Local wounded warrior receives mortgage-free ‘smart home’ from national nonprofit | Military

Local wounded warrior receives mortgage-free ‘smart home’ from national nonprofit | Military

One of Colorado’s most well-known wounded warriors received a fully equipped and furnished “smart home,” courtesy of a national nonprofit, in a brief ceremony in Peyton on Wednesday.

Escorted by a procession of Patriot Guard motorcycle riders and local first responders, retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro Jr. and his family arrived at their new “forever home” to wild applause from friends, relatives, well-wishers and fellow service members.

The home was built and outfitted through a joint effort between multiple sponsors, tradespeople and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to providing mortgage-free homes for first-responders, veterans and their families. The foundation has provided more than 450 homes, with more to come, officials said.

“The willingness of our veterans to serve and sacrifice for our country has earned them our lasting gratitude,” said Tunnel to Towers board member and retired New York City firefighter Jack Oehm. “Young men and women, like (Del Toro) … volunteered to go into harm’s way so all of us could be free and safe here in America.”

On Dec. 4, 2005, while deployed in Afghanistan, Del Toro’s Humvee hit an improvised explosive device. The ensuing blast nearly killed him, inflicting severe burns over most of his body. Del Toro lost all the fingers on his left hand, and the fingers on his right hand had to be amputated at the knuckles.

Burn damage on 30% of the body can be fatal, according to medical officials. With serious burns over 80% of the surface of his body, Del Toro was initially given about a 15% chance of survival.

Del Toro — “DT” to his friends — has not only defeated the odds, but has thrived in the years following the near-fatal explosion. He was the first fully disabled airman to be allowed to reenlist, and lives a fully active lifestyle, including athletic competitions. Among other decorations, Del Toro won a gold medal in the shot put at the 2016 Invictus Games. He retired from active duty in 2019.

On Wednesday, surrounded by family, friends and admirers, Del Toro was overcome with emotion and gratitude as he explained that he was initially reluctant to accept the foundation’s gift.

“I thought someone else needed it more than I did,” he said.

It took two years of insistence from family and friends, but Del Toro finally acquiesced. Construction of the home was set to begin in 2020, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a token of esteem, Oehm presented Del Toro with a miniature replica of the World Trade Center, made from Twin Towers steel. Del Toro then raised a U.S. flag outside the house and, with his wife and son at his side, entered his new home.

The house is equipped with automatic doors, wide hallways and a central activation system that will allow him to operate and monitor nearly every feature in the house — from lights, to the security system, to the thermostat — with an app on a tablet or smartphone.

Del Toro’s injuries created limitations in his former home, so the user-friendly technology of the smart home will be “life-changing” for him, he sald.

“Now all I’ve got to do is learn all the ‘smart’ stuff,” Del Toro joked.

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