Comrades are often seen helping out one of their own, but it also happens beyond the battlefield.
United States Marine Corps students and members of the United States Army 1st Brigade 2nd Armored Division of Fort Bliss — two groups who claim to be military branch rivals — joined forces to help build a new wheelchair-accessible home for disabled veteran Cpl. Daniel Gasca and his family.
The Homes for Our Troops program, which builds adapted homes for disabled veterans, organized and financed the build.
“It’s not every day that you can help out a brother, a fellow Marine, a devil dog, but it feels good to actually have that chance today, and knowing that I’m a part of it, I can take a lot from this experience,” said Pvt. Christian Marten, a student in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Omar Veliz, owner of Veliz Construction in El Paso, donated his services for the project. The building materials were donated by local vendors.
“Freedom doesn’t come free.” Veliz said, adding that this is his way of serving the United States. “I appreciate the effort that these men and women in the uniform do for us, defending our freedom, defending our values out there.”
Inspired by Gasca’s story, Col. Lt. Diego Davila spent part of his Saturday to help with the build. “He gave part of his body for his country and for me and for all of us. For me, providing a couple of hours of work, I just want to do my best and keep busy,” Davila said.
Homes for Our Troops, the nonprofit which is funded primarily by private donors, is dependent on volunteer contractors and many helping hands. To qualify to receive a home, one must be severely injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan post-Sept. 11, 2001. Homes for Our Troops checks applicants' finances to assure the property taxes and utilities can be paid for.
“It’s probably one of the most heartwarming things I think anyone could ever do in their lives,” said Ryan Gugliotta, construction manager for Homes for Our Troops who was inspired by the immense support of volunteers who came to Gasca’s aid.
Gasca himself is an El Paso native who, in 2008, lost both of his legs in a roadside bomb while riding in a Humvee in Iraq.
During treatment at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he heard about the Homes for Our Troops program and applied.
Gasca got the phone call that would change his life — as well as the lives of his wife Angelina and their two young boys. The El Paso natives were granted a new home, and they wouldn’t have to pay a dime.
“I was totally blown away. We were really happy. There was light, away at the end of the tunnel,” said Gasca.
Gasca now uses prosthetic legs to get by, and often is in a wheelchair — so the past two years haven’t been easy for him, especially since he’s living on the 19th floor of a small sky-rise apartment in Maryland.
“It’s really hard when fire alarms go off and I’m in my wheelchair and I’m on the 19th floor. I’m kind of stuck up there," he said.
But Gasca won’t have to worry about those struggles anymore. The 3,000-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home is only one level. The structure of the house is currently completed, but Homes for Our Troops reports they still need volunteers and funding for many of the finishing touches on the house.
“It's going to give me my freedom back. I don't have to wake up in the morning and worry about all of the million little things that I have to do just to get by through the day.”
This is the second home the program has built in the El Paso area. Since 2004, they have constructed over 100 houses nationwide.