Military family awarded mortgage-free home in Riverview

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It will be a home built not for one hero, but two.

Jerry and Jeaniel Whatts and their four children broke ground on a mortgage-free home Wednesday in Riverview.

The home is being built through Pulte Homes "Build to Honor" program, which selects veterans from all over the country and gives them mortgage-free homes. 

The Whatts were picked from nearly 200 applicants.

"They are such a great family," said Sean Strickler with the Pulte group. "They continue to give back after their service with their charity group, ‘The Mission Continues,' and they were just the perfect family for this."

The retired Navy petty officer and his Navy reservist wife were deployed numerous times. For Jerry, one deployment will forever stay with him.

"It was relief back in Indonesia," Jerry said. "It was there where I suffered the majority of my trauma."

Jerry was a part of "Waves of Hope," the U.S. Navy's response to northern Indonesia's tsunami that killed 200,000 people in 2004.

"We went to go help people and we weren't able to help them," Jerry said. "So when I left, I left with no purpose. And I was angry."

They say a lot fell on their oldest son, Rahim, who was barely a teenager at the time. 

"He helped me with the recovery process," Jerry said of his son.

"Having two parents who were a mess, they really struggled with us, and reminded me that strength can come from anywhere," Jeaniel said.

And now, they hope to give that back. 

"I can't rewind the clock and give him his childhood back, but I can give him a little bit more of the freedoms that he himself had sacrificed," Jeaniel said.

The family will move from their two-bedroom apartment to what will be this four-bedroom home in November.