Wounded Air Force veteran gifted free home

Matt Saintsing
April 23, 2018 - 2:28 pm

Photo courtesy of Building Homes for Heroes

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Captain Gabriel Gonzalez joined the U.S. Air Force out of a deep love and desire to serve his country.

While serving in Iraq in the summer of 2017, he suffered a devastating blow to the head that fractured his skull and induced a stroke, leaving him with limited mobility in both his upper and lower extremities, and unable to speak.

Now confined to a wheelchair, Capt. Gonzalez will receive a mortgage-free home in Tampa, Fla., where he is recovering from his injuries at the Tampa Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, thanks to Engility and Building Homes for Heroes, a non-nonprofit that gifts houses to injured veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.

"Receiving this home is overwhelming," said Capt. Gonzalez's mother, Miriam, at a ceremony in Tampa on Monday. "I can't thank Engility and Building Homes for Heroes enough."

Lynn Dugle, CEO of Engility said the company’s partnership with Building Homes for Heroes has allowed the company to not only give back, but to build a relationship with the veteran community.

“For us, it’s very personal,” said Dugle. "Our military heroes are men and women who eagerly responded to the call of duty to serve our country and defended American ideals of freedom around the world. It is our privilege to serve them and their families now."

Former Army Staff Sgt. Charles “Clay” Claybaker, a U.S. Army Ranger was also in attendance. He deployed five times in in his six-and-a-half years with the U.S. Army’s 3rd Ranger battalion at Fort Benning, Ga, three times to Iraq and two times to Afghanistan.

Photo courtesy of Building Homes for Heroes

It was on his fifth tour in 2010 when the U.S. Air Force CV-22 Osprey he was traveling in went down in Zabul province, Afghanistan.

“If you google 2010 Osprey crash in Afghanistan, you’re looking at the guy who was waiving from the medevac helicopter,” he said. “That took a lot out of me, I was 26 at the time and never planned on getting out of the service, I just wanted to go further into special operations.”

Getting wounded changed all of that in an instant.

Claybaker ended up with a shattered right knee, broken hip and a broken spine.

In 2013, Building Homes for Heroes gifted Charles and his wife a house in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“The really important thing with Building Homes for Heroes is the mortgage-free home allowed me start my own charity,” he said. 

Receiving a new home empowered Claybaker to start a charity of his own. 

“I don’t give houses to veterans, but I help out St. Petersburg homeless veterans. I’ve given backpacks, and dinners for Easter and Thanksgiving,” he continued. 

The only way Claybaker was able to do that, he said, was because of the financial stress that was lifted when he was given his free home.

Gonzalez may be receiving a new home, but he’s getting to much more: freedom. The freedom that will enable him to lead a more independent and productive life. And with the home being mortgage-free, neither he nor his family will be financially burdened.

Fiscal responsibility is a big part of Building Homes for Heroes, and each house recipient is provided a financial expert to advise recipients on the day-to-day business of home ownership/

Building Homes for Heroes has been around since 2006 when Andy Pujols launched it in New York City to provide post 9/11 wounded veterans mortgage free homes. The organization averages one free home every 11 days. 94 cents of every dollar donates goes to a home.

This is the sixth year Engility has partnered with Building Homes for Heroes to give two wounded veterans mortgage-free homes. Gonzalez is the U.S. Air Force veteran for 2018 to receive a home, and another—a Marine—will be announced next month during Engility’s annual employee picnic.