North Texas veteran given a place to call his own in Fort Worth

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by JOE TRAHAN

Bio | Email | Follow: @joetrahan

WFAA

Posted on July 7, 2014 at 4:06 PM

FORT WORTH -- While fighting with his brothers in arms in Afghanistan, North Texas Marine John Hootsell's job was to counteract deadly improvised explosive devices.

Hootsell survived four IED explosions, but his fifth explosive encounter in September 2012 was devastating.

The 300-pound roadside bomb ripped a hole through the bottom of his vehicle and launched it into the air.

When it crashed to the ground, the force was so great that Hootsell's chin slammed into his chest and broke his sternum - one of the hardest bones in the human body. That was just one of the many injuries he sustained.

When his wife, Brandie, got the news, doctors told her and other family members to prepare for the worst.

"The doctor told me to get to Germany as soon as possible to say goodbye," Brandie Hootsell said.

The Marine corporal was clinging to life. He broke his back and several vertebrae. Besides the cracked sternum, he also shattered a heel and suffered a spinal chord injury that forced a surgery doctors deemed a "Hail Mary."

Only one percent of patients survive the surgery Hootsell endured, but he beat the odds. And now his death-defying service is being rewarded.

On June 6, the Hootsells were treated to the surprise of a lifetime. They were told they were going to be interviewed as candidates in the Operation Finally Home program.

"We thought we were doing an interview," John said.

"They surprised us," Brandie added.

The Hootsells were greeted by more than 100 residents and contractors all cheering, welcoming them to what will be their new home in the Trails of Fossil Creek subdivision in Fort Worth.

Thanks to Operation Finally Home and a national home builder John and Brandie have broken ground on a new chapter in their lives.

They'll be moving into a custom-built, mortgage-free home.

"[To] finally get a home, and we don't have to pay for it, it's amazing," John said.

Operation Finally Home Vice President Daniel Vargas said the Hootsells' home will be the first of many to come in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Construction is set to begin in early July and the home is expected to be completed in late October or early November.

"This is a community that's come out and says, 'We want to welcome them home,'" Vargas said. "'We want to help with their recovery. We want to thank them for what they've sacrificed.'"

And after having nearly paid the ultimate sacrifice, Hootsell said he's thrilled to begin re-building his life in his new home. 

E-mail jtrahan@wfaa.com

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