A local war hero will soon have a new mortgage-free and handicapped-accessible home.
Jack Walker, a retired combat engineer who received a Purple Heart for his injuries, received a $10,000 Housing Assistance for Veterans, or HAVEN, grant provided by Federal Home Loan Bank of Dallas, Texas, and The First, A National Banking Association.
Walker, who served with the Mississippi Army National Guard, was seriously injured in a 2005 attack by an improvised explosive device in the northern Babil province of Iraq. After returning from the war, his home burned, relocating Walker and his family. He currently lives with his mother.
Walker’s new home will be located on family land on Rambling Road in Hattiesburg, and the slab for it was poured in early March. The four-bedroom house will be built by Armorbearers, a Pass Christian-based nonprofit that modifies existing residences or builds new ones for disabled or low-income military and veteran personnel.
On Friday, bank officers – along with local officials – gathered to recognize Walker and present him with the $10,000 grant. U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo was in attendance along with Nicholas Brown of Hattiesburg City Council.
Melanie Dill, community and economic development product manager for FHLB Dallas, said the HAVEN grant was made possible with the help of The First.
“Our HAVEN grant program is designed for post-9/11 combat veterans. It’s intended to help reconstruct their homes or offset new construction costs as well as rehabilitate or modify existing structures. We’ll provide up to $10,000 out of our profits for these grants,” she said.
Jerome Brown, executive vice president of The First, said he first heard Walker’s story in a Christmas Eve call from Ron Laabs, chairman of Armorbearers.
“We’ve continued a dialogue, and Ron’s timing was perfect. We just want to help and plant this seed for Jack and his family to grow and prosper in this community and enjoy the quality of life he deserves,” said Brown.
Laabs described the extent of Walker’s service.
“As Armorbearers, we are prepared and equipped to carry the armor of wounded warriors. In fact, we have such a warrior among us today in Jack Patrick Walker, a Purple Heart recipient who has courageously served his country,” he said.
According to Laabs, Walker is a left-leg amputee with spine injuries and “a metal cage inside his body that allows him to stand upright and walk.”
“Probably, the scar that runs the deepest is an invisible injury – the passing of a fellow and soldier and friend, Master Sgt. Shawn Michael Cooley (of Ocean Springs), who was killed in the Humvee explosion that caused Jack’s injuries,” said Laabs.
Laabs said the process of getting Walker a new home has been a difficult one.
“We’ve talked to others – and we’ve gotten ‘not now,’ ‘no,’ or ‘I can’t help,’” he said. “It’s been a roller coaster ride to say the least, but Jack sees more than just a slab. He sees a firm foundation.”
Laabs added that “we should be able – and willing – to take care of a hometown hero.”
“Our military takes up arms and armors to defend our God- given freedoms, and we must provide Jack a new handicapped-accessible home because of his sacrifice,” he said.
Palazzo thanked the banks for working together to help Walker.
“For almost 20 years, we’ve been fighting terrorism abroad, and we’ve had a lot of men and women go over. Some come back with injuries. Knowing the Pine Belt’s love for our men and women in uniform, with Camp Shelby right down the road … this is a special day. It’s a fantastic day and a small way to say thank you to Jack and your family and your fellow (Mississippi National) guardsmen for your service,” said Palazzo.
Walker stood with his family after the presentation and said “it’s been a long recovery road.”
“I was blown up back in 2005, and I’ve had many trials and tribulations after that … but I’m very blessed. I’m very ecstatic about (the new house). It’s not every day you get a home built for you. I’m blessed beyond words,” he said.
HAVEN is a unique grant program offered by FHLB Dallas through its member institutions, such as The First. It supports veterans and active-duty service members who have been disabled in the line of duty since Sept. 11, 2001.
The program was recently expanded to include post-9/11 Gold Star Families, or those who have lost loved ones to military service.
Visit fhlb.com/haven for more information about the HAVEN program.