Emilio Pena
Retired Staff Sgt. Benjamin Gutierrez
July 20, 2015When a foundation that helps wounded veterans made a house in Tucson available, retired Staff Sgt. Benjamin Gutierrez jumped at the chance to move back to his hometown. After 13 years in the U.S. Army and nearly a decade of carrying wounds from an explosives attack in Iraq, Gutierrez applied to the Military Warriors Support Foundation for the house on the northwest side.

On Saturday, he received the keys to the recently renovated and mortgage-free house during a ceremony at a Darius Rucker concert in Albuquerque.

“It’s an amazing feeling. It feels great. Now I get to be back with my family,” he said on Monday.

Although the concert ceremony was Saturday, the member of the Sunnyside High School Class of 1996 and his 15-year-old son started moving into the house in the Continental Reserve area of Marana on July 1.

The foundation’s Project Rebuild coordinated the gift of the house, which was donated by Wells Fargo Bank. Since 2012, Wells Fargo has donated more than 250 properties to veterans, Albuquerque branch sales manager Jeff Payne said in a news release.

Since the program began in 2007, the foundation has donated 667 houses to veterans wounded in combat, said foundation spokesman John Hill.

On Oct. 3, 2005, Gutierrez’ platoon was on patrol in Iraq when a vehicle rigged with explosives detonated and destroyed the vehicle behind him. He and several of the other occupants of his vehicle were injured, but they made it to safety, he said.

“Luckily, we all walked away,” he said.

Now, Gutierrez has 13 staples on the right side of his head and shrapnel throughout his right hand, he said. Despite his injuries, he served for another nine years, including tours of duty in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2012.

Gutierrez was awarded a number of medals during his Army career, including the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Valorous Unit Award, the foundation said in a news release.

He retired from the Army in December 2014 and is starting a new life with his son. His 13-year-old daughter lives with his ex-wife.

“We’re getting to know each other all over again,” he said of living with his son. “It’s a huge step for both of us.”

The foundation also assigns each veteran a mentor and offers counseling to help adjust to civilian life, he said, adding: “The foundation doesn’t just give you a home. It doesn’t stop right there.”

These days, Gutierrez works at a security systems firm and plans to finish his degree in computer networking at Pima Community College.

“Other people need help, but they just don’t know about this organization,” he said.

Many soldiers are more familiar with the Wounded Warrior Project, but far fewer know about the Military Warriors Support Foundation, he said.

Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase also donate homes through the foundation, which is supported by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Walmart Stores Inc. and other sponsors, according to the foundation’s website.