By Sgt. Jared EastmanNovember 21, 2011
TAMPA, Fla. (Nov. 21, 2011) -- Sgt. Joel Tavera was welcomed by about 100 family members, friends, volunteers and service members to his new home, Nov. 19, in New Tampa. Tavera was injured in Iraq more than three years ago and has undergone 73 surgeries since 2008.
"I think this house is wonderful," said Tavera. "A lot of people came together to make this house for me. I couldn't possibly name every single person who was involved, but I'd like to thank all of you."
Building Homes for Heroes, an organization put together by Andy Pujol, was the driving force behind the project and was responsible for raising money, coordinating the construction and gathering volunteers.
"Sprawling fields, a beautiful lake, oak trees overlooking a beautiful hill and a 4,200-square-foot home that meets all of Joel's needs," said Pujol during the house presentation. "This is a proud, patriotic day. We are truly honored to be joined by some of the greatest military and their families, which are kind enough and care enough to stand by Joel's side."
Tavera, who received third-degree burns across 60 percent of his body and is blind, thanked the organization that made all this possible.
"A lot of people have come here -- most I don't even know -- but I'd like to thank Building Homes for Heroes for assisting me by giving me this home. It's a nice and a secure feeling to have, to be able to go to a home of my own," said Tavera.
Maj. Gen. Robert "Abe" Abrams, commander of the Third Infantry Division, who was personally invited by Tavera's mother, also spoke at the event.
"If you don't know Sergeant Tavera, you want to know him," Abrams said. "There is no finer example of courage, selfless service and dedication. These are some of the values that we hold dear in our Army, and [Tavera] lives them every day."
"However, Sergeant Tavera's road to recovery isn't finished yet," explained Abrams. "Sergeant Tavera just finished surgery number 73, and he's not done, there's still more work to do. But he is a shining light, an inspiration to everyone who comes in contact with him. He loves life and he wants to give back to not only his military community, but continue to serve his country."
The Building Homes for Heroes team leader for this particular home, Kelly Hallman, was happy to see Tavera's home finished.
"When I became a member of Building Homes for Heroes, the fact that it is a family unit drove me," Hallman said. "Not only do they give them a home, they give them a mission. Some of these folks work tirelessly day in and day out, not only helping to raise funds and build homes for their brothers and sisters. They are also counselors and mentors to those brothers and sisters that come home."
For the people of Building Homes for Heroes, it isn't volunteering; it's a commitment.
"The people of Homes for Heroes are doing this out of their own commitment and patriotism," said Abrams. "In our view, those of us who are still serving on active duty, you are all heroes to us."
"This is about the commitment of the American people giving back to those who willingly volunteered to serve their country and sacrifice without question," he said. "All of you are keeping the commitment on behalf of all the American people that you will support your warriors, your veterans, your Soldiers, Airman, Sailors and Marines."