HUNTSVILLE – A U.S. Army veteran, who was injured in Iraq over a decade ago, received a new, mortgage-free smart home on Friday.

And while the home will be a big help to the family, Sgt. 1st Class Travis Vendela said the show of support also changed him for the better.

“All this stuff, combined with seeing the house, it makes you grateful for the country, and for the people,” Vendela said. “Overwhelmed is probably the best word.”

Vendela was hurt in an IED explosion while on a reconnaissance mission in Iraq 13 years ago.

“When we crossed the bridge, I got hit with one large IED on my Humvee, pushed us over to the other side,” Vendela said. “I saw the other IED. My driver saw it, and he started going around it, but in my head, I thought, ‘well if I go around it, somebody else is going to get nailed.”

After seeing the IED, Vendela’s team made the decision together to run over it, so others behind them wouldn’t get hit with it.

“We truly believed in the, ‘I will sacrifice myself for you.’ I joined the military for that reason,” he said. “I felt like I needed to be something bigger than myself, and I’ll sacrifice myself for other people. So now it was time to ante up. We drove over it, not thinking hey, we’re going to get blown up. We just got hit with one, so lightning never strikes twice, right?”

His whole team survived the incident, but Vendela lost both his legs.

On Friday, Vendela and his family got to raise a U.S. flag and see the inside of his brand-new Huntsville home for the first time.

The Vandela family looks at their new kitchen. (KSL TV)

“I never in my wildest dreams could have imagined what today was,” his wife, Tiffany Vendela said. “I feel blessed that this house really is going to be a safe haven for our family.”

The home is designed to accommodate Travis Vendela’s needs, including a stovetop that raises and lowers, along with smart technology panels throughout the house.

The project was possible thanks to the Tunnel to Towers organization, which was formed in the wake of 9/11.

The group’s goal is to help injured veterans get mortgage-free homes that ultimately make their lives easier.

“The country is good still,” Vendela said. “It’s still the best country, because of people that were here today, and people like Tunnel to Towers that do things for other people without thinking of themselves, and what they get out of it.”

Mike Anderson

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