As an Army combat engineer who cleared routes for traveling soldiers during three tours in Iraq, Keith Stewart and his unit saw its share of bombs—more than 1,000—and his share of explosions.
Keith himself took some hits but thankfully, most were not direct.
Even so, Keith loved his job. He always knew he would go into the military and as a boy his mother told him it was because he wanted to protect the world.
The Sept. 11 attacks, which were one day before he turned 18, provided even more incentive. He enlisted in 2002.
He was stationed in Germany and deployed from there. His first was the invasion in 2003. His next deployments to the country were in 2005-2006 and 2008-2009. He took a direct hit during the last one, in February 2009.
“What I got blown up by is actually special,” he said. “Instead of just normal artillery or mortar shell they had an EFP, which is an explosively formed projectile.” The projectiles penetrated in so many different places, our vehicle got shipped back to America be cut up in 6-inch by 6-inch squares to examine the effects. The armor in the vehicle helped save lives, something that his uncle was in charge of that time. Keith said after he got out, he visited his uncle in Kentucky “to thank him for saving my life.”
Even after the bombing, Keith stayed in the Army. His job was to help transition wounded service members to civilian life. In this role he began to realize that it was time for him to transition as well. He discharged in 2013, after 11 years and reaching the rank of staff sergeant. He suffers from anxiety and PTSD related to his time in service.
He settled in his hometown of Howell, Michigan where he still has family, including his grandfather to whom he is close. He knew he needed to stay busy so he bought a house that would require renovation. A septic system failure was more than he anticipated. He soon had sewage leaking back into his house. Then his car needed repairs and he began to get behind on bills.
Keith was referred to Operation Homefront and applied for help through the Critical Financial Assistance (CFA) program. Thanks to a generous donation from The Home Depot Foundation, that went toward the nearly $15,000 total cost, Keith was able to fund the septic repair.
Then, in December, as part of Operation Surprise, Keith learned Operation Homefront was going to pay his mortgage.
“You all paying my mortgage, I was able (to use the money I saved) to get winter tires and a front end alignment,” he said. “It was a special blessing.”
Keith was grateful for the donors who helped him make his home safe, including for his two roommates who are good friends and help him through difficult times.
“I was in panic mode,” he said. “Thank you isn’t enough. Everything was going the wrong way. The (donors) allowed me to put the breaks on and allowed me to turn around and go down the right road again. They directed my life for the better without even knowing it.”