Build Brigade kicks off project to build home for Army veteran

Volunteers lined a path near Havre de Grace Friday morning, waving American flags, cheering and welcoming a wounded U.S. Army veteran to the build site of his new home.

With a Harford County Sheriff's Office and Level Volunteer Fire Company escort to the property, Army Medic SSG Kelly Keck, his wife and their daughter arrived to a plot off of Old Level Road, complete with motorcycle riders from the Patriot Guard and American Legion.

As part of the nonprofit Homes for Our Troops program, Keck and his family will soon hold the keys to a new, accessible house off Old Level Road in Havre de Grace. A ceremony Friday morning kicked off a weekend event in which volunteers and contractors from Harford County based Bob Ward Companies are joining a Build Brigade to erect the outside of the Kecks' new home.

Keck, who lost a leg and suffered a severe hand injury during his first deployment in Afghanistan, is part of a larger project to build homes for other injured veterans. During the ceremony, Keck thanked everyone who came out and gave a recap of his story.

As a medic, Keck said after a lead vehicle hit a mine, he approached to see if there were any injuries, not expecting to be injured himself. He then heard a loud explosion, which left him wounded, and then he talked his sergeant through treating his own injuries.

Their motto had always been to never leave a fallen comrade behind, but as a medic, he did not think it would apply to him, Keck explained.

"I didn't think it would be me," he said.

Following the ceremony, Keck, who is originally from Kentucky, said that they chose the Harford County location in part because it was a good fit for Homes for Our Troops and also because it was close to his current work at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The house, when completed, will offer him the ability to get around like he did before he was injured, he said.

Keck also praised the people who came out to support him, saying it was "amazing" and everything that had happened was a "blessing in disguise."

There were several guest speakers on hand for the ceremony, including Harford County Council members Mary Ann Lisanti and Jim McMahan, who both presented proclamations, and Bob Ward, of Bob Ward Homes, who has a long history of similar charitable activities in Harford County. One of Keck's friends, Former SSG Harold Court, who was injured with Keck during deployment, also briefly spoke.

"Unfortunately, our war is not over," Court said, "We bring it home with us but that will heal in time as do scars and broken bones."

Another Homes for Our Troops home recipient, Sgt. Pisey Tan, addressed the audience of volunteers, family members and construction workers during the ceremony. Tan lost both of his legs in a second tour in Iraq in 2005 and was contacted by Homes for Our Troops in July 2006 and received the keys to his new home in December 2006.

It was like a "dream," Tan said, of receiving the free home. His new home offered him the independence and sense of freedom he had before his injury, Tan said.

"What I didn't realize was the accessibility of this home was meant for me," he added.

Introducing Keck for the ceremony was Retired Gen. Richard A. Cody, who talked about the visible and invisible scars that those in the military return home with from the war. Not only was this project about building a house, Cody said, they are also rebuilding a life.

Volunteers came out from throughout Harford County to support the Keck family. Community Outreach Coordinator Renee Larsh said they are expecting upward of 250 volunteers over the course of the weekend.

Among the volunteers was Maria Jennings, of Bel Air, who came to the build site with her 6-year-old son, Anthony, and her father, retired non-commissioner officer Walter Pressey.

"I want to pay my respect to a man who has done his duty and beyond," Pressey said.

Coming up from Gaithersburg, 16-year-old Analia Briceno, daughter of Miguel and Maria Briceno, sang the "Star-Spangled Banner" during the ceremony Friday. Her father, Miguel Briceno, is currently in the Army and said he wanted to come in support of the family.

Even so, Miguel Briceno said anything they give is "not enough."

"I know how they suffer from these injuries," he said.

Briceno added that it was "awesome" to see everyone come together for this cause.

Also in that group was Matt Tavianini, of Volvo Rents in Fallston and Curtis Bay.

Volvo Rents donated some of their equipment, including excavators, forklifts and generators, to Bob Ward Construction for their use in the project and also donates proceeds to Homes for Our Troops whenever their red, white and blue painted excavator is rented out, Tavianini said.

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