U.S. Marine Corporal Ray Lopez initially thought he was just taking part in a simple interview process with Operation Finally Home and Silver Leaf Homes.
Instead, the longtime Odessan, who served multiple tours in Iraq in the early 2000s, was surprised with news that he and his two daughters, Madyson and Sarah, were going to be receiving a new mortgage-free home with a special groundbreaking ceremony that took place Monday morning at 2101 Congress Street in Odessa.
When Lopez finally realized what was happening, he was at a loss for words.
“I think that was my biggest thing,” Lopez said. “I was like ‘oh God.’ I almost shut down, mentally because I didn’t have any words when I got out. The first thing I thought was ‘I’m going to trip on this platform.’ … no, when I saw it, all I could think about were barbecues in the backyard and these two running around. I got so excited. In my head, I was thinking, don’t smile too much. I just couldn’t believe it. It was a pure shock and a feeling of wellness. It was a really good feeling of gracious and acceptance.”
The project is put on through a partnership between Operation Finally Home and Silver Leaf Homes.
Operation Finally Home, which is based in New Braunfels, is a nonpartisan/nonprofit 501 (c)(3) organization with a mission to provide homes and home modifications to America’s military heroes, first responders and widows of the fallen.
Established in 2005, it has completed or is in the planning stages on more than 300 home projects in more than 30 states.
“(Ray) thought he was having a builder interview, but it was so nice to see the look on his and his daughters’ faces when they realized what was happening,” Operation Finally Home Project Manager Ronnie Lyles said. “He no longer has to worry about a mortgage. It’s an honor to give back to someone who’s given so much.”
Finally Home partners with corporate sponsors, builder associations, builders, remodelers, developers, individual contributors and volunteers to help these heroes and their families by addressing one of their most pressing needs, which is a place to call home.
This is the first project in which Operation Finally Home has partnered with Silver Leaf Homes.
“I just want to thank the city of Odessa and for Silver Leaf Homes,” Lyles said. “Silver Leaf Homes stepped up for this project and hopefully it’s not our last. We’re thankful for the city of Odessa and the citizens who have welcomed the Lopez family and will continue to do that.”
Silver Leaf Homes, which has been around for 30 years, has become a premier home builder in the greater Fort Worth area, as well as the Permian Basin.
Silver Leaf Homes co-owner Drew Wegman says it’s fantastic to do this partnership with Operation Finally Home.
“We build homes for a living, but to be a part of one that’s honoring a veteran and honoring (Ray) with a home that has no mortgage is a blessing for us to be involved with,” Wegman said.
Lopez, who is originally from Kermit, moved to Odessa when he was in the sixth grade, attending Cameron Elementary and Bonham and Nimitz junior high before attending Permian High School.
Lopez played defensive end at Permian and graduated in the class of 2002.
His is the second oldest of five children, raised by his grandparents in Odessa.
Lopez joined the military following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
“It was the actual day, 9-11,” Lopez said. “I was going into my English class. I was late. I saw what happened on the television and I quit everything. I quit football and focused on work and joining the Marine Corps. I initially wanted to be in the military police, but I decided that I didn’t want to do law enforcement. I wanted to go over there and bring them the same damage that they brought us.”
He served four-plus years in the U.S. Marine Corps from August 2002 to November 2006 with his three tours taking place in Iraq.
In 2004, Lopez’s unit took on enemy fire while on foot patrol.
Upon entering a house, Lopez was hit in the chest with gunfire from a bedroom and could not return fire due to pain from the injury and a collapsed lung.
He was eventually medically evacuated from the area.
After receiving treatment in the United States, he returned for a third tour of duty in 2006.
He was honorably discharged in November 2006 after receiving a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat.
Lopez deals with chronic pain from his chest wound, as well as traumatic brain injury, vertigo, grand mal seizures, migraines and tinnitus from a head injury.
As a result of his experiences, he also battles symptoms of PTSD every day.
Despite his injuries, Lopez has always been thankful to the Odessa community for always being there for him.
“After I was shot in the chest in ’04, the community was there,” Lopez said. “It was almost a reminder that I was never alone. The community is always there and it’s a feeling that this is home and this is what it’s about. West Texas has always been a strong community for people who serve this country. It’s amazing how everyone here loves and has great admiration for people who serve.”
He was also presented with a flag from the Patriot Guard Riders who helped escort him and his daughters to the home site for the groundbreaking ceremony on Monday.
“They presented me with a flag that was signed by the people of the West Texas chapter and they just basically said thank you for your service and presented me with a token of their gratitude,” Lopez said.
The new home will be three bedrooms and two bathrooms and will be just over 2,000 square feet, Wegman said.
Wegman says the construction should take about five to six months to complete.
Lopez is just happy to soon not have to worry about a mortgage.
“Oh man, right now it feels great thinking about it,” Wegman said. “Currently, my mortgage is not a big deal but to have one where I don’t have to pay for is a big deal. It would be nice to be back on the lake and continuing my pain management so that I can get back on the golf course.”