Wounded veterans finding homes through the help of one local company
Army veteran Michael Branley (center, holding key) is one of 13 wounded warriors who have received homes through the help of Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp.
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Michael Branley is uncommonly humble for someone who’s given his fellow citizens so much.
A Wisconsin native, Branley enlisted in the Army right out of high school in 1984, serving a combat tour in Panama in 1989. He served until 1990, went to college, and later worked as a machinist — and then his world turned upside-down, along with every other American’s.
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Branley joined the Wisconsin National Guard, doing a tour of duty in Iraq from 2003-04. In 2006, he went on active duty again, doing another Iraqi tour with the 1st Cavalry Division.
“We wake up every day in shock, and we think about these people every day.” — U.S. Army veteran Michael Branley
Then, in 2010, he was forced to leave the armed services after the VA determined he suffered from several combat-related disabilities, including a degenerative disc condition, sciatic nerve pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, and brain damage caused by several explosions.
All of this makes it difficult for him to work, but his brain injury has led to short-term memory loss and migraines, which prompted the VA to advise he at least delay his plan to go back to school.
Unfortunately, that left him and his wife in something of a financial bind, and for a time, the couple was having difficulty making their rent and car payments — certainly not the fate most Americans believe should befall their wounded war heroes.
But with the way Branley gushes about the folks who have shown him generosity and kindness, you’d never guess that he repeatedly put his life on the line for his country, making significant sacrifices in the bargain.
“Oh my gosh, I can’t express enough how we feel,” said Branley. “We wake up every day in shock, and we think about these people every day, and we feel pretty strongly about it.”
“These people” are the folks with the Boot Campaign, the Military Warriors Support Foundation, and Fairway Independent Mortgage Corp., and the reason Branley is so unreserved in his praise is that they gave him a home. Literally.
A fresh start
Branley is just one benefactor of an initiative the Military Warriors Support Foundation is spearheading with the help of Sun Prairie-based Fairway and the Boot Campaign to provide mortgage-free homes to wounded warriors.
Last year, Branley was presented with a home at a Fairway “Boot Camp” event held in Madison. The Boot Camps are used to train mortgage professionals how to help active military members and veterans purchase homes.
But for Branley, receiving a home outright has been as surprising as it has been welcome.
“When I got out [of the military] in 2010, we moved back to Wisconsin,” said Branley. “My wife’s from Eagle River, so we moved up in that area and rented a cabin. When we applied for the home, my wife saw it online and said, ‘Well, hey, let’s try this.’ We never thought in a million years we’d be selected to get a mortgage-free home, and we’ve just been in shock ever since.
“It’s a beautiful home, it’s in a nice neighborhood in Racine here, and our dreams have come true. And that’s all thanks to some wonderful, wonderful people.”
One of those people is Louise Thaxton, who stumbled on an online video about the Boot Campaign, an organization founded in 2009 by five Texas women who were in part inspired by Marcus Lutrell’s book Lone Survivor. (A movie by the same name, starring Mark Wahlberg, was released this past weekend.) The Boot Campaign is designed to raise awareness about the needs of returning veterans and to raise funds to help them.
The organization stresses the importance of “getting your (combat) boots on” to show appreciation for the troops and start conversations about the sacrifices they’ve made.
When Thaxton, who works for Fairway as a branch manager in the Leesville, La., area, first saw the Boot Campaign’s pitch, she was immediately hooked.
A spirited speaker and industry leader who also served in the military, Thaxton was in the perfect position to persuade others to get on board. It started with her team of 17 in Louisiana and caught fire from there.
“I bought 17 pair of boots, and we all scheduled a day to get our boots on, and I did a video talking about how we got our boots on,” said Thaxton. “Well, then the more I got my boots on, I wanted other people to get their boots on, so I committed to purchase a pair of boots for every day I wanted to live free, which was 365 days.”
Of course, anyone inspired enough to buy 365 pairs of boots for a cause is unlikely to stop there and, indeed, Thaxton was just getting started.