An awestruck Army veteran still limping from wounds he suffered in Afghanistan four years ago doesn’t consider himself a hero although that’s what everybody called him Thursday when he accepted the keys to his new home in southwest Las Vegas.
From Gov. Brian Sandoval to Rep. Joe Heck to Pulte Group Division President Scott Wright to retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Stephen Page of Operation Finally Home to the Nevada Highway Patrol troopers in his motorcade to the hard-hat construction workers who stood and clapped and cheered when he arrived — everybody regarded former Army Sgt. Christopher Bales as their “hero.”
Nevertheless, after he walked through the home that he was given as a gift for his selfless service, Bales, 38, stood on the sidewalk and said, “I don’t feel like a hero or anything like that. It’s probably the wrong title for me.”
But it was Page, director of corporate sponsorship for Operation Finally Home — a nonprofit organization focused on helping veterans and their families get a home to call their own — who put the moment in perspective. He described the May 19, 2010, ambush in Afghanistan’s Paktika province when Bales was hit by two rounds from a Soviet-made machine gun.
To save others in his platoon who were on foot-patrol with him, Bales “tried to draw fire to himself. And that’s when he took a round. It was like getting kicked in the back by a horse,” Page said. “Then he took a second round to his leg.”
Wright, the Pulte executive, said, “When you think of what a true hero is, I think Chris represents that. Christopher, we hope this is the home of your dreams. Welcome home.”
Standing with his sons, Keenan, 14, and Aiden, 8, who will live with him in the 2,500-square-foot home that Pulte and 30 contractors built and furnished for him in the Mountain’s Edge community, the teary-eyed Bales was almost speechless when he accepted the keys.
“I don’t even know what to say. Thank you so much. This is huge,” he said. “This is just amazing.”
Later, after touring the two-story home, he said he came to Las Vegas from California with two of his sons following a divorce to get a fresh start on life while he continues to recover.
“It’s a brand new home. I’m a homeowner. What a start. We have our own place bought and paid for by Operation Finally Home and Pulte Homes. There’s so many people involved,” Bales said.
Aiden, his middle son, ran out to the back patio sporting a smile that stretched toward his ears.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said. “I finally get my own room. My room and Noah’s is closest to the backyard. Mine is the ‘boat’ room. His has the cartoons.”
Heck, R-Nev., who is a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said, “Being able to let Chris and his family have a home of their own I think is an incredible way to welcome you to Nevada and the 3rd Congressional District.
“We owe our returning veterans, especially those from the last 12 years of conflict, an incredible debt of gratitude,” Heck said. “It’s a debt that we will never, ever be able to fully repay. But it’s programs like this that show just how much we care and how hard we want to try to pay back a never-ending debt that we will always hold.”
Said Sandoval: “Chris, another thing I talked about is being Nevada proud and to have a hero like you, a man who has selflessly served our country. I want to thank you on behalf of all the people from the state of Nevada from the bottom of my heart for your service to our country.”
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at email@example.com or 702-383-0308. Follow him on Twitter @KeithRogers2.