Phillip Martin, like so many young veterans, came home with a host of difficult physical wounds and crippling mental scars.
Add to that struggles of many a young husband and father, wanting to provide for his wife and daughter while battling bad credit and struggling to find a job amid physical therapy and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. The Martins needed one sign of stability in their lives.
They soon will receive it courtesy of a collaboration by Pulte Homes and Operation FINALLY HOME, an organization that provided mortgage-free homes to wounded and disabled veterans. Pulte broke ground on the family’s 1,997-square-foot home Monday morning in the developer’s Desert Oasis community in northwest Surprise.
Phillip and Audrey Martin, and their 15-month-old daughter Eden, will move into their new home in February.
“I have the utmost gratitude to every one of the sponsors and Lori Darnell (of Operation FINALLY HOME) for talking me through this whole process. I was in a hospital and she took time out of her day to call and see how I was doing. That really meant a lot,” Martin said. “I don’t know any other way to thank them but by living an awesome life. I know there’s going to be days when it’s going to suck. I think living in a house in my new enrivonment will keep my mindset a little bit better.”
Martin is the first Arizona-based veteran to benefit from this program. Operation FINALLY HOME began in 2005 when founder Dan Wallrath brought together a builder and subcontractor to reburfish and make ADA-compliant the home of a friend wounded in war.
After remodeling several homes in Texas, Wallrath changed and expanded the program to concentrate on building wounded veterans homes from scratch. Now the program has spread to 18 states and partners with about 10 builders. Darnell said 81 homes are complete and another 35 are in the works.
She said the program is designed to give a hand up — not a hand out — to veterans. There’s a thorough application process and the post-military path of returning servicemen is considered.
“We look for people like Phillip. Not only has he fought and served, he’s still serving,” Darnell said. “When I called him, he was in a (PTSD) treatment center. What really drew me and our organization to him was his honesty and his humility — and also his service. He was unhappy that he had to retire. He ended up in the Wounded Warrior Brigade in Fort Hood, Texas. He was one of the first responders to the Fort Hood shootings. He actually saved two people’s lives.”
Martin has wanted to serve his country for half his 24 years. Though his battle wounds forced him out of active duty in 2009, he continues to help, giving motivational speeches to surviving service members coming home and aiding the Phoenix Fire Department on first responder training.
The events of 9/11 shook up the 12-year-old Martin. The Mesa native enlisted in the Army the day he turned 18.
“I was 12 years old when it happened and it impacted me a lot. I felt like I had to get back at them,” Martin said. “Before I knew it, my boots were on the ground in Afghanistan.”
He served two combat tours between 2007 and 2009 wounded both times. His first tour ended when a mortar round exploded within 50 feet, causing traumatic brain injury. Martin’s second tour ended from injuries sustained in an improvised explosive device blast and a fall down a 20-foot hill, battering his knees.
He came home in 2009, months before saving lives at Fort Hood. Martin retired in 2011.
Adjusting to life at home has been difficult for him and many soldiers he served with. He said he knows many friends who are still suffering.
“I can deal with physical injuries all day. It’s the mental ones that really get me down,” Martin said. “I lost a lot of friends over there. I haven’t been able to fully have friendships. I’ve lost some of them to suicide.”
In his darkest times, Martin nearly reached the same point.
He met Audrey in a PTSD rehabilitation center. They married shortly thereafter and became parents in 2012.
Phillip was the first veteran she’d met. After marrying, they settled in a Mesa apartment and struggled to make ends meet.
“I wouldn’t change anything for the world,” Audrey Martin said. “It was one of those ‘when you know, you know,’ kind of things.”
Phillip still requires some major surgeries. He will have a neurostimulator placed in the back of his head to combat tremors and involuntary convulsions.
He’s starting partial hospitialization for post traumatic stress disorder today. But he said he has a more upbeat attitude about this largely outpatient program.
Things began to look up when Martin learned of Operation FINALLY HOME through his Operation Wounded Warrior representative, Chris Lewandowski.
Brad Schoenberg, Pulte’s vice president of Construction Operations, said the growing Desert Oasis community was the ideal choice because of the single-level floor plans and freeway access.
“For his needs and the types of homes we’re building here as well as the location — the new expansion of the Loop 303 — means he’ll be able to go wherever he needs to get to to continue what he’s doing, giving back.” Schoenberg said.
Pulte’s partnership with this program adds a few features, including a fully landscaped home with a contract to maintain it for a year and homeowners association dues paid for more than a year.
“It’s such a weight lifted off our shoulders. We’re going to be able to provide for our daughter,” Audrey Martin said. “We’re not going to have to struggle, like running out of diapers and not being able to afford some until we get paid again. It’s such a blessing. I know he feels like he doesn’t deserve it, but that’s a true Army man. None of them think that anything they’ve done is worth what they’re receiving.”