Saturday, Sons of the American Revolution thanked veterans by giving ten Purple Heart recipients, who are transitioning back to civilian life after their injuries, tool boxes worth $1,000 each.
The effort is ongoing, with a promise to get tool boxes into the hands of every wounded war hero in the nation:
Brandi Hootsell opens the tool box her husband received last year from the group.
“It came packed,” she said. “There’s a saw in here, saw blades, gloves. They’re nice tools, too.”
Marine Corporal John Hootsell was wounded by a 280-pound. IED in Afghanistan. He suffered a shattered heel and a broken tibia. Every vertebrae, each individual bone in his spine, had burst into tiny pieces. He is awaiting his next surgery.
To care for her husband, Brandi Hootsell keeps three different lists going at all times - one on the back of the front door, one in the dining room, and another in the kitchen.
“I’m a full-time caregiver," she said. "So I take care of all of J.C.’s appointments, when the meds are refilled, when I need to get new prescriptions."
A thousand dollars’ worth of tools means a lot to this young couple, just like the apartment provided for them at Operation Homefront Village on the city’s northeast side.
“Afghanistan took a little bit of me each time,” Walker said. According to Walker, he was one of only about 300 people in the military that could do what he did - coordinating air traffic between Air Force artillery planes and ground troops. It was a specialized function that took him on seven tours to Afghanistan.
“In my job in 2011, we were looking for the top 10 bad guys, and we were going after Number Two,” he said.
Walker was hit by three different explosions over several years. He looks downward and to his right when he describes the 2011 blast that lifted him off the ground and threw him 30 feet. It’s as if he won’t ever forget where that grenade landed, just 10 meters away. It was the event that would force Walker’s retirement.
“I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t function. And I didn’t understand," he said.
Walker says it’s tough to go from being a competent multi-tasker under heavy fire, to not being able to remember how to do simple things. He says the gift of tools means everything - helping him to feel capable and competent again.
“Sarissa, my wife, says, ‘Hey can you put the dryer and the washer in?’ And I said, ‘Oh sure.’ And I pulled out this orange tool box. I used the wrench to tighten the fittings. And it just made me feel better,” Walker said.
“It’s not a job that just the military can do. It’s not a job that just one non-profit organization can do,” Aaron Taylor, spokesman for Operation Homefront said.
Taylor says tools were donated by Husky, Stanley, Black and Decker, and Home Depot. And, supporting wounded warriors and all veterans in transitioning from military to civilian life must be a combined effort.
“The government sector, the non-profit sector, and the private sector all have to step up and make a commitment to these wounded warriors and to these veterans,” Taylor said.
“I have a ‘70 Chevy pickup, and I have a lot of tools," Walker said. "I used to race cars, and spinning a wrench was easy. But I don’t remember how to do any of that anymore. But, apparently, before my injuries, I showed my kids how to use [tools]. So, when we were at the apartment, they were showing me how to screw the screws back in on some of the benches and chairs that were broken and kind of wobbly.
“And all the tools that I’ve had – I have two tool boxes in the garage, and I have no idea. They have all kinds of shiny things in them.”
Walker is still transitioning out of the military. He and his family moved from Washington State to San Antonio where he could get better treatment for his injuries, which include Traumatic Brain Injury so severe that he was declared 100% disabled.
Operation Homefront provides housing for veterans in transition and gathers every-day items, like school supplies, gift cards for groceries, and even sheets and towels for returning veterans whose service has led them to San Antonio for treatment, retirement, or both.