U.S. Army veteran Reid Erickson hadn’t seen so much as a photo of his new home before moving with his family to Farmington this week from Cape Coral, Fla. But it was a homecoming nonetheless Thursday when he rolled up to the property, where a crowd of relatives and well-wishers had gathered to celebrate his return to Minnesota.
Applause erupted as Erickson stepped out of the U-Haul truck, humbly accepting the keys to a new split-level house while his wife, Zulma, wiped away tears.
Wells Fargo donated the bank-owned home to the nonprofit Military Warriors Support Foundation, which will eventually deed it to Erickson. It’s the ninth home in Minnesota and one of more than 300 nationwide that Wells Fargo has donated to help wounded combat veterans.
“It’s surreal, isn’t it?” Erickson said, patting his service dog, a golden retriever named Melton, as they toured the three-bedroom house. “There were some rough times leading this way and this was the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
Erickson, 36, grew up in nearby Lakeville. Following in the footsteps of his father and two grandfathers, Erickson had enlisted, hoping to support his children and “do his part for the country.” After nine years of service, he said he still wasn’t ready to stop jumping out of airplanes.
While stationed in Korea in 2007, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the Army’s highest peacetime honor, for saving an elderly woman and her disabled daughter from a burning apartment.
“That’s just typical of Reid,” said his mother, Mary Baehr. “He’s courageous and kindhearted and feels strongly about protecting our way of life.”
Erickson was medically discharged from the airborne infantry in 2014, several years after an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan left him with a traumatic brain injury and fractured neck.
On Thursday, as his four children scrambled to lay claim to their new bedrooms, Erickson described the home as more than just a financial blessing. It will allow him to reunite with his two eldest children — teenagers who have been living with their mother in New Prague.
“It was a lot of time lost,” said Erickson, who was tired of parenting his two oldest children from more than 1,500 miles away. The plan was always to return north, but he said he didn’t want to keep renting. The donation made the move possible.
Now, for the first time, the entire family — long separated by his military service — will sleep under the same roof.
“The moon and the stars and the planets aligned just perfectly,” Erickson said. “I’ve been all around the world and Minnesota is the best place to raise a family. It will always be home.”
The Homes 4 Wounded Heroes program is a subsidiary of Military Warriors Support Foundation, which helps service members reintegrate into civilian life. Eligible applicants must have been wounded in American conflicts or in training, honorably separated from the military, and without a current mortgage.
Those approved for a mortgage-free home also get personal finance training designed to develop lifelong money management skills. After veterans complete three years of financial mentoring, the home is deeded to them.
In the meantime, the veterans must pay property taxes and insurance on the house, said Casey Kinser, of the Military Warriors nonprofit. Most homes are previously foreclosed.
“We want this to be a blessing, not a burden,” Kinser said. “This home was truly meant for him.”