On Veterans Day, four veterans across the country accepted the keys to mortgage-free homes through a partnership between U.S. Bank and nonprofit Freedom Alliance.
Bryan Schrader, Ed Hawk, Mark Bricker, Todd O’Neal and their families are the latest recipients of the Housing Opportunities after Military Engagement (H.O.M.E.) program, in which U.S. Bank partners with nonprofits to donate homes to veterans in need. Each former soldier says the home represents an important step in their physical or mental healing process and a new chapter in their life.
“As one of the largest banks in the country, we have both the means and the responsibility to give back in this way,” said Tim Welsh, who leads Consumer & Business Banking at U.S. Bank, including its home mortgage division. “On behalf of our company and the thousands of veterans who work here, I would like to thank Bryan, Ed, Mark and Todd for their service and welcome them into their new homes.”
Since 2013, the bank has donated 22 homes with a combined value of more than $4 million. Over the past two years, it has also launched home repair and car donation programs. The initiatives have supported veterans nationwide:
Bryan Schrader was spiraling in his return to civilian life after a near-fatal parachuting accident led to his medical retirement from the U.S. Army in 2014. At a low point, the “zombie apocalypse” van he lived and traveled in with his wife and young daughter ran out of gas. Ultimately, they found their way to a farm owned by his in-laws in Texas.
Unfortunately, the vital medical care he needed for his traumatic brain injury and herniated disks in the neck, among other things, was more than 1,000 miles away at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio so he often canceled appointments. Life began to stabilize after a fellow veteran invited Schrader to attend a fishing trip organized by Freedom Alliance. Being around other veterans who understood what he was going through helped set him on a path toward healing both physically and mentally. The next step on that path? Keys to a home located just 30 miles from the Clinic.
Schrader used a military analogy to describe how the new home will impact his family. As a master parachutist and later an instructor, he was required to jump with pinpoint accuracy from airplanes or helicopters. When visibility was low due to wind or precipitation, the jump would be put on a weather hold before being given the green light.
“These past few years, my family has been on a weather hold,” he said. “This home is our green light.”
Over his two-plus decades in the U.S. Army, Ed Hawk said he grew from a doer into a leader – the former during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield; the latter during Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Looking back, he recognizes a shift in his mindset from “getting it done” to “showing others how it can be done.”
For the Purple Heart recipient, that professional and personal growth in the military has translated to civilian life. Hawk and his wife Amy have fostered more than 150 kids since they got married in 2004. They also have six adult children and are raising three adopted foster children, two of whom have special needs.
With the move from Kansas to their new home Owensboro, Kentucky, the Hawks are excited to have more time to spend with their family. For Ed, it is also one more chance to lead his team in a strategic direction.
“This home represents a wide-open opportunity to charge forward into the second half of our lives,” he said.
It should not take long for U.S. Army veteran Mark Bricker to turn his new home in Cleveland, Ohio, into a smart home. Over the past few years, the former infantryman and self-described tinkerer has channeled a passion for engineering into DIY building projects ranging from a sonar technology-controlled robot to wooden furniture to a climate-controlled turtle tank.
This penchant for turning passion into action is what led Bricker to the Army as well. Some of his earliest memories are of crawling around dressed in fatigues during family gatherings with his lifelong best friend. His calling to the military strengthened as he grew older, especially with the Sept. 11 attacks occurring while he was in high school. On the day he turned 18 years old, Bricker was serving in Iraq. Upon returning to civilian life after five years of service, Bricker began receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress and combat-related injuries. That same childhood friend, a fellow veteran, pointed him toward Freedom Alliance for assistance with his recovery and transition.
And now, moving into the new home with Kira is the next step in that transition. It is an opportunity, Bricker said, to recontinue his education in mechatronics at a nearby community college and apply skills and character traits from the military – including communication, leadership and perspective – that he knows will help in his future career.
“It’s been hard to think of something I’d be better at than being an infantryman,” he said. “But that’s what I’m working toward.”
U.S. Army veteran Todd O’Neal said that his four kids ages 1, 3, 6 and 10 would move to their new home near St. Louis, Missouri, with one stipulation: Nana had to come too. “If Nana wasn’t coming, neither were they.”
To O’Neal and his wife Crystal, Nana is grandmother-in-law and grandmother. To their kids, she is the babysitter extraordinaire with a tendency to spoil rotten. To all of them, she is a force of stability and a positive role model.
O’Neal recognizes the importance of having those roles in the home, having himself experienced a tumultuous childhood that put him on the wrong path. If not for the military, he said he might have ended up in jail or dead on the streets. Over four years of service, he gained purpose, confidence and, perhaps most importantly for a father of four, patience.
Still, exposure to improvised explosive devices left O’Neal with a difficult transition back to civilian life, both physically and mentally. After several years of ups and downs, Crystal got him connected to nonprofits such as Wounded Warrior Project and Freedom Alliance, leading to significant progress over the past three years largely thanks to being around fellow veterans working through similar challenges. O’Neal said the move from Oklahoma City to St. Louis is a chance to build on that foundation and continue healing.
“When I found out about this home, I was speechless,” he said. “This is life-changing.”
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