Army veteran gets mortgage free home, thanks to nonprofit organization
One veteran brought his family from Indiana to Wisconsin to interview with an organization that builds free homes for vets.
When he got there, he found out he wasn't there for an interview -- he was there to come home.
"This is your new home."
"Are you kidding?"
"I am not kidding."
This is the moment that the Cole family knew for sure, this was going to be a special day.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyson Cole, his wife Jessica and their three kids got out of the van and they were home.
The Coles, who live in Indiana right now, thought they were coming to southeast Wisconsin for an interview to maybe be considered for Operation Finally Home.
"It wasn't until I saw the flag and the crowd, you start to realize 'oh, we were selected.' There's no interview. This is for real," said Cole.
"It's amazing. That all of these people came together for us. To support us. To welcome us into the community. It's crazy," said Jessica.
They were welcomed not only by their new neighbors, waving flags and cheering, but by Gov. Walker and Lt. Gov. Kleefisch.
"Welcome home, Sergeant, Jessica," said Lt. Gov. Kleefisch. "We are so excited to have you here in Wisconsin. You were pen pals? Are you kidding me? That has got to be the sweetest story ever!"
It is sweet.
Cole joined the army just two days out of high school.
Eventually, he was stationed in Korea when he got an order.
"First sergeant came out and said 'you guys need to sign up for this USO pen pal program,'" said Cole. "So, a bunch of us went down and we signed up and I started getting letters and hers stood out the most."
They became pen pals, and then email pals, and then phone pals.
"We wrote a lot of letters to each other," said Jessica. "Then when he asked for my phone number, I was like... you're not supposed to give someone on the internet your phone number."
"We talked to each other for about a year before we met," said Cole. "I was going to go home on some leave. I stopped in Indiana first and we hung out and said 'let's get married. Let's do this.'"
They were married in 2003.
But Cole spent 9 more years in the army.
They lived together in Korea, but he was eventually sent to Iraq.
While there, a mortar exploded nearby leaving him with a traumatic brain injury.
"When I got hit in my head, I lost my ability to read really. I had a second-grade reading level and it's taken me 7 years to get back up to a collegiate reading level. You're trying to put so much effort into getting better and you have the stress of a house that's falling apart and all this medical stuff, plus trying to get your education and trying to rebuild a life," said Cole. "To have the ability to have a lot of that stress just wiped away is... so that I can focus on just recovery and further life. There's no price you can put on that."
Operation Finally Home's leader, builder David Belman, knew the Cole family deserved this.
"He's been through a lot. They need the help. This isn't a handout, this is a hand up," said Belman. "What we're trying to do is give them a fresh start. The family needs it. They need to get into a more supportive community. So, we're really excited to be able to do this in Menomonee Falls for them."
As the Cole family took wave after wave of photos with the people who will be building their home, they realized just the kind of people they were dealing with.
"The fact that people are willing to dedicate so much of their time and effort into helping people that they don't even know, it warms your heart to know that that's still out there," said Belman. "I kind of get discouraged because you get so much negativity in the news and current affairs and stuff, that you miss out on there's still a lot of great things and good people that are still coming together in this country. And it's amazing."