Home-front Group, Supporters Honored

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2007 - The Defense Department recognized a troop-support group and two of its key players at the Pentagon yesterday for their outstanding support of the nation's servicemembers.

John Gonsalves, founder of Homes for Our Troops, received the Office of the Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service. His organization has built or adapted 18 homes for servicemembers severely injured while serving in the global war on terrorism.

Mark Savan, president of Simonton Windows, and Frank McKee, president of the McKee Group, also were on hand to accept the award on behalf of their organizations, which support Gonsalves' efforts.

"This country is all about citizens helping citizens," said Gen. Robert Magnus, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, before he presented the men with their medals. "I want to thank, quite frankly, America Supports You, for providing the framework. But this framework would be a hollow frame with no picture if it wasn't for the efforts of thousands of folks and organizations (like) the great Americans we're ... giving an award to today.

"You're exemplars," he added.

Acknowledging that he was honored to receive the award, Gonsalves was humble in accepting it, saying what he's doing is his duty as an American.

"The war on terrorism, it's not just for the men and women who are out there fighting it," he said. "It's something that all Americans really need to be a part of.

"It's not the military that was attacked, it was us as citizens, and we need to take notice of that, ... and we need to stand up for the people that are standing up, fighting for us," he added.

The organization has another 20 houses in progress, each of which will include features geared toward each individual servicemember's specific injury. The group is anticipating taking on another 10 to 15 houses in the near future.

Homes for Our Troops is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

Gonsalves, whose background is in construction, founded the organization after searching the Internet for a group building or adapting housing for injured troops. What he discovered astonished him.

"I was just going to donate a couple of weeks of my time and help with a house somewhere, and that's when I found out that nothing like this had ever been set up," he said.

So he founded Homes for Our Troops. And when he's asked the future holds for the group, Gonsalves is quick to share his vision.

"We failed a whole generation of veterans that returned from Vietnam. I'm hoping that, as a country, we've learned from that and we'll never let that happen again" he said. "My goal from Day 1 was to make (Homes for Our Troops) sustain after I'm dead and gone.

"I think that the men and women who serve in the military and come home injured, they deserve this," he added.

Gonsalves also is working to put an endowment together so Homes for Our Troops can sustain itself, he said.

Currently, the organization operates on donations and has a consistent staff of nine. If he counts his supporters like Simonton Windows and the McKee Group, his "staff" skyrockets into the hundreds, Gonsalves said.

And those groups are happy to help, though they're as humble about their roles as Gonsalves is about his accomplishments.

Of all the people involved in this, Simonton Windows is probably the least deserving of recognition, Savan said of his company.

"We're doing a very small part. There are plenty of people out there who are just doing an amazing job," he said. "For us just to be able to be a small part of it is an honor in and of itself."

Frank McKee agreed the McKee Group's involvement with Homes for Our Troops has been a "galvanizing experience" for the employees.

"It's been a remarkable journey for all of us," he said. "It's been a very rewarding experience for us."

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