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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
CNN Heroes Special Report: Operation Finally Home
Aired December 15, 2013 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your name?
KEN KALISH, U.S. MARINE CORPS SERGEANT (RETIRED): Even though we are pulling out in the Middle East, there's over 50,000 wounded veterans that we have now, and that's an unbelievable amount. I build custom homes for 30 years. Back in 2005, I did my first remodel for a wounded veteran. God put a passion in my heart to help these families. You know these young men and women need a lot of help.
Unfortunately, I don't have the help in a lot of areas. But I do know how to build a home.
I joined the Marine Corps in 2007. In February of 2009, we deployed to Camp Baharia, Iraq. Then we finally made it into Afghanistan.
My job is to find IEDs, to keep other Marines, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and even the local populace safe. That was my job. I loved it. I enjoyed every minute of it.
We had another mission come down and the night before we left, I had ended up getting on the sat phone and I called my dad. And I was -- there was just something about this mission that just didn't sit right with me. I just felt like something was going to go wrong.
We had set up the night before on the other side of the hill, you look down, and there's about a mile-long stretch of this little village where no one lived. We were going to go through there to clear it so that the local populace could come back and live there.
The next morning, we push out, and my buddy John had found an IED in a doorway. So he was going to shoot his 203 into the doorway, which is the .40 millimeter grenade launcher that is underslung under our rifles. So he shot the 203. We waited for the dust to clear and we came out from behind this wall, and I took about 10 steps. And then I woke up on the ground.
My staff sergeant, even with a severe grade 3 concussion, popped eardrums, he was the first person to pull me over and put his knees on my femoral. They said that I had about 10 seconds to freak out and then I did everything they said.
My injuries originally -- I was missing my hand. I was a below-knee amputee on here so I still had my knee. And then I was a knee disartic on this side. So I had my full femur, but my femur was broke. From the time of the blast until the time I was loaded up on the helicopter was 34 minutes, but to me, it seemed like it went by like that.
It's been almost two and a half years. The guys who have been injured, we call it our alive day. So April 7th of 2011 is my alive day.
DAN WALLRATH, 2010 CNN HERO, FOUNDER, OPERATION FINALLY HOME: I noticed the garage was wide enough to where he can get in and out of his vehicle.
I'm Dan Wallrath. Operation Finally Home is an organization where we build homes and help our wounded heroes.
Back in 2005, I got a telephone call from a friend of mine and he had a friend of his that his son was a Marine. And his son was injured by a roadside bomb. Had severe head injuries. He wanted the know if I'd go over and talk to the family about remodeling their home because they were going bring Stephen home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His family will be able to use it and so we want the countertops at normal heights.
WALLRATH: Normal height.
I built custom homes for 30 years. And I really was preparing to go there and just tell them I didn't do that kind of work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're moving the microwave around to this end so that will be accessible.
WALLRATH: That's great.
So when I got there, the father showed me a picture of Stephen before he got injured and then after he got injured. And it just broke my heart. His situation was just -- it was just terrible. And I (INAUDIBLE), and I told them, I said we'll -- I said, we'll take care of it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's walk back into the master to tell you a couple of things.
The job ended up being about a $100,000 remodel, but we didn't spend a dime. Everybody donated materials, time, labor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only door in this house that's not oversized accessible would be the guest bathroom.
WALLRATH: So after we did that project, I went back to the guys and I told them, I said that was really -- you know, it was something good. I said, you know, maybe we need to reach out so we could help more so from there, it just kind of grew.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was shot twice. Once in the chest and once in the left hip.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The IED hit me in the face and neck. I had severe shrapnel damage. From the second that went off I went totally blind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm being medically retired, primarily for post- traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I underwent 22 surgeries to save both of my legs. The final surgery, the 22nd, was an amputation on my left leg below the knee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we have them (INAUDIBLE) and then he could do lunch with the guys and kind of talk to them and thank them for building his home.
WALLRATH: Back in 2009, you know, I was still full-time builder for profit. And trying to grow Operation Finally Home. And it just got to be too much. And I met this wonderful guy that was working for another nonprofit. And we just hit it off.
DANIEL VARGAS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, OPERATION FINALLY HOME: Well, I'm going to pass the ball to Dan, so I have no problem doing that.
Dan's marching orders to me were I want to go national. I want to expand.
You know, we do a flier, I can send it out to the local radio station.
We're the perfect odd couple. He needs a building system, I need the military and the non-profit systems.
We're building a home up in Dallas with the Retired NFL Players Association there.
And in 2010, Dan would be selected as one of the Top 10 CNN Heroes and the floodgate would open.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to present CNN Hero Dan Wallrath.
VARGAS: I really believe in my heart CNN Hero is probably the biggest thing that ever happened to us.
WALLRATH: The true heroes are service men and women who stand in harm's way every day to protect our freedoms.
VARGAS: It's opened up a lot of doors. It's opened up a lot of opportunities. We went from four homes and one remodel in 2009 to over 80 homes in 17 states.
The first thing we do is find a builder and an area we can build in. Have a town hall meeting, get all the suppliers, contractors, everything donated to do that home. We do not take applications. The main reason is that the majority of these families already been through enough heartache that we don't want to take 500 applications for one home and then have to tell 499 families they're not getting it. So we'd rather go find them than they find us.
KALISH: I have my good days, I have my bad. At first there were a lot more bad than there were good. There was one time I woke up in the morning and I looked at my dad, and I was like, well this is kind of -- I won't say that word. But this is kind of -- just kind of crap.
Those days, you wake up and you're just like, "I don't want to do anything, I don't want to go to therapy, I don't want to do none of this."
The way I help myself through it is there's always this fact that I can't change what happened. If I could wish everything back, I would. But I can't. So why let it get me down?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all you, buddy.
KEN KALISH: All right, man. That's what I'm talking about.
My brother lives with me. Whenever he found out I got hurt, he's been one of the bigger supporters in helping me through my rehabilitation.
KYLE KALISH, KEN'S BROTHER: When Kenny got hurt, it hurt really bad because I knew we couldn't do some of the things we used to do together.
Most of my job is devoted towards Kenny. Somebody needs to be at the house with him right now. Whether it's to help him get into the bathtub or if he needed to go somewhere and his chair lift broke, I'd pick him up, put him in his truck.
KEN KALISH: Emotionally, it wasn't too bad. I mean, I had a very good support structure. That helped out a lot. Having my family there. Physically-wise, that's something that is going to be an everyday battle.
I'm 24. I want to be able to live by myself and to be able to do everything I need to do by myself.
This took me a little bit to perfect.
This apartment that I live in isn't bad. But it's not set up for my needs.
This is what you do when you can't reach things.
The doors aren't as wide as they could be. The microwave, I can't really see in there so everything, like, I can't just stir something on microwave. The bathroom isn't as big as it should be so I can pull my wheelchair in there easily. Some of the shelves are too high.
Always afraid I'm going to drop it.
It kind of bugs me at night when I go to sleep. It's like well, what's next, is the big question. To me, what's next is getting a house, going to school, and finding a career. But it's when it's going to happen is the big thing. Everything is kind of on hold right now until I get a place that is mine and set. And that's where I'm going to live and that's where I plan on staying.
KEN KALISH: Fin, hey. Sit.
Fin was my bomb dog. And the gunny who is in charge of all the dogs in the Marine Corps came me to visit me while I was in the hospital. And I asked him if I'd be able to get my dog. And he said we'll get you your dog.
It's great having a dog that I went through so much with. As a pet, he just grew into the life of watching TV.
I am going to meet with the executive director and president of Operation Finally Home, an organization I'm trying to have build a house for me.
KYLE KALISH: You're good to go.
KEN KALISH: It's definitely a little nerve racking.
WALLRATH: Good morning.
VARGAS: How you doing, brother? Good to see you.
WALLRATH: Hi, Ken. Dan Wallrath.
KEN KALISH: Nice to meet you.
WALLRATH: Nice to meet you.
You know, what you've done is just amazing, you and Fin. And we just want you to know your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed. You know, and we appreciate you very much.
KEN KALISH: Thank you. I appreciate that. That does really mean a lot.
WALLRATH: Everybody's situation is different. So, you know, we don't have a set of hard, fast rules. We have to find families that, in spite of their injuries, are willing to move forward and make something of themselves.
I know you know why we're all sitting here talking.
KEN KALISH: Yes, sir.
WALLRATH: You know. Unfortunately, you know, we're a small group, and, you know, we would love to be able to build a home for everybody. But with our resources, we just do what we can do. You know, and -- so if you received a new home, what would that -- how would that help you?
KEN KALISH: To me, it'd be another part of my mental rehabilitation. I want to live by myself.
KEN KALISH: To be independent for myself. It would help to have a home that is set up where everything is more accessible to do that.
WALLRATH: What's your long-range plans?
KEN KALISH: Right now, I want to go -- I want to eventually go to school.
KEN KALISH: I haven't really decided on a major yet. But I don't want to start school and then something happen and I have to move.
WALLRATH: Yes. I realize that you, like many, have a lot of emotional problems because of your injuries and things like -- how are you dealing with all that right now?
KEN KALISH: I deal with my injuries pretty well. Yes, physically, I'm different. But I'm not going to let that change me as a person.
WALLRATH: That's good. That's good.
VARGAS: We're interviewing a couple more families. But the next of these, we're going to do one final interview up in Dallas. So I'm going to send you that date. But you can call me and ask me any questions, you know that. I'll answer them to you.
KEN KALISH: Brother, again, I'll see you later. Pleasure.
WALLRATH: Thank you, Ken.
KEN KALISH: Sir.
WALLRATH: God bless you, buddy. And take care of yourself, all right?
KEN KALISH: It's a pleasure meeting you.
WALLRATH: You too. We'll see you soon.
VARGAS: We'll talk real soon.
WALLRATH: I can't imagine. I can't imagine. You know, we've done -- been doing this for eight years, and it still don't get any easier.
WALLRATH: Don't get any easier.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The hardest part of transitioning to civilian life is I have this job that I love, I had everything all planned out. And now I'm waking up to learn that it's over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of anxiety about, you know, leaving the military. That was pretty much the only thing I was really good at.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The scariest thing about becoming a civilian was basically not knowing where we were going to go live. It's been difficult. It's been a difficult transition.
JANET STANSBERRY, RECOVERY COORDINATOR, VETERANS ADMINISTRATION: Hey.
VARGAS: Hey, stranger. How you doing?
STANSBERRY: Good. How are you?
VARGAS: Good to see you again.
STANSBERRY: Good to see you, too.
VARGAS: Very good to see you, man. How you've been?
WALLRATH: You know, once we know that we have a builder and everything in place to start a new home, you know, we contact our -- the V.A. caseworkers. They have been dealing with these families for sometimes two and three years. And they really know the ones that are moving forward with their lives and not letting these challenges bring them down.
STANSBERRY: I always like hearing about the new ones.
WALLRATH: Yes. Boy, we've got several coming up.
VARGAS: We're going to have a build -- going right down to Victoria, Texas. Nashville, we have --
VARGAS: We have another one coming up in Nashville. In Houston.
STANSBERRY: Oh, I have such a good candidate for Houston.
VARGAS: We're very interested in the family -- the Stephen Jackel family. Is there any updates on him? I know he finally retired, fully retired, got his Purple Heart medal presented to him.
BARRY BROWN, RECOVERY COORDINATOR, VETERANS ADMINISTRATION: Yes sir. He's out of the military now. I think he's still living in Operation Homefront, those apartments over there.
BROWN: So --
VARGAS: We're going to push forward and actually do an interview with him and meet him and the kids and the wife. Dan's going to meet them tomorrow. BROWN: He's a hero. Yes.
WALLRATH: You know, absolutely.
BROWN: A true American hero.
STEPHEN JACKEL, U.S. ARMY SERGEANT (RETIRED): I landed in the Army at the age of 28. Just felt, you know, at that point and time in my life, I wanted to do more. Needed the challenge.
February of 2009, I deployed to Iraq for three and a half months. And my last deployment was to Afghanistan. It was a three-day mission, and the second day we were out, we rolled over a culvert and I had seen a wire running into the culvert. You know, I told the driver to back up, and he couldn't -- he couldn't hear me, and they initiated the IED on us.
With the force of the vehicle being lifted up off the ground, I lost consciousness. As I woke up, I tried to start moving my body and that's when I realized my legs were broke. The gunner was pinned. My dismount was pinned. Two guys in the front were knocked out. We're trapped inside of the vehicle. Then pop shots from the ammo can started because a fire apparently had broke out from underneath the vehicle where the IED had came up through.
Here we are in the vehicle, I got two broken legs. And I was just like, you know, I don't know what to do. You know, is this it? Is this how I'm going to die?
I just felt the rush of heat and, you know, the next thing I did was just grab my leg and I just started slamming on the fire. I would swing it like this and then slam it down so that I could hit the fire at different angles. About that time, I saw my platoon sergeant looking down at me. I had to literally make my way up to open up the hatches, so I used what strength I had left, and then, you know, I just collapsed after that.
WALLRATH: One of the biggest challenges is transitioning from a military life to civilian life.
ADRIANA LOPEZ-JACKEL, STEPHEN'S WIFE: Yes, let me make her a bottle.
WALLRATH: Some of these guys have made five, six, seven tours. You live that way five, six, seven years, you know, how do you expect to come back and just be normal again?
JACKEL: I'm married to my beautiful wife Adrianna, and we have six kids. This is, like, the most stressful part for me right now. You're always going, going, going. That adrenaline rush and be in combat. Coming back, be in combat. Coming back. And then now it's like you've done all these heroic things and you're sitting on the couch with your wife watching "Desperate Housewives." Come on. You know what I'm saying?
LOPEZ-JACKEL: Let's try Sunday. Uh-huh.
JACKEL: When you're depressed, you don't really think about the future because you're kind of stuck either where you're at or in the past.
LOPEZ-JACKEL: We were not prepared for this injury. It was hard. There's rough times that he goes through. And it's really hard for me because when I met Stephen, or anybody that knows Stephen, you know, he's always smiling and he has a really beautiful personality, and just seeing him down sometimes, it really hurts.
Come on, Zoe.
JACKEL: We live at Operation Homefront Village. They allow us to live here through transition before we receive our benefits, which has been quite helpful. You feel like you're in the unknown part because you're waiting for your benefits to kick in so you're in limbo.
LOPEZ-JACKEL: Ever since the injury, everything's kind of been shaky up and down. Kids, you know, changing schools and us moving from different house to house.
JACKEL: Dealing with all this anxiety, dealing with all this other stuff. But my family is so supportive of me that I'm always hopeful about the future.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The turning point was you see your loved ones, and then you realize well, I got something I have to really work hard to do and get better.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still the same person. I still can do the same things, you know, It doesn't slow me down. I try not to make it slow me down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've always been a person who thrived under -- you know, with challenges.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything gets better every day. You've got to fight for your family.
JACKEL: I started taking adaptive scuba diving, which is a class, you know, you just go in and due to your disabilities, you learn how to dive.
Hey, are you even wearing a -- wearing a --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wear a shorty.
JACKEL: Are you? OK, I'll just wear my shorty then, too.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm wearing it for a different reason. I'm wearing it because my belly is bigger than my ass. (LAUGHTER)
JACKEL: Getting in the water, it feels like time slows down. You know, you can relax and just dive. Dealing with pain up here on land versus no pain in the water, you know, where would you want to be?
Diving has definitely had a therapeutic effect for me. It heals you, mind, spirit, and body. You don't -- you don't feel any stress. Damn it, when you start to run out of air, you've got to come back up. It sucks. Because you just want to stay down there, you know.
KEN KALISH: This is how I get down the hill.
That first couple months, people would stare and stuff. And it took a while to be able to want to go out and do stuff. Not so much anymore, I'm glad about that.
That was the biggest thing when I first got hurt is because I wasn't able to drive. I was just really tired of having to have somebody chauffeur me around. They had to teach me how to drive again basically with hand controls. That was starting of my turning point. I think it was two days after I got my license, I went and got my truck.
And my step mom took me to go pick up my truck. I got in there, and she took a left and I took a right, and I just went for a drive. I like driving.
And I got lucky that I didn't lose my right hand because I'm right- handed. So I still can do a lot of things. The old driving hand-on. It's just nice being able to get out. Got to get the old oil changed in the truck, I'm a little overdue on it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Regular oil change, right?
KEN KALISH: Yes. I have the worst signature in the world.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, I'll get started on this.
KEN KALISH: All right, thank you.
Living the life. I get the house built, I'll end up probably living by myself and be able to cook my own food.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll meet you inside.
KEN KALISH: I might not mow the lawn. I might have somebody mow the lawn for me. Hoping everything goes well with the review.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're welcome.
KEN KALISH: But we'll find out soon, and I can't wait. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
WALLRATH: I retired from my building business to take over our family ranch. I guess I had two full-time jobs and I needed to spend at least 40 hours a week at the ranch and probably at least 40 hours a week in Operation Finally Home.
I make money here at the ranch. I don't make money at Operation Finally Home. Operation Finally Home to me is just a labor of love. I truly believe that, you know, family is number one. I've got such a wonderful wife and she believes in what we're doing.
CAROL WALLRATH, DAN'S WIFE: Everybody get a roll?
WALLRATH: She knows how important it is and she's a big supporter in this journey. We were high school sweethearts. She was a junior and I was a senior.
C. WALLRATH: We were just babies. Been married for 43 years. In 2005, we were sort of leaning towards the idea of OK, retirement is coming up. We're not getting any younger. That's when Operation Finally Home sort of kicked in. So retirement, not so much anymore.
WALLRATH: Life wouldn't be what it is without my beautiful wife. She definitely makes it all worth living.
WALLRATH: Dan Wallrath.
JACKEL: Stephen Jackel, how you doing?
WALLRATH: Nice to meet you.
VARGAS: What's up, stranger?
JACKEL: How you doing, man?
WALLRATH: Who you got there?
WALLRATH: All right.
JACKEL: Y'all want to sit down?
WALLRATH: Yes, you come over here and sit down. First of all, thank you for your service.
Adriana, thank you for -- you know, I know that you're sacrificing a lot for him to go off and do what he does. With that said, what would it mean to you if y'all were awarded a new home?
JACKEL: For me, and especially the kids, it's like you get moved from here to there, to here to there, to here to there. And then it'd would be nice to take a breath. LOPEZ-JACKEL: I think we'd be at peace because right now everything is up in the air. Everything is just -- you know, and I don't know, I think it would be a big weight off our shoulders, you know.
VARGAS: Well, we found out when a veteran comes home, it's just a ripple effect. We have family members that are developing secondary post traumatic stress disorder because the stress and the anxiety had been on trying to take care of the family. You know, the wife ends up having to be the caregiver, the mother and father.
WALLRATH: You know, we've got the builder in place. We've got our property. But unfortunately, we have, you know, different things we have to go through and --
VARGAS: What we're going to do is invite y'all up to Dallas for the details.
VARGAS: Because that'll be the next interview with our builder up there.
LOPEZ-JACKEL: You have a good day.
WALLRATH: Well, thank y'all so much for coming out.
One of the things I always look at is how he looks at her and how she looks at him. You know.
WALLRATH: And how they connect. And you could see there's a lot of love and --
WALLRATH: You can see that.
VARGAS: Unfortunately, the easiest part of it is finding families. The hardest part is deciding which one to build for.
WALLRATH: We give the homes away in a way that's a little different from other organizations, is that we always surprise the family. Ken was surprised. We told him that he was coming for -- to Dallas for a final interview.
Everybody, Ken is at the sales center. They're going to be heading this way shortly.
VARGAS: This is Alan Dulworth, he's our builder.
ALAN DULWORTH, LOCAL BUILDER: Hey. Hi. How are you? Nice to meet you.
VARGAS: We have to kind of lie to the guys. Like it better way to saying it.
So instead of making you wait here, what I'd like to do is take your mom -- did you bring Fin with you today?
KEN KALISH: Yes. He's in the back.
VARGAS: OK. Let me take your mom and dad in my truck. And I'll follow -- I'm going to put Alan with you. We're going to follow you and just show you around the development.
KEN KALISH: OK.
WALLRATH: He wanted to know if he could bring his mom and dad with him. And so of course we said yes.
DULWORTH: Take a right, right here.
KEN KALISH: All right.
DULWORTH: So is your mom and dad from this area?
KEN KALISH: No, my dad is originally from Connecticut. But he actually live -- he lives up by Gainesville.
VARGAS: Your son is wonderful. We've interviewed him a couple times. He's been great to deal with. Got a great attitude. And just to prepare you all, we're taking him out to his lot. Probably had about 200 people there. We're going to tell him we're building his home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, wow.
VARGAS: I just want to tell you thank you for creating such a great son and his service.
WALLRATH: We don't just build a home. We get the community involved. Everybody in the neighborhood involved.
VARGAS: Well, the thing about is, like, what we do is try to bring all of us together to make this happen. You know, if one group tries to do it, it's just so hard.
Basically, do a 21st century (INAUDIBLE) and everybody grabs their tools, goes out and does what it takes to bring these families home.
DULWORTH: This is a baseball facility. There's a lot of select baseball. There's soccer facilities.
VARGAS: We're very honored to be building for Kenny and bringing him close back home to y'all. And Alan is actually going to build Fin a special doghouse also. He can get his own special house.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With a TV? Because he loves to watch TV.
VARGAS: Yes. We might. I think we're going to have to put some air- conditioning back there for him, too.
WALLRATH: Our average market value of a home now I think is $254,000 is what we've done. And our average cost has been around $75,000 a home.
VARGAS: This is a South Star community. This is a South Star community. Has donated an acre lot. So he's going to have an acre of land. It's going to be a three-bedroom house. Going to have a roll- in shower. He'll have the counters where he can roll underneath him. Everything will be accessible to him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's awesome.
KEN KALISH: All right. Go left or right?
DULWORTH: You're going to go right.
KEN KALISH: All right.
DULWORTH: Uh-oh. We've got a lot of people out here.
KEN KALISH: Yes, we do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is awesome.
DULWORTH: Uh-oh, there's a lot of people out here.
KEN KALISH: Yes, we do. Where am I going?
DULWORTH: Just going on here. Just turn. Swing right here and park right by this tent.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is awesome. Let me get his chair.
DULWORTH: Congratulations to you.
KEN KALISH: Thank you.
DULWORTH: It's going to be an honor building your house, bro.
KEN KALISH: Thank you.
WALLRATH: Hey, kiddie boy. You're finally home, brother. Finally home.
KEN KALISH: Thank you.
WALLRATH: You OK? One of the things that I see every time that I'm able to do this, I see that look in their face. They realize they're going to be OK. The families are going to be OK.
You deserve it, brother. You deserve it.
Hey, folks, this is Kenny Kalish. He's going to get his new home.
I just want to take a few moments to thank everybody here to make this dream come true for Kenny.
God bless you, Kenny. We love you, man.
KEN KALISH: Thank you.
KEN KALISH: You know, I came here today expecting to do just an interview, a final interview for this house. And I pull over the hill and see everybody here and it took my breath away. I don't really know exactly what to say. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Kenny.
KEN KALISH: I actually really don't know what to say. It's got me at a loss for words, really. And I come over that hill, I was going to have a heart attack.
What's that? You want my autograph? I can do that.
VARGAS: The highlight for me today, the kids all swarmed all over Ken and actually wanted to talk to Ken and actually find out his story and treated him like a hero. They were asking for his autograph.
KEN KALISH: You know, I really enjoyed myself. I was planning on staying in, but when I got hurt, I decided to get out. And move on with my life.
WALLRATH: Bring the community together to bring Ken home, it's just awesome. You look at Kenny, and, you know, we could never repay him for the sacrifice he's made, but, you know, that doesn't keep us from trying.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we found out we were getting this home from Operation Finally Home, I -- it was just disbelief.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There aren't words that can describe the emotion. It still gets to me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just shocked. That weight, you know, had been lifted off my shoulder, like, immediately.
WALLRATH: You know, in the case of the Jackel family, we had told them they were coming for an interview. We told them that, oh, by the way, we have some tickets to a concert.
KIX BROOKS, MUSICIAN: One idea that I had was that in my show, I do a song called "Moonshine Road." But after that, we'll -- I'll tell my band we'll break. And I'll just say, you know, we have a real American hero with us, ladies and gentlemen. You know, I'd just like to take a chance right now to bring him out and let you say thanks to him.
WALLRATH: Kix, he's an amazing guy. He get what we do. He understands. He believes in us.
BROOKS: I'm really glad to be a part of it. Thanks for letting me. All right, guys.
KEN KALISH: When we got there, we told him we had realized said a friend of ours, looks like he's going to be able to go backstage. Would they like to go backstage? Of course, they said yes. Still had no clue what was going on.
BROOKS: Hey, I've got to stop for a second. I've got to tell y'all something. There's something really special going on here tonight. And you know, I'm a big fan of our men and women across the seas that are sacrificing themselves. And I heard we had a true hero in the house tonight. And Sergeant Jackel and his family are here. I thought you guys might like to say thanks to them. Is that all right? They're here?
BROOKS: I heard we had a true hero in the house tonight. And Sergeant Jackel and his family are here. I thought you guys might like to say thanks to him.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
WALLRATH: Thank you, Kix. I'm Dan Wallrath. I'm with Operation Finally Home. I'm the president and founder. We build mortgage-free custom homes for our wounded heroes. Now, tonight, as Kix said, we've got a special guest here. We have Sergeant Stephen Jackel.
It would take me half a day to list all the medals that this young man has received. His team run over -- the vehicle he was in, they ran over an IED. And Stephen lost both his legs in that attack. The vehicle was on fire. And he saved his whole group. This is a real American hero right here.
And ladies out there, let me tell you, this is a strong woman.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
Six kids at home, a husband overseas, loses two legs, and she keeps that family together.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
We are partnering with our buddy here, Kix Brooks, and a local Dallas builder, Tim Jackson.
And Stephen, Adriana, Tim is going to build you a brand-new custom home.
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
Let me introduce a true American hero, Sergeant Stephen Jackel.
JACKEL: Thank y'all very much for your support.
WALLRATH: You know, at Operation Finally Home, we're not just building homes, we're rebuilding lives.
MALARSIE: If Operation Finally Home did not do this for us, we wouldn't have the ability to go for our dreams in life.
MCCRILLIS: With this home here, now it's like I'm actually striving ahead. I just started my own company.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we'll do it really slowly.
VALLES: Because of the home, we were able to finish our education, be finally stable, create a more stable environment for our children.
BROWN: We are home for the rest of our lives. And it's a great feeling. It's good.
WALLRATH: You know, with Operation Finally Home, our goal is to pride a new home for every wounded veteran and his family. I know it's unrealistic. You know, we know we can't save them all, but we're going to save as many as we can.
KEN KALISH: Look at that. Look at that, boys.