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HARVEY, La. - A local veteran wounded in Iraq is moving into his own home this week, and the mortgage rate is fantastic: It's free. The family is a beneficiary of a national program that has given away more than 500 homes to wounded veterans.
Police escorts and waving flags snagged attention on the Westbank Thursday morning. A caravan of pickup trucks in every color transported members of the Barnes family from a celebratory breakfast at the NOLA Motorsports Park to the main presentation at the Home Depot in Marrero.
Keith Barnes was declared an Everyday Hero and presented the symbolic keys to a mortgage-free home donated to the Military Warrior Support Foundation by Wells Fargo. The home was fully renovated with the help of presenting sponsor Chevrolet. The foundation treated former Marine Barnes, his two sons, fiancé and several other family members to a morning of excitement.
"It was amazing," Barnes said. "Just everything that they did, I'm so appreciative for it."
All the fun is just a culmination of a much bigger project the Barnes family became part of in a much more solemn way.
"It was shocking," Barnes said. "It was hard because it was hurtful because I didn't know what my future held as far as my injuries. It was one of those things where you kind of just sit there and you pray on it."
A rocket-propelled grenade hit Barnes' vehicle in Iraq, ending his career as a Marine. The Military Warrior Support Foundation got involved to help Barnes return home after his injury.
"We do a lot of different stuff with combat wounded vets," said foundation spokeswoman Angela Uhlich. "One of our main programs is we offer mortgage-free homes."
The family enjoyed the pomp and circumstance, and now they are looking forward to settling into their new home.
"It feels good to know that people care about you," Barnes said. "Like what we have been through and what we are still going through. It's been an amazing day."
The foundation gets donated homes and sponsorships to do full renovations, making the program a benefit to wounded vets' families and the neighborhood where homes are sitting idle.
"Part of our home program is we have a mentoring program that goes along with it, so they mentor our vets in financial needs," Uhlich said. "We don't want to overwhelm them with finances and stuff like that, so we want to make sure they are on the right path and going the right way."
Barnes' fiancé, Cashimira Carmon, is still overwhelmed.
"It's amazing," she said. "I don't know - I've just been speechless."
Keith Jr. is not.
"I'm going to be on TV!" he said.
Keith Jr. was excited to show us his room, little brother Kaine's room and their new "Man Cave," and he assured all of us on the tour that ladies would be allowed to visit.
The Barnes family has one more key to surviving the "Rat Race" after combat cut short Keith Barnes chosen career. Chevrolet teamed up with the Home Depot to give the family a gift card to pick up essentials for their new home - like lawn equipment. All combat-wounded veterans are eligible for the program that also offers life skills training and programs for the entire family.
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