Community comes together to welcome Veteran

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

A dozen years ago, U.S. Army Sgt. Shane Ray suffered life-altering injuries while serving in Iraq.

Since that time he and his family have struggled with the perils of constant medical procedures, specialized care needs and just finding a way to get on with their lives.

Friday, the community came together to help ease some of that burden by welcoming the Ray family into their new home in MorningStar.

An emotional Ray, surrounded by his family, thanked those directly involved in the project as well as the more than 100 members of the community on hand to welcome him.

“I’m not good at speeches, I hate them,” he said. “But thank you for this home. It is going to change my life. I’m going to be able to help out around more. It is going to give me a sense of being again, and thank you, everybody that helped with this. It truly means a lot to me and my family.”

The Ray family was assisted through the Wounded Hero Home Program. The program brought the Ray family together with the developers of MorningStar, builder Westin Homes and dozens of other in-kind donors to build the home. The construction cost of the home includes a minimal loan to the family, grant funding and donations from developers, builders and contractors.

“I’m not sure I have the words to explain how I feel right now,” said John Marlin, President of MA Development Group, representing MorningStar. “We all might not be in the military, but it took an army to do this. That’s what America is about, everybody does their part. You might not be in the military, but there are things you can do that move America forward and can help other people. As you can tell here today, that’s how a lot of Americans live.”

Matt Roland, Division President of Westin Homes, added how proud Westin was to also be part of such a far-reaching effort to help the Ray family.

“Westin Homes is honored to be a part of this project,” he said. “It takes a lot of people working in concert to pull something like this off. There are a lot of people behind the scenes making this work.”

Ray first served in the U.S. Marines, then the Washington State National Guard when he was called to active duty in the army. He deployed to Iraq with the 101st Airborne.

On patrol one evening, Ray was driving a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that ran over two improvised explosive devices. The injuries sustained by Ray in the blast left him with severe burns over 60 percent of his body and the loss of his right leg. Ray received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

US Sen. Ted Cruz honored Ray at Friday’s event, thanking him for his service on behalf of all Texans.

“We are here gathered today in the presence of heroes,” he said. “We’re here as a state and a community to say thank you. We thank you for your service, we thank you for your sacrifice, we thank you for answering the call.”

Cruz went on to thank Helping a Hero, which runs the charitable home program, and all of the businesses that stepped forward to help Ray.

“We’re thankful also to Meredith (Iler’s) tremendous leadership of Helping A Hero, to Westin Homes, to all of the generous donors who have come together to give this tremendous home to heroes in our midst.”

Major General Tony Cucolo focused his remarks on the importance of caring for America’s veterans, taking time first to thank Ray’s wife, Tessa, for her unwavering dedication.

“Tessa is actually 10-feet tall, she’s just wound real tight. She is a velvet hammer,” Cucolo said. “You have to stop and think about it — it has been 12 years since the horrible wounding. That’s 12 years of in and out of doctors’ offices, hospitals, how long is this hospital stay, what is this diagnosis. Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to think of what Tessa has been through and stood by her soldier. She is representative of the iron ladies and men who stand by their severely wounded.”

But Cucolo cautioned it would take everyone’s support and resolve to keep the U.S. military strong in the future, adding that without the continued sense of duty among a volunteer force, the force could falter.

“We have an American military defending the republic that are small in number, but incredible resolute because they volunteer, because they want to be in,” he said. “This national treasure is perishable. No one will step up and fill the ranks if they feel as though the sacrifice is not worth it. Part of that is education, part of that is being passed down from family to family, all of that plays a part. But a huge part is how we treat the families of the fallen and how we treat the wounded. If we do not treat them well, will this rising generation step up, will they say this sacrifice is worth it?”

The crowd cheered as Ray received the key to his new home, getting to see it for the first time.

“I’m super excited about the family moving in right after this is over,” Marlin said. “I know it’s been an experience for you and a process, and you guys have been through some things the last 12 years that most of us will never go through, and here you are today.”

The message sent to Ray on Friday is the message Cucolo said must be sent to all American veterans.

“What you’ve done mattered, it is worth it, and we will take care of you,” he said. “And that is a message that contributes to our national survival, let there be no mistake.”

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