Combat widows get keys to new life

Savannah Jirtle, widow of Army Spc. Charles Scott Jirtle who died in 2010 while serving in Afghanistan, speaks with Brig. Gen. Ronald F. Lewis after a Homes for Our Troops ceremony at W.O. Smith Music School in Nashville at which she and two other 'Gold Star Wives' received mortgage-free homes.
Nikki Redding wondered how she would rebuild her life as a war widow. Her husband, Army Spc. Blaine Redding, was killed in 2010 in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan, just three months into their marriage. “Losing my husband was devastating,” she said. 

The same stands for Savannah Jensen Jirtle, who lost her husband, Army Spc. Charles Jirtle in the same bombing, and Luisa Vargas, whose husband, Army Spc. Anthony Vargas, was killed in a bombing there a few months later. 

But all three women on Friday were given the keys to start down the path of rebuilding, literally and figuratively. Homes for Our Troops and Bank of America partnered to give all three free homes in the Nashville area to start over, mortgage free. 

Homes for Our Troops is a nonprofit that helps find homes for veterans wit h special needs, and Bank of America has committed to donating 1,000 newly refurbished homes to survivors of troops killed in combat. “I can’t even describe it, honestly. 

It’s amazing,” said Savannah Jensen Jirtle, who moved into her new Gallatin home two weeks ago. “Now I get to have a home for my children forever.” John Stein, president of Bank of America in Tennessee, said the three women are among 50 families in Tennessee who have already received free homes. 

“This is the least we can do, because they’ve given the most,” he said. Timothy McHale, president of Homes for Our Troops, said it was humbling to be able to provide free homes to the soldiers’ families. “It does not replace their loss of a loved one,” McHale said. 

“We don’t see this as charity, we see this as obligation.” Jensen Jirtle was accompanied by her 2-year-old daughter, Kenzie, as she received a bouquet of flowers and a symbolic key to her new home. She was two months pregnant with her daughter when her husband was killed. 

Her other daughter, Rylee, 6, was in school. Luisa Vargas was with her three children, Nathaniel, 11; Lucas, 5, and Olivia, 4. She said her new home in Carthage is a blessing. “It’s a home,” she said, beaming. “I have a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.” 

Nikki Redding said she will move into her new La Vergne home in May, after she’s finished with student teaching. She hopes to teach English to middle school or high school students. Now she can complete her education without having to worry about paying rent. 

And she will know that her husband’s sacrifice will be remembered. “Oh, gosh, for every one of us, it means so much. ... We’re able to rebuild our lives and start over,” she said. “Every day that I walk into that home I know that he died for something.”

Written by Brian Haas


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