On July 27, 2023, the groundbreaking ceremony for an adaptive home in Rolla, MO was met with great celebration. The home was being built for Retired Army Sergeant Antonio "Tony" Mullen, his wife Lacy, and their four children. This project was made possible through the 100 Homes Challenge, a collaboration between the Helping A Hero Program and Johnny Morris Bass Pro Shops, who generously donated 25% of the cost for the next 100 homes to be built. Other organizations providing support included R. Burrell Construction, Coalition to Salute America's Heroes, Phelps County, the Rolla Chamber of Commerce, and DAR, Noah Coleman Chapter. The event was attended by notable individuals such as Meredith Iler, the founder of Helping A Hero, Grant Wilson from Congressman Jason Smith's office, the Patriot Guard Riders, and Tate Stevens, the 2012 X Factor Winner and National Ambassador for Helping A Hero.
Helping a Hero, a Texas-based non-profit organization, is dedicated to supporting military personnel who have been severely injured in the war on terror. Their main focus is providing specially adapted homes for qualifying service members and engaging the community to offer services and resources for these wounded heroes and their families. Helping a Hero is one of the largest home-building organizations in the country for wounded veterans, having assisted veterans from 23 states with various permanent injuries such as paraplegia, quadriplegia, amputation, severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), blindness, and severe burns.
The process of building these homes involves collaboration between Helping a Hero, the homebuilder, the community, and the veteran. The veterans who receive these homes are responsible for three things: obtaining a $50,000 mortgage, living in the home as their primary residence for a minimum of 10 years, and utilizing the VA Specially Adapted Housing grant if eligible.
Helping A Hero is currently accepting applications from eligible wounded warriors in need of specially adapted homes. They also encourage the public to nominate deserving heroes by completing the nomination form available on their website at www.helpingahero.org.
Retired Army Sergeant Antonio Mullen, who comes from a family with a strong Army background, enlisted on September 11, 2003, as a way to honor the anniversary of 9/11. As a mechanic, Mullen served two deployments in Iraq. During his second deployment, he had the unforgettable experience of hearing his wife Lacy give birth to their first daughter, whom they named America. Mullen's dedication to his country was evident through his willingness to risk his life not once, but twice, to protect his daughter and his fellow citizens. Throughout his deployments, he faced numerous challenges repairing military vehicles in dangerous conditions, often under enemy fire.
As a sergeant in the motor pool, Mullen encountered countless instances of being shot at and even survived a suicide bombing. One life-altering event occurred when his Forward Operating Base was attacked while he was working on top of a Humvee. The explosion from the attack caused him to be thrown off the vehicle, landing flat on his back and hitting his head. This head injury resulted in a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and contributed to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Over the years, his TBI has caused mobility issues, and he has also faced additional internal injuries that threaten his independence.
Lacy Mullen, Tony's wife, shared her perspective on their journey. She revealed that at first, she was unaware of PTSD and its symptoms, which led her to feel like she had lost a part of her husband because it seemed as though he hated her. After conducting her own research, she concluded that PTSD was the most likely explanation for his behavior. Eventually, Tony experienced a breakdown and received a formal diagnosis of chronic PTSD, which marked the beginning of his medical retirement process.
Tony is now 100% disabled and has undergone surgeries for injuries to his back, knee, and hip. Following his medical retirement, he pursued a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice and now dedicates himself to helping military veterans overcome challenges related to drugs and alcohol. Lacy, on the other hand, serves as the Co-Chair for The Caregiver Support Program for Coalition to Salute America's Heroes. Her role involves assisting caregivers in better supporting their military spouses who have been medically retired due to injuries sustained in the Global War on Terror.
The Mullen family consists of four children, two girls, and two boys, and they currently reside in Rolla, Missouri. Despite the challenges they have faced, they remain in a continuous healing process that will never truly be over. They navigate the hard days when Tony's pain makes it difficult for him to get out of bed, or when nightmares prevent him from finding rest even with the help of medication. They are grateful to still have their hero, even if he bears physical scars that may not immediately convey his status as a disabled veteran.