Meet The Families

KING OAKS, Bryan-College Station

Sgt. Monte Bernardo

MonteBernardo

While serving his second tour of duty in Afghanistan on July 4, 2012, Sgt. Monte Bernardo and his platoon came under fire from two sides, forcing them to take cover on a berm. Sgt. Bernardo ordered his team to return fire then placed himself between them to direct their fire. The spot he chose was on top of an IED, which imploded.

Sgt. Bernardo, age 30, was critically injured by the IED blast, resulting in the loss of three limbs, including both legs, which were amputate above the knees, and his left hand. He is currently undergoing treatment and working toward recovery at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Sgt. Bernardo joined the Army in September 2006 at the age of 24 entering basic training as an artilleryman. During his tenure in the military, he has worked extremely hard to become a model Non Commissioned Officer, soldier and paratrooper, resulting in numerous awards, Jumpmaster and Air Assault skill badges as well as a Purple Heart.

Sgt. Bernardo has an 11-year-old daughter, Felicity, and hopes to study aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University. His brother, Frank Bernardo, is a 2004 graduate of Texas A&M.

Operation FINALLY HOME has awarded homes to veterans in other SouthStar Communities. Read their stories below.

Vintage Oaks at the Vineyard, New Braunfels

Sr. Airman Michael Malarsie & Wife Jesse

Michael spent a little over a month at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C. recovering from numerous injuries. From there he went to the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center where he learned to do everyday activites with no vision. When he was released to go home to New Mexico on May 12, 2010, Michael proposed to his girlfriend, Jesse, and they were married at the end of June.In the beginning of December 2009 Michael was deployed with Bradley Smith to serve with the soldiers from the 4th ID out of Fort Carson, CO. They went on numerous foot patrols with different platoons and engaged in small arms fire a few times. On January 3, 2010 they were on a foot patrol to visit a village they had been to many times before. They noticed that the village was completely deserted and the platoon decided to wait a while to watch for activity. When nothing happened they sent a small squad of five men across a bridge to enter the village and set up a fire team. Michael was one of those five men. The man chosen to lead the group across was then Corporal Joshua Lengstorf. Upon stepping off of the bridge CPL Lengstorf stepped on an IED. The blast killed him and the young Private First Class behind him and blinded Michael. Michael was thrown into the river and had a hard time orienting himself in the water. He gave up and thought he was going to drown. The Army medic pulled him out and administered to his wounds. Michael attributes himself being alive today because of the quick actions and knowledge of this medic. The medic left and with Michael’s teammate offered to retrieve the fallen. As they were carrying back the remains of CPL Lengstorf a second IED was detonated and the two men were killed. The last thing Michael remembers is being loaded onto the medevac.

Michael and Jesse now live in San Antonio, Texas, with their two daughters, Kadence and Sophie. He is currently the administrator for the Recovering Airman Mentorship Program and helps train wounded, ill, and injured airmen to be mentors to those that are just starting their recovery process.

Sr. Airman Colton Read & Wife Jessica

Jessica said her husband, 21, lost both legs after a “botched gall bladder surgery” at Travis Air Force Base in California. The Reads have been married three years and have two Labrador retrievers, Lucy and Moose.

Colton, who was born in Fort Worth, is on active duty and stationed at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, but the couple lives at Fort Sam Houston, where he is undergoing rehabilitation.

Colton, although not wounded in a war, was selected by Operation Finally Home because of his commitment to remain on active military duty and his diligence in pursuing rehabilitation despite the mental and physical suffering incurred by a routine operation gone bad.

The Bridges at Preston Crossings, Gunter

Sgt. Levi Wilson and Wife Katie

Sgt. Wilson deployed to Kuwait on December 7, 2007. On January 18, 2008, Wilson’s platoon was doing a route clearance patrol to clear the roads and buildings of enemy threats and improvised explosive devices. Wilson’s Stryker vehicle was hit by a deep- buried improvised explosive device. Wilson woke up shortly after to find himself pinned under the metal from the explosion.

Wilson sustained a broken back (L2-L4), a broken left leg (tibia-fibula open fracture), calcaneal fractures to both heels and feet, a fractured right ankle in three places, a broken left jaw and his tongue was bitten nearly in half. Doctors told Wilson that there was little chance he would ever walk again, and if he did, it would be at least 15 months.

After spending two and a half years at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Wilson retired from the army on June 25, 2010. During his rehabilitation, he and his wife, Katie, both began taking online classes and on May 30, 2010, they received their bachelor’s degrees. Wilson is currently pursuing a career with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and plans to get his master’s degree.

After 22 months of rehabilitation, he returned home to Arkansas. The Army retired him five years later and he still receives regular care at the VA Hospital for ongoing issues from his injuries.

SFC Alan Hornaday and Wife Sheila

Some of his injuries included broken facial bones; lacerated left eye; swollen larynx filled with fluid; deeply lacerated and fractured elbows; burned hands and face; 2nd and 3rd degree burns on legs; dislocated hip; right quadricep virtually gone and much more.SFC Hornaday comes from a military family with members in the Air Force, Navy, Marines and Army National Guard. He was deployed to Iraq in February 2004 and was stationed in the Green  Zone in Baghdad in March 2004. In May 2004, Hornaday’s platoon was manning a checkpoint at the entrance to the Green Zone in Baghdad. After a few minutes he noticed a small taxi driving very  erratically and heading for the checkpoint. All of the sudden a bomb inside the car detonated and he was launched about 50 yards into a blast wall.  He hit the top and slid, in what seemed like slow motion, to the ground. The sand bags that had been stacked on top of the wall fell and covered him.

After 22 months of rehabilitation, he returned home to Arkansas. The Army retired him five years later and he still receives regular care at the VA Hospital for ongoing issues from his injuries.

Robert Lee Aiken III and Family

“As a senior, although a commission was possible, I intended to serve a tour enlisted before applying to Officer Candidate School. My father served 21 years in the Marine Corps with two combat tours in Vietnam,” he said. “Part of my decision to join was to honor his service, but more important to challenge myself. I loved every minute of my service. I joined open contract and was trained as a Combat Engineer. After a year in Okinawa, Japan with a combat service support team I volunteered to transfer to 1st Combat Engineer Battalion after 9/11.”Aiken began his military career in 2000, taking off from studying at the University of Texas at Austin to enlist in the Marine Corps.

After spending time working up in the California deserts of 29 Palms, Aiken deployed to the Kuwait border in 2003. He was assigned to 1st Tank Scout Platoon and served as Engineer Reconnaissance Element deployed with Regimental Combat Team 7. Although fighting was heavy, his team experienced relatively few friendly casualties.

He was deployed again in 2004 to Ar Ramadi, Iraq.

“The insurgency was gaining momentum and the experience was difficult. Attached to 2nd Regiment 4th Marine Battalion’s ‘Magnificent Bastards’ I served as Engineer Squad Leader for Golf Company at Combat Outpost,” Aiken said. “Our primary mission included a daily lED sweep of Route Michigan. We drew contact on a daily basis and lost several outstanding Marines. Of my eight Marine squad, five of us earned Purple Hearts. Most of the Marines on that tour are in bad shape. I keep in touch with as many as I can hoping that we will eventually find peace and comfort.”

Aiken suffered injuries during Operation Vigilant Resolve during combat operations by small arms fire.

“I took two AK-47 rounds. One went through my right buttock. Didn’t even feel it. The other round did a job on my right foot. The round went through laterally pulverizing the bones, breaking the metatarsals and blew out the arch of the foot,” he said. “I insisted on salvaging the foot and underwent several reconstructive surgeries over several months. Presently the foot is failing with significant issues and lacks significant function.”

Due to his injuries, Aiken was medically retired from the Corps in November 2005. In 2010, he lost the use of his right foot, crushing his intentions to have a military career. He found motivation through his family to get through this tough news. He is currently being treated at SAMC Center for the Intrepid and has been fitted with a new orthotic brace that has relieved pain and increased mobility. His range of movement is limited and the brace has impacted ability to drive and daily living.

“Although the therapy is promising, the work necessary to achieve a promising quality of life has been challenging. I love a challenge, but it’s important to function as a provider for the family. We’re feeling the impact,” he said.

“I am committed to healing out of love for my wife and daughters who are everything. Medically I have had my needs properly met. I keep a positive attitude and in addition to being a motivating influence to other injured veterans, that outlook has fared well for my family and I,” he said. “In the community I volunteer extensively to assist my peers to the extent that perhaps I’ve not attended to my own needs as much as my wife says I should.”