When he joined the Army in 2006, Herbert Jackson had ambitions of making the military his career.
When he was honorably discharged in 2013, he had two Purple Hearts after surviving attacks in Iraq. He also had a traumatic brain injury and other life-changing medical conditions, uncertain job prospects, debt and worries over how he would provide for his wife and children.
“It was very difficult to bring up a family in that sort of situation,” Jackson said. “Luckily we were able to work through it and be there for each other.”
Jackson’s story offers a glimpse of why many veterans have trouble coming home. The medically retired sergeant did have a family support network that includes his parents and his in-laws. His father Herbert Jackson II describes his son’s attitude as “determined and committed.” He became a pastor since leaving the Army and counts his faith among his blessings. And Friday, he was presented with a home.
Operation Homefront, a Texas-based national nonprofit that helps veterans reintegrate into civilian life, and Meritage Homes, an Arizona-based company building in Colorado and eight other states, teamed up to hand the Jacksons keys to the fully furnished, three-bedroom, 1,837-square-foot house.
Meritage donated the home, valued at about $400,000 and outfitted by partners that included appliance manufacturers.
“A lot of us here are not veterans. We wanted to find a way to give back to those who have done so much for our country,” said Meritage CEO Steve Hilton. “There’s no one as deserving of living the American dream as a disabled veteran.”
Operation Homefront is providing support to ensure the Jacksons thrive. The family will get a deed to the home after about two years. In the meantime the Jacksons will receive regular visits from a social worker who will encourage them to connect with their community and set and pursue goals. They’ll also get advice from financial counselors on paying down debt and keeping up with insurance and other expenses first-time homeowners might not anticipate.
“It’s a program. It’s not just a free home,” Robert Thomas, Operation Home Front’s chief operating officer, said as American flags flapped in the driveway and heavy equipment rumbled in the background. Other Meritage homes were still under construction in the area, though several on the Jackson’s street were already occupied.
Jackson, born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, began and ended his Army career at Fort Carson. He has had an information technology job in Colorado Springs with a state office for the last few years. He said he heard about Operation Homefront shortly before he left the military and had been checking the group’s website periodically, hoping to find a home being offered in Colorado Springs. Commerce City was close enough.
Operation Homefront’s Thomas said his group had previously placed veterans and their families in four houses in Colorado, all on the Front Range. In all, since Operation Homefront launched its housing program in 2012, it has handed over deeds to nearly 500 veterans’ families. Twelve of those homes have been donated by Meritage; the Jackons’ was the first in Colorado for the builder.
The Jacksons planned to move in Friday night. The girls — Arreonna, 15, and Amaya, 9 — and four-year-old Aaron have already switched to local schools. Jackson and his wife Erica will be commuting at least initially. Herbert Jackson is looking for a transfer to Denver. Erica Jackson is studying psychology at Pikes Peak Community College and wants to finish the school year before changing to a Denver school.
After a short ceremony that opened with the singing of the national anthem, Jackson placed a key in the front door of the house of gray-green siding and stone trim. Teams from Meritage and Homefront had consulted with the family about design, furniture and amenity choices throughout construction, but Friday was the first time they had been inside.
“Oh my gosh,” Erica Jackson said slowly as she took in the open plan kitchen, dining and living area decorated in browns and grays.
For a long moment her husband stood in front of the fireplace hugging his mother Mary Jackson. Both sets of grandparents had traveled from the South for Friday’s big event.
Aaron squealed at his Spider Man-themed bedroom, complete with a mural showing the super hero surveying Manhattan. Arreonna was in tears as she and Amaya toured the bedroom they will share.
A barbecue sat on the back porch, which had an expansive view of the Rockies.
“Koda’s got a dog house!” Herbert Jackson called out when he spotted a shingled structure on the grass. The family’s crowd-shy Yorkie was waiting in the car.
Herbert Jackson said his family had lived in a military housing or apartments. He had grown up in a home his parents owned and he wanted to give his children that kind of stability.
“I’m grateful now that we’re able to put down roots,” he said.
Arreonna said her tears were joyful.
The house “feels like it was specially made for us,” she said.