An unseasonably chilly and windy March morning wasn’t going to disrupt one family’s warm welcome to Land O’ Lakes.
Retired U.S. Army Sgt. David Roca and his three children were on their way to receiving a new home in Connerton, the 4,800-acre mixed-use, master-planned community in central Pasco County.
Yet, they had no idea.
The Roca family, who currently live in Orlando, assumed they were just going through Operation Finally Home’s preliminary interview process on March 3.
Instead, they were treated like VIPs, as they received an escort by the Patriot Guard Riders, and were greeted at the site of their new Land O’ Lakes home by dozens of residents, dignitaries and fellow veterans.
The groundbreaking for the family’s new one-story, four-bedroom home was a patriotic celebration that left the 36-year-old single father smiling.
“It’s a great feeling,” Roca said afterward. “It’s hard finding the words.”
Lennar Homes and Connerton partnered with Operation Finally Home to provide the custom-built, mortgage-free home to the army veteran and his children, Amelie, 15; Alex, 14; and, David Jr., 3.
Based in Texas, Operation Finally Home has provided more than 150 mortgage-free homes for veterans during the past 10 years.
The nonprofit was one of three organizations that MacDill Air Force Base recommended to Connerton officials.
The ceremony marked the sixth home Lennar has provided to military families around the country, and the first in the Tampa Bay market.
Construction has already begun on the 2,065-square-foot home, at 8743 Savory Walk Drive.
The family of four is expected to move in on April 30, thanks to an expedited permitting and review process by Pasco County.
Like other recipients of Operation Finally Home, Roca’s background is honorable, yet heart-wrenching.
The native of Queens, New York, enlisted in August 2004 as a 13F Forward Observer.
During his deployment to Iraq, he sustained several traumatic brain injuries in combat, one of which occurred when an improvised explosive devise hit his vehicle.
Upon returning home, Roca’s injuries prevented him from performing in physical training.
He experienced mood swings and severe headaches, too.
After thorough evaluation, Roca medically retired in December 2008.
Today, Roca still suffers from several brain injuries, migraines, sprained ankles and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In service, Roca received numerous accolades, including the Valor Device, an award for saving his Commander’s life in battle. He has also received an Army Commendation Medal, Joint Meritorious Unit Award and Army Good Conduct Medal.
Rusty Carroll, executive director of Operation Finally Home, was particularly moved by Roca’s background.
“He suffered through countless incidents that nobody would want to go through,” Carroll said. “But, his courage and valor stood true, and he helped save lives.”
Upon retiring in 2008, Roca moved his family to Long Island, where he hoped to recover and continue his bachelor’s degree at Nassau Community College.
But, he struggled with concentration and memory due to his wartime injuries, and opted to focus on his mental and physical health before continuing school.
He and his three children moved to Florida for a “better life.”
“The thing that stood out to me when I first saw David’s story, was his commitment to his family,” Carroll said. “That certainly has shined through ever since I was able to know David and meet him.”
Operation Finally Home, Carroll noted, simply “connects the dots” among communities, builders and subcontractors, to honor veterans.
“David and others just like him don’t feel like they deserve it, but they do,” Carroll said. “He has paid for it. He’s paid it through his service and his sacrifice to this country, so he’s earned it.”
Once the family moves to Land O’ Lakes, Roca said he eventually wants to work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to find employment that suits his skills, and immerse his family into the community.
Published March 8, 2017