After two tours of duty on the front lines in Iraq, former U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Joseph Morgan still shudders when he sees debris in the road, thinking it could be an improvised explosive device, and his body is wracked with ailments from carrying 80 pounds of equipment day after day.
Morgan’s life got a bit easier Friday when he and his family received the keys to a new house in Lincoln from national builder Meritage Homes and Operation Homefront, a group that aids families of active service members and wounded warriors.
The three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot tan stucco home is in the city’s Sorrento subdivision near Highway 65 and Ferrari Ranch Road. It is worth $377,000, Meritage said.
“I’m baffled,” an overwhelmed Morgan said while touring his new home. “They just changed my kids’ lives for the better.”
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He and his wife, Cortney Morgan, have two young children and two older children from Joseph Morgan’s first marriage. They range in age from 8 months to 18 years.
The baby girl, Reagan, played on the brown shag carpet in the master bedroom Friday. Her brother Andrew, 3, ran in from the backyard wearing goggles and a hardhat while carrying a toy drill he’d been given as a gift by Meritage officials. Oldest daugther Kalee, 18, and son Michael, 15, explored the house, as Kalee helped look after the baby.
All except Michael, who usually stays with his mother, currently live in an 1,100-square-foot rental house in Lincoln. Neither Joseph Morgan, 36, nor Cortney Morgan, 29, have owned a home.
“It’s just amazing,” Cortney Morgan said, seeing the house for the first time. She said she especially liked the “new house smell,” the shining stainless-steel appliances in the kitchen and the open living area that would allow her to work in the kitchen while watching her children.
“It’s such a blessing,” she said. “It’s changed my entire family’s life. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”
Moving to a larger home will mean “we won’t be on top of each other anymore,” she said.
Joseph Morgan served in the infantry in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. He was honorably discharged in 2008 after 13 years of service.
When he came home, he said, he had trouble going outside for fear of attack. If there’s litter in the road, he said, “You see it as piece of trash. I see it as an IED.”
Years of wearing body armor and other heavy equipment while on patrol left him with back, knee and stomach troubles.
“I’m half an inch shorter than when I left,” he said.
Operation Homefront started after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, said Jack Chirrick, the group’s executive director in California. Its goal is to help the families of troops serving overseas so they can focus on their mission and come home safely.
As veterans returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, the group partnered with national lenders Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America to make bank-owned homes available for free. The families of 80 veterans in California and 450 nationwide have benefited from that effort, Chirrick said.
Meritage began providing new homes with Operation Homefront last year – something no other home builder has done, Chirrick said.
“This is just a small thing we can do to give back,” said Barry Grant, Meritage’s division president for Northern California, at Friday’s event. He thanked subcontractors for providing free labor.
The national home builder has donated six homes so far in Florida, Texas, Arizona and North Carolina, Grant said. The Lincoln home was the first in California.
Joseph Morgan and his family were selected because they were a good fit and had the potential to live in the home for decades, Chirrick said.
The family already has roots in Lincoln, he said. Cortney Morgan works for the state Department of Health Care Services in downtown Sacramento. Joseph and Kalee Morgan both attend Sierra College in nearby Rocklin. They have the ability to pay the property taxes and utility bills, Chirrick said.
“We look for the right fit for the home and for sustainability,” he said.
A brief ceremony Friday morning included a color guard from Beale Air Force Base and the singing of the national anthem.
“I don’t think it’s going to be real for a few days,” Joseph Morgan said afterward. “There was a marching band here for me.”
Call The Bee’s Hudson Sangree, (916) 321-1191.