Home ownership is a dream for many and something that was the furthest from the mind of Army Specialist Craig Hall as he lay on top of his tank in the middle of a nightmare after an IED blew up while he was patrolling in Iraq.
Hall lost a leg during the April 2007 incident and has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, migraines, tinnitus and hearing loss. Now 12 years later, Hall has life in order with a good job, a wedding on the way and a dream of carrying his bride over the threshold of a new house.
That dream will come true later this month as he becomes the 200th mortgage-free house owner under the Building Homes for Heroes program. The Homes for Heroes effort began shortly after 9/11 with a goal of gifting one home to one injured veteran. The effort has expanded across the country, changing the goal to gifting one home to one injured veteran every 11 days across the United States.
“It’s the biggest gift I’ve ever gotten,” he said. “It’s the biggest blessing ever. Everything is all just fitting together so perfectly. It’s all coming together and the perfect place to carry on my life — a final resting place.”
This will be the New York-based group’s second home in Connecticut. In 2013, the group provided a home for U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Greg Caron, an Ellington High School graduate who lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. Caron, who owns his own landscaping business, is paying it forward, coordinating all the outside landscaping and finding contractors, many who have donated materials and labor.
This is Glastonbury’s second home for a wounded veteran. In 2012, Purple Heart Homes built a house for Marine veteran and New Britain native Manny Jimenez. The Hall house, located along New London Turnpike, is being renovated by Nordic Builders of Tolland LLC, the same company that built the Caron home.
The New London Turnpike house was totally gutted, and renovation work is progressing toward a Nov. 20 unveiling. Hall is not allowed to see the house until the “Welcome Home Celebration” at 11 a.m. Nordic Builders owner Liz Koiva said it has been “an amazing and wonderful community effort” to see all the local groups and companies “step up and help out.”
“We’ve been honored to work on the project,” she said. “It’s our small way of giving back to someone who has sacrificed everything. It’s about giving someone a new home and a new life.”
The Glastonbury home was donated to Homes by Chase Bank. After the group takes ownership, they solicit applications from veterans. Homes spokesman David Weingrad said it is an “extensive process to vet all applicants” because they want to “make sure they’re living in a place where they’d be the happiest.”
“The reason why we chose Craig over all other applicants,” Weingrad said, “is because he not only served and sacrificed for our country, but he continues to serve his country by helping veterans in need. He’s always willing to join us at any event to help promote our program. He is an amazing American and just a genuinely good human being.
“We have been overwhelmed by the amount of support we have received from Glastonbury,” he added. “Every person we’ve met has truly been a pleasure.”
Hall said the journey to becoming that good human being was a challenging one growing up in Wales, Mass., just across the border from Stafford Springs. He said he “skated through” high school, got into drugs and was “having too much fun” instead of getting serious about life. Then 9/11 happened, and it was the “first time I thought about the military.
“When that happened, I wanted to do something more. I wanted to do something with my life,” he said.
Hall served with a tank crew in Iraq and was assigned to clear improvised explosive devices from supply routes. He noted, “Sometimes, you found the bomb, and sometimes the bomb found you.” On an April day in 2007, the bomb found Hall.
“It had rained all day, so you couldn’t really see where the dirt was disturbed,” Hall said of that day’s search for IEDs. “All I remember is feeling this humongous explosion and feeling myself being propelled out of the tank. It was a bunch of dust and then flames and a yellow ball of intense heat. … Then I saw my knee the exact opposite of the way it should be.
“Someone asked if I was OK,” he added. “I shouted, ‘Ah, no. I’m not OK.’ I just tried to keep everything real positive.”
Hall spent five months in the hospital, was fitted for a prosthetic on his left leg and rehabbed for a year. He’s been dealing with PTSD, but has a job working as a mobile vet outreach specialist with the Springfield Veteran Center. He plans on doing the same job out of Rocky Hill after he moves in. Hall has a 19-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter.
Mike Monaco, of the Peter P. Monaco Jr. Detachment Marine Corps League in Glastonbury, has been working tirelessly on the effort to bring not only Hall to town, but also other veterans. He sees Glastonbury as a “Vet oasis.”
“I knew immediately that Craig would be an asset to our community and someone to look up to in the vet community,” he said. “I love seeing veterans moving into Glastonbury. We support our veteran community. Craig is so positive and motivational, and he appreciates everything being done for him. He will be a welcomed addition to Glastonbury.”
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