By Sandra Meyer
During the month of September, two local heroes and their families received mortgage free homes in Rivervew from Building Homes for Heroes in honor of the sacrifices they have made. Andrew Pujol, president and founder of Building Homes for Heroes, showed his satisfaction with the turnout at both events when he stated, “It takes a village to help raise a child. I think this is a perfect, shining example of what that means; a village coming together to teach our young heroes, our boy scouts and girl scouts, to do what’s right.”
On Saturday, September 13 Army Staff Sergeant Visala Tui, along with his wife and four children, were greeted by hundreds of members of the community and military and given the keys to their newly renovated and paid-in-full home. He proudly served for 14 and a half years, carrying out tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. As a combat medic, he was witness to numerous injuries and casualties. Injuries suffered by SSG Tui include traumatic brain injury, severe sleep apnea, injuries to both shoulders, post traumatic stress disorder, permanent injuries to his left side, severe arthritis in his ankles and injuries to his lower back and knees. He will require further surgical procedures and is rated as having a total and permanent disability.
SSG Tui has received a multitude of awards and commendations throughout his military career, including the Combat Medical Badge, Army Commendation Medal and Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. While he and his family have suffered and sacrificed greatly, they were given a hero’s welcome with full fanfare from members of various branches of the military, Patriot Guard Riders, Hillsborough County Fire and Rescue, Hillsborough County Sheriffs Department and many more. Governor Rick Scott arrived just before the parade and was there to greet the Tui family as they arrived among the eruption of applause and tears. In addition to the many speakers there to thank the family was a military fly over that thrilled both young and old.
Two weeks later on Saturday, September 27, Army Major Robert Kilmartin and his wife and four children were honored with their new home. Major Kilmartin joined the Army in 1994 as a private and worked his way through the ranks. During his career he served in numerous capacities with Special Operations Forces with deployments to Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2011 he was leading a dismounted patrol near Bareckzi, Afghanistan when his element discovered an improvised explosive device (IED). The IED exploded near Major Kilmartin, injuring his neck, back, shoulder and knees. It also caused a concussion and mild traumatic brain injury. He earned the Purple Heart, but returned to duty despite his injuries and months later sustained yet another IED attack, once again suffering a concussion and traumatic brain injury. Major Kilmartin earned a second Purple Heart and still continued to serve his country, patrolling the villages of Afghanistan. In all, he was involved in more than 100 IED blasts and 200 dismounted combat patrols.
Once again the community turned out to welcome another hero and family to their new mortgage free home. Patriot Guard Riders, firefighters, Sheriff deputies, Riverview JROTC Cadets, Vietnam Veterans, members of various military branches and the AVAST Amputee Color Guard, among others, walked or rode in the procession from Riverview High School to the newly renovated home of the Kilmartin family. Dignitaries including Major General Michael X Garrett and State Representative Jake Raburn, District 57 were on hand to welcome the family to the cheers of the hundreds that gathered around the new home. A military fly over added to the day’s excitement, befitting a hero’s welcome.
Both of the home giveaways were made possible because of the efforts of the Building Homes for Heroes organization and were given by Chase Bank. Building Homes for Heroes hope to give away more than 40 homes in 2015 nationwide. For more information on how to join the efforts of Building Homes for Heroes, visit www.homesforheroes.com.