Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 | 7:15 p.m.
Army Sgt. Christopher Bales stood in the living room of his new home as he stroked his beard, trying not to cry.
“Is this stuff mine?” he asked the Pulte Homes contractors amid a crowd of family members.
He looked around the house, at the mounted flat-screen TV in the living room, the king-size bed in the bedroom, the framed vintage American flag, the state-of-the art washer and dryer. They left him half-speechless, his vocabulary dwindled to utterances of “amazing,” and “Oh, my gosh.”
Bales, 38, knew about the home. Pulte Homes and Operation Finally Home told him they had built it for him and his two children as part of a program to honor wounded war veterans and ease their transition to civilian life. But this, this he did not expect.
The two-story stucco home was presented to Bales and his two sons today at an emotional key ceremony. The gift has given him a chance to focus on his children and his new life as a wounded veteran.
“I’ve been planning in my head to squirrel away a little money to furnish it, and I walk in here and the place is a home,” Bales said. “They’ve just gone so far beyond anything I ever expected — just amazing.”
Three years ago, Bales and his squadron went on a sniper patrol in Afghanistan that changed his life.
From his perch in a river bed, Bales and his spotter watched his squadron walk into an ambush. Bullets flew from two sides. The soldiers dropped to the ground and curled into a fetal position for protection, but they were trapped, and he knew the bullets wouldn’t stop.
Without hesitation, Bales and his spotter sprinted from the river bed to draw fire away. It worked, but now the enemy was focused on them. The first bullet struck his lower back like a bucking bronco. The second one pierced his left thigh.
He survived as a hero, but the injuries left him without direction and in constant pain. His left leg suffered nerve damage and is partially paralyzed. He went from being able to run seven miles with gear on to hobbling with a cane. He could no longer serve his country, or teach his kids how to snowboard.
“All he wanted to do is teach his boys how to snowboard,” said Kathi Bales, his mother. “Now that can’t happen.”
The past three years have been filled with adjustments. Rather than dwell on what he lost, he has devoted his energy to spending time with his three sons. They have traveled to Oregon, Tennessee and Northern California, and he spends his days shuttling them to school and football practice.
They were living in a rental home in Coarsegold, Calif., when Pulte Homes and Las Vegas contractors reached out to him about the offer of a new house in Las Vegas. They organized a police escort to carry him in and then presented the house to him during a key ceremony that included speeches from Gov. Brian Sandoval and Rep. Joe Heck.
“Today is about Sgt. Christopher Bales,” said Scott Wright, PulteGroup Division president. “When you think about what a true hero is, it’s Christopher Bales. That’s why we’re proud to build him a home today.”
Las Vegas contractors and Pulte Homes paid for the entire home. Without them, Bales would still struggle to make ends meet. This has eased his worries.
“Just financially this will help him,” said Joel Bales, Christopher’s brother. “It has been a struggle. He has three boys who he loves a lot and wants to be able to provide for them.”
Once the commotion of exploring the new home started to settle down, Bales went to the kitchen to explore the appliances and gift baskets from Pulte Homes. The shock still hadn’t worn off; it still felt like someone else’s home.
Then he peeked inside the refrigerator, pre-stocked with a case of Red Bull, his favorite morning fuel. Standing with family members in the kitchen, he pulled one out, cracked it open and took a swig.
He was finally home.