EAST MANATEE -- A crowd of 150 helped surprise a wounded Iraq war veteran and his family, who will be receiving a new Pulte home, mortgage-free, in The Reserve at Cross Creek.
"This is unreal," said a smiling Marti Domerese, wife of injured veteran U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Todd Domerese, after their white SUV turned a corner in the subdivision and came upon a crowd of people Friday morning waving American flags near the Domereses' new home lot.
The Domerese family thought they were in Manatee County to interview
with Operation FINALLY HOME, the nonprofit, Texas-based organization that has worked with residential homebuilders -- in this case, Pulte -- to construct 125 homes in 28 states for America's war wounded since 2005, said Lee Kirgan, director of construction.
Operation FINALLY HOME had already decided that Domerese would receive a home in Florida, where he had indicated he had always wanted to live.
The family waved back at the crowd, which included Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from different Manatee County troops, Col. Red Dog Maynard, Manatee County Scout Mentor and a color guard from Troop and Pack 22 in Bradenton.
"It was important for our local Scouts to see what a real hero looks like," said Ed Genewick, Troop 22 leader,
Sgt. Domerese, an Eagle Scout, said he plans to continue being a Scout leader in Manatee, along with his wife. Sons Ben, 10, and Josh, 6, are expected to join local Scout troops or packs. When local Scouts heard that the Domereses were a Scouting family, they came out in force.
Manatee County commissioners John Chappie, Robin DiSabatino and Larry Bustle and Bradenton Vice Mayor and Ward 4 Councilman Bemis Smith helped the family break ground on their new home Friday.
"We're overwhelmed with appreciation for what everyone has done today," Domerese said.
He handled the crowd well Friday, even though family members say he often feels anxiety in large crowds after he suffered a traumatic brain injury Dec. 27, 2004 in Sadr City, Iraq, when his vehicle drove over two improvised explosive devices.
"We kind of knew something was up when we drove around the corner," Marti Domerese said.
The explosion fractured Domerese's skull and has left him with daily migraines, tinnitus, tremors and convulsions, severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The new house is expected to be move-in ready by October and will be built to suit Domerese, who may need a "dark" room to handle his headaches, Marti Domerese said.
Operation FINALLY HOME linked with Pulte, which has its own Built to Honor program, said Pulte Vice President Richard McCormick.
"I think what makes Todd special is that many of the families we help have loved ones with obvious wounds," Kirgan said. "They are missing a leg or an arm. It's amazing how these people adjust so quickly and move on with their lives. But Todd has a traumatic brain injury, which we call a TBI, and he looks totally normal. You would never know anything happened to him.
"But, actually, this injury is so much different from the amputees," he said. "TBIs can't bounce back as quickly."
U.S. Army Col. Cary C. Harbaugh of the U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base received rousing applause when he spoke at the ground-breaking.
"What a great day in America," Harbaugh said. "What a great day to be an American. It's heart-warming that organizations like Pulte and Operation FINALLY HOME have our backs."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.