When terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 ravaged the American psyche, it sparked a vocation from then-teenage David Speights to serve his country.
Speights enlisted in the US Army in June 2005 at the age of 17 and had to wait until he was 18 to be deployed to Afghanistan. Six years later, the sergeant was medically discharged after suffering traumatic brain injury when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded just meters away from him.
The 34-year-old Waco father of two will get his first look on Veterans Day. in a fully furnished, mortgage-free home built for his family as part of a decades-old program started by one of the country’s largest home builders.
PulteGroup’s Built to Honor program rewards veterans for their service. It is one of several such programs being run by home builders and non-profit organizations across the country.
Speights is the 75th veteran to receive a home from PulteGroup. He will be moving into the four-bedroom home in Princeton, Collin County, with his family this weekend.
“It was amazing what they were willing to do and how much support they were willing to give us,” Speights said.
It was April 1 when Speights said he’d been invited to Princeton for what he thought was his second interview. Then he found out that he was getting a house. Despite applying to the PulteGroup program, he said he had a laugh and had to make sure the organizers weren’t “joking around”.
Bryan Swindell, President of PulteGroup’s Dallas Division, said the program started in 2013 and works in partnership with non-profit organizations to identify experienced candidates.
“I’m a firm believer in families being built in homes,” Swindell said. “And we offer that home.”
Growing up, the Speights family moved around a lot and what he wanted most for his family was the sense of security that comes with homeownership.
“What it gives me is stability … to provide my family,” Speights said. “It’s a home for them to grow up in and for all of us to make memories.”
Such was the experience earlier this year for another Dallas-Fort Worth veteran.
Luisa Velez, 42, served in the US Navy for nine years as a medic. She got her custom-designed, mortgage-free home in Irving through Operation Final Home, a New Braunfels-based nonprofit that works with corporate sponsors, property developer associations, builders, remodelers, and developers to find homes for veterans.
After first applying in 2019 and having a pandemic hiatus on her application, she moved into her three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with her 11-year-old son Spencer Lambert this summer.
In her application, Operation Finally Home asked her to describe her dream home, and the planning process included everything from a dog door to a walk-in closet. It’s even painted navy blue.
“I never thought I’d get that as a service member,” Velez said. “I always believe that you work for whatever you get and that you work hard and you get what you need. When this happened I was in disbelief.”
Operation Final Home president Rusty Carroll said the nonprofit has averaged over 40 projects per year for the past three years.
“It’s just great to see this weight being lifted by the veterans and the families so they can enjoy their homes, enjoy each other and enjoy their families in a way they otherwise couldn’t have,” he said Carroll .
Velez comes from a long line of military ancestors. When she turned 18, she was the first woman in her family to enroll.
Their first mission was in Iraq in 2003. Velez worked in a mobile surgical unit, receiving and stabilizing incoming patients before they were transported to a ship or hospital. It was deployed a second time in 2004, but the hospital building where it was stationed was hit by mortar attacks.
In her post-military life, Velez owns Sublime Beauty Bar, a salon in Duncanville. She said she will leave her house to her son when she gets old and he “takes her to a retirement home”.
She plans to remain involved in Operation Finally Home as well. Texas is home to the most veterans of any state, with 1.5 million men and women who have served their country.
“The physical change in my location has opened up a whole lot for me,” said Velez. “Now I can afford a few more things financially.”