, plumbing companies, electricians, cabinet makers, pool builders and others partner to donate materials and labor. Fundraising events help cover other costs.
The local effort to build the home was led by Kelly Hallman, Troy O'Nan and Rich Hauser, officers of the Hillsborough Firefighter's Benevolent Association.
"I love that boy over there," Hallman said, pointing to Tavera, who stood with about two dozen injured service personnel at the celebration. Some sat in wheelchairs, attended by family members.
"They are all heroes," Hallman said. "It may be the soldier that serves, but it is the family that sacrifices."