By Gloria HarrisAugust 12, 2011
AUSTIN, Texas (Army News Service, Aug. 12, 2011) -- A Central Texas Soldier got a big surprise when he returned from his Iraq deployment, thanks to friends and businesses in the Austin area.
When Staff Sgt. James Roach, a member of the Texas Army National Guard's 36th Infantry Division, headed to Austin Aug. 9, he thought he was just going to pick up his 1997 Ford Mustang after a friend had some brake work done on it.
What Roach did not suspect was that his decade-old car had been fine-tuned and was now showroom-gorgeous.
So, when Roach and his wife, Tracy, stepped into the service bay of Continental Collision, Roach could not believe what he was seeing. There was no doubt the car waiting for him was his, but, instead of needing a paint job, it gleamed bright red and was surrounded by about 25 smiling, clapping automotive service workers and several camera people.
"Wow!" was about all Roach could say as he grinned from ear to ear and walked a circle around the familiar but now dazzling Mustang.
The idea to surprise Roach with a renovated car had originated a few months earlier, while Roach was on his mid-tour leave. It was then that Dr. David Butler, an Austin-area family practice physician, noticed that the driver's door of Roach's car sagged and was hard to open and close.
Butler, who is a Mustang enthusiast, commented on the door at the time, but Roach thought nothing in particular about the conversation.
After Roach's return to Iraq, Butler approached Tracy, who works as a physician's assistant in his medical practice. He suggested doing some work on her husband's car before he returned from Iraq. Once he sold Tracy on the idea, Butler, a retired Navy medical officer and veteran of several deployments himself, contacted various Austin-area automotive shops about helping to renovate Roach's car.
Once the project came together, Continental Collision, Austin Infinity, Meineke Car Care Center, Late Model Restoration Supply in Hewitt, Delgato Restorations and Elimident were all on board.
It took about two weeks and more than $10,000 in materials and services for Roach's Mustang to be glistening and ready for his return, Butler said.
When the group learned that Roach's return to Austin would be delayed because of a military school following his re-deployment, Butler contacted Roach's unit for assistance. Sgt. Maj. Jim Broyles then contacted the Hood Mobilization Brigade at Fort Hood, explained the situation, and requested Roach be given a special pass. The pass was granted, allowing all the members of the group to present Roach with his made-over car before he departed Central Texas for the school.
The work that turned Roach's 1997 car "almost new" included an engine tune-up, brake adjustments, door repairs, and the addition of designer rims, tires, new lights and light covers, window tints, new mirrors, an interior detailed cleaning, and, most importantly, a three-stage paint process that brought the color back to a brilliant Mustang "red metallic pearl."
"The car was kind of red-faded-to-pink when James was on R&R;, and the driver's door just sort of hung on," Butler said. "When I saw it, that's what gave me the idea that we should do something to honor him for his service."
Roach bought the car at a used car lot in Killeen when he was on active duty at Fort Hood several years ago.
"It took me across the country -- east to west and north to south -- but I had decided I was going to sell it when I returned from Iraq," Roach said. "Then Tracy started asking me if that was what I really wanted to do. She said I had always loved the car, and she mentioned that Dr. Butler had suggested getting some improvements done to it ... I thought it was brake work and maybe getting the door fixed. I never thought about anything like this.
"I was absolutely speechless when I saw the car. I couldn't believe the love and support Dr. Butler and the rest of you have shown me," Roach said.
Gesturing to his wife, Roach said, "Eh, I don't think the pool table is going in the garage after all ... I was originally going to sell (the car), but, oh yeah, I think I'll hold on to it now."