CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Charleston-born U.S. Army veteran who had counseled other wounded vets to seek housing assistance from the Military Warriors Support Foundation became the surprise recipient of a mortgage-free home from the foundation during a ceremony Wednesday at Haddad Riverfront Park.
Bruce E. Burgess was among veterans and active-duty military personnel invited to attend the ceremony, during which MWSF founder Lt. Gen. Leroy Sisco announced plans to expand the three-year-old organization's home donation program for combat-wounded vets.
Since 2010, the MWSF has donated more than 300 homes, all fully renovated and equipped with accommodations for those dealing with injuries, to wounded veterans and their families in 35 states. In addition to the homes, typically valued at $150,000 to $250,000, participating vets receive three years of family and financial mentoring.
Burgess, who grew up in Dunbar and now lives in Martinsburg, where he is a senior mass communications major at nearby Shepherd University, is the first vet living in West Virginia to receive a home through the program. His new home, which he will share with his wife, Tanya, and two children, is in Berkeley Springs.
"This is great! I've followed the foundation and believe in its program, and have been encouraging other veterans to apply," a smiling Burgess said after receiving the unexpected, but welcome, news.
Burgess, who had driven a truck in civilian life, enlisted in the Army in 1998, starting out as a driver trainer with a heavy transport unit. In 2001, he volunteered for explosive ordnance disposal training and, in 2003, was deployed to Iraq. There, working from a base in Ar Ramadi, he took part in improvised explosive device (IED) removal, conducted cause-of-death investigations for coalition forces and trained Iraqi military and police personnel.
After completing one tour in Iraq, Burgess re-enlisted and was deployed on a second tour in 2006, this time to Camp Taji, just north of Baghdad. There, he managed a bomb-disposal team and led route-clearance patrols to sweep for IEDs. He was awarded the Bronze Star for neutralizing an unstable and unexploded projectile while under enemy fire.
Burgess suffered traumatic brain injuries several times during his second tour while responding to or neutralizing IEDs. A blast that occurred in December 2006 produced a significant reduction in vision, as well as severe migraines and the loss of certain cognitive skills. In 2007, he was medically evacuated to the United States for treatment at the Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., and at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He later was assigned to limited duty with the U.S. Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division in Indian Head, Md., where he worked on robotic tool development.
At the time of his discharge in December 2008, he was a staff sergeant.