For nearly two decades, Javier Munoz's perception of home had been confined to childhood memories.
Javier, who joined the National Guard in his early 20s and reenlisted into active duty in the U.S. Army after 9/11, has spent his adult life living in barracks between deployments to Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
That all changed this past week.
U.S. Bank, in partnership with Freedom Alliance, donated a Baytown, Tex. home to Javier, presenting he and his fiancée Jennifer with the keys on July 26.
"Joining the military was the best choice of my life," said Javier. "But all those years, I never knew what it meant to come home."
Since medically retiring as an Army combat medic two years ago with nerve damage, post-traumatic stress and other combat-related injuries, he had been renting an apartment in San Antonio.
"This home means freedom," said Javier. "Freedom to start living my life. To start building the type of family environment that I had growing up. I still don't believe this is happening."
Javier is grateful to those around him for their continued support as he reintegrates into civilian life. In Jennifer, he has someone who makes his life "a dream come true" every day that they're together. In his Army friends, he has a network of people who check up on and look out for each other. In the general public, he has received a warm welcome that contrasted to the homecoming his dad received after serving in the wake of the Vietnam War. And then, of course, there's Bella, his therapeutic, four-pawed friend who has made possible activities as simple as going to a movie theater – something he has struggled with since retiring.
With eyes darting out the window at her big, new backyard, Bella followed along as Javier and Jennifer walked family and friends through their new home. "I cannot wait to see her running around back there," said Javier.
The three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch is the 10th that U.S. Bank and Freedom Alliance have partnered to donate to a wounded veteran in recent years. The home, valued around $150,000, includes $40,000 in improvements made by U.S. Bank and real estate services firm Chronos Solutions prior to move-in day.
"We're privileged to be able to give a little back to someone who has given so much to our country," said U.S. Bank Senior Vice President Patrick Law, one of 2,000 veterans the bank employs (including 500 hired last year alone), handing the keys to Javier.
Freedom Alliance President Tom Kilgannon added, "As Americans, we all come from somewhere and more often than not speak fondly of that place. Military members move around, they pack light. When we donate a home to a wounded hero, we see it as their opportunity to plant roots in a community and begin the next chapter of their life."
Javier's next chapter includes a wedding and continued work as a personal trainer with plans to also pursue culinary school – without the added financial stress of a mortgage.
As Javier walked through his new front door with his family, he thought of the caring, affectionate and patriotic environment within the four walls in which he grew up.
"At the end of the day," he said, "it is who is inside the house that makes it a home."
Well, inside and in the backyard, in this case.
Pat Swanson is a member of U.S. Bank's public affairs and communications team. Visit U.S. Bank's Proud to Serve site to learn more about how the bank supports veterans.