MT. VERNON, Mo. Just outside Mt. Vernon former U.S. Army Specialist Rob Sifford of St. Louis pulled into a driveway lined with American flags for the start of a new life.
Sifford was in the Army for eight years starting in 2007 and received several awards and commendations during his service including: Purple Heart, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Army Commendation Medal and several others.
His Purple Heart distinction came after suffering an arm injury during his time in Afghanistan.
"We came under rocket fire and I ran for the bunker and didn't make it in time," explained Sifford in recalling the incident.
The Military Warriors Support Foundation is a national organization dedicated to helping wounded soldiers by offering a number of services from family and financial mentoring to transportation, skill training, and even donating mortgage-free homes.
So on Thursday Rob Sifford officially became a resident of the Ozarks with a house to call his own thanks to the Military Warriors Support Foundation and the Bank of America.
"This will be over 2,400 houses we've donated to veterans since 2016," said Bank of America Vice-President for Commercial Banking Patrick Phillips in front of a handful of onlookers in front of the home. "And with that it's my honor to give you the keys to your house."
Sifford said he was in awe of being chosen by the foundation to receive the mortage-free home, which was chosen because it is in close proximity to his grandmother, who lives in Springfield.
"Prior to this I've always rented," said Sifford. " I've never been a homeowner so it's going to take some getting used to."
After the brief ceremony Sifford stepped inside for his first look at his fully-furnished digs with appliances, stocked pantries, and a refrigerator loaded with a variety of choices to eat.
"Oh my goodness, good thing I didn't bring any food," he said with a laugh.
Sifford's new home has two bedrooms, one for Rob and the other for the single dad's young daughter.
"She's really into princesses so she's going to love it," Sifford said of the pink decor, sparkling bedspread and paintings of Disney princesses all over the walls.
"It was pretty emotional for everybody and him as well. It was great thing to see," said Mike Stringer, a Mt. Vernon contractor who helped renovate the house. He was among the group who helped make the project special and all the donators understand the important role they play in helping soldiers who have experienced the unthinkable ravages of war cope with the new normal when they return stateside.
"When our military men and women come home it's a true transition for them," said Andrea Dellinger, a Senior Vice President with the Military Warriors Support Foundation. "They've been acclimated to a completely different way of life."
"So to be able to have a house mortage-free where you don't have to worry about where you're going to have a place to sleep tonight, a place for your family to actually be a family. That's something that's hard to put into words," added Phillips.
For Sifford it was all a bit overwhelming.
"Ya'll probably shouldn't have done this but I appreciate it," he said to the group. "It's too much!"
But for a soldier who had seen the worst side of mankind, it restored his faith.
"At some level there's still some compassion and caring in this world," he said.