Sgt. Julian Torres may be a double amputee, but that doesn’t slow him down in “giving back” to other combat veterans experiencing the same plight. That’s what makes Torres the perfect recipient of a Homes for Our Troops project off Gird Road in Fallbrook.
“This is our dream location; a little slice of country but not too far from city; it’s 100 percent perfect,” enthused Torres. “When we saw the location [where our new home would be built], we fell in love with it.” When completed late this year, Torres will reside in the home with his high school sweetheart-wife Ashley, son JJ, 3, and daughter Analicia, 1.
At a groundbreaking ceremony held Sunday, March 9, Carlo Gaita of Homes for Our Troops presided over the event, explaining how the organization provides homes for America’s wounded soldiers. Additional speakers in support of the project included USMC Sgt. Major (Ret.) Larock Benford, San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn, and Fallbrook Honorary Mayor Martin Quiroz.
Torres said Homes for Our Troops made his and his wife’s dream come true.
On July 15, 2010, one short month after being deployed to Afghanistan, Torres lost his left leg below the knee and his right leg above the knee after stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED) while crossing a canal in Marjah.
Medically evacuated out of the country, Torres said, “I had to be taken to major hospitals all along the way so they could keep me stabilized until I got stateside.” Once in the United States, Torres was treated at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Md., where he received his initial rehabilitation surgeries and therapies before coming to San Diego.
“In my opinion, San Diego Balboa Naval Medical Center is the top of the sphere; that’s where I went for rehab,” he said.
Torres explained that he and his wife, each 26 years old, had been looking for a home to buy in recent years, but it would have to contain many special features.
“To find a house that fit this size of family with my type of injury was nearly impossible,” explained Torres. “The houses we looked at would have had to have been gutted and changed.” Or, if a suitable one was found, it was financially out of reach for the young couple. Their new home will be a beautiful 2,700 square foot ranch-style with an oversized garage and patio.
“If it wasn’t for Homes for Our Troops I don’t know where I’d be,” said Torres, who went on to explain the process of being considered for a home from the organization.
“It’s a pretty lengthy application process; I applied in 2012 and was notified in April, 2013 that I had gotten accepted and that I was queued for the next phase, the interview process,” explained Torres. “They interview you and you get to pick the style of home you’d like. It is very, very personalized. We picked out everything from the type of cabinets we’d like to the color of those cabinets. There were many, many options.” The couple, originally from Modesto, also indicated they would like their home to be in San Diego County.
“We were very impressed with how the process worked; it was really smooth; flawless,” he said. “What made my wife and I really comfortable was the people that were involved in this organization. It was like being at a family get-together.”
Each home built by the Homes for Our Troops organization is designed specifically for the individual disability the soldier has.
“We help restore freedom and independence to America’s most severely injured veterans through the gift of a specially adapted home that provides maximum freedom of movement and the ability to live more independently,” the organization states.
“It’s custom per injury, for instance, if a person is a paraplegic, the home would be adapted to that specific injury,” explained Torres. “It’s for injured service members/veterans across the board.”
Torres said in his case, “[The home] has to be level, it can’t be on a slant or hill, because I am an above-the-knee and below-the-knee amputee; rolling downhill in a wheelchair or walking is scary.”
Restroom and shower facilities must be made especially safe for him. “Especially when it comes from transferring from my wheelchair to the shower,” said Torres. “Preventing a slip and fall accident is paramount.”
In the kitchen, the stove and countertops have to be workable at a certain level.
“I like to do some cooking and baking and having specially adapted countertops and kitchen appliances is needed, otherwise I am at eye-level with a frying pan,” he said.
The cabinets in the Torres’ new family kitchen will have pull down cupboards, “accordian style,” he said.
“That way I will be able to sit in my wheelchair safely while pulling down a rack of dishes and be able to put things away safely,” said Torres.
On a nice, level piece of property in the Gird Valley, the Torres family will find the country life they desire.
“When they said we have a house for you guys in Fallbrook, we were familiar with the community,” said Torres. “I had attended infantry school at Camp Pendleton. We have also spent some time in Fallbrook, visiting the fruit stands, buying avocados, and going to the Avocado Festival.”
“When we get moved in, we’ll get a dog and be the American dream family,” Torres said. “This will be our house forever, for at least the next 40 years.”
Residing in Tierra Santa until their new home is complete, the couple leads busy lives. Ashley Torres is finishing her education to work as a family and marriage therapist/counselor for military families.
“Ashley is my better three-quarters, she is God-sent, that’s for sure,” said Torres, who helps facilitate both a PTSD support group and a monthly support group for amputees. “We try to bridge the gap for amputees between physical therapy, primary care, and occupational therapy.”
Torres is also a full-time student at San Diego State University, pursuing degrees in both psychology and literature.
“Believe it or not, I’m an entrepreneur as a motivational speaker,” he explained. “I want to try to share what I have learned through this whole process as a double amputee. I was a guy who went from being on top of his game to being dependent on someone else for his daily needs. I’m moving full circle to get my self-sufficiency back.” The couple shares the same goal – to help others.
“We both share the same type of passion,” said Torres. “So many individuals helped us when we were in our most dire need for help that we want to give back and be that bridge for another person, to not let those good deeds stop with us.”
According to Homes for Our Troops, the average cost to construct each specially adapted home nationwide runs $430,000 and the organization does not receive any government funding to complete its mission. The national, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization relies on donations from individuals, organizations, and national sponsors to provide the homes. To date, Homes for Our Troops has built 165 specially adapted homes with 41 veterans on the active project list.
To learn more about Homes for Our Troops, or to make a donation to the effort, visit www.hfotusa.org. or call toll-free (866) 787-6677.