NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The widows of three Fort Campbell soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan received mortgage-free homes in Tennessee on Friday from Bank of America and Homes for Our Troops.
The wives of Army Spc. Charles "Scott" Jirtle, Army Spc. Blaine Redding and Army Spc. Anthony Vargas were presented with ceremonial keys to their homes in front of a crowd of supporters who had come to Nashville from the post on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line.
The donation of the homes was a reflection of the support from the military community around Fort Campbell for these families, who are referred to within the military as "Gold Star Families."
All three soldiers were assigned to units in the 101st Airborne Division. Some of the division's top leaders were in attendance, including the deputy commanding general for support, Brig. Gen. Ronald F Lewis.
Jirtle, 29, and Redding, 22, were killed after their vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device on June 7, 2010, in Konar, Afghanistan. They were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team.
Vargas, 27, died Nov. 8, 2010, in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, after insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device. He was assigned to 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team.
Luisa Vargas, a mother of three children between ages 11 and 4, said the donation of the home lifts a financial burden off her shoulders. Now that she doesn't have to pay a mortgage, Vargas said she can save money for her children's college educations.
"I know when my husband joined the Army, a big thing for him was knowing that, God forbid something happened, his family would be taken care of," she said. "It means so much to know that my kids are always going to be taken care of."
Soldiers from the installation have been on near-constant deployment rotations since 2001 during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and thousands of troops from there are currently deployed to Afghanistan. But Vargas said many families who have lost a soldier in the war decide to stay near the post, because they still have friends and support services at Fort Campbell.
"I think for a lot of us, it just feels like home, because it was the last place our husbands and our families were united," said Vargas, whose home is in Carthage, a short drive from Fort Campbell.
Bank of America has pledged to provide up to 1,000 homes to military families and first responders in 2013. Homes for Our Troops, a national charity, has been providing specially adapted homes for wounded service members since 2004 and has recently expanded its efforts to help widows of fallen troops.
The homes were selected based on where the families wanted to live, said Timothy McHale, president of Homes for Our Troops and a retired major general. Bank of America refurbished the homes to make them ready for the families.
Nikki Redding said the home has allowed her to reach goals that the young couple had shared before her husband's death, such as finish her teaching degree and become a teacher.
Savannah Jirtle said after her husband died, being a single mother to two daughters became financially difficult. As a child she moved around a lot, she said, but now her family can settle down in Gallatin for the rest of their lives.
"My children can say they grew up in the same house for their whole lives and one day it's going to be theirs because of their father's sacrifice," she said.