Michele Lammers has no idea how she’s going to decorate her new home, mostly, because she’s never owned one.
Lammers a chief warrant officer with Army Reserve, received a mortgage-free home Monday from Wells Fargo and Operation Homefront, a nonprofit organization that provides emergency or other financial assistance to veterans and their families and wounded soldiers.
“I have a place to rest my head, a community to call neighbors,” said Lammers, who is originally from Alton in northwest Iowa. “I don’t have to constantly pack. That’s huge. That’s all I’ve been doing for the past 17 years. I can unpack.”
Lammers joined the Army in 1998 at age 23 and has been deployed three times, each to Iraq. She was a convoy commander in 2004, and a logistics manager of highway transportation in 2007; she oversaw air operations in 2010. She has about five years left with the military before retirement.
Lammers, side by side with her 13-month-old service dog Titus, took a tour of the pair’s new home in West Des Moines on Monday.
“Wow,” she said as she wiped a few stray tears. “This is nice.”
Lammers teared up multiple times as she and Titus toured their new home. She walked into an upper-level corner bedroom and declared it hers. She wandered into her new closet and was excited she could fully spread her arms the length of the space.
Being involved in the military, Lammers said, most of her belongings were in a neutral-colored duffel bag and a box that she was constantly moving around. Unpacking permanently, she said, is an unknown concept.
“This hits me on so many levels. With three deployments, I’ve never really had a true welcome-home ceremony,” Lammers said.
Lammers and Titus continued to explore the upstairs level. Lammers walked down the hallway and stopped to admire her new bathtub.
She then ventured to the unfinished basement and began laying out the scenery.
“I can see a bathroom here … a TV … a wet bar,” she said with a laugh.
Paula Pettibone, director of Homes on the Homefront, said this is the second house Operation Homefront has donated with Wells Fargo in Iowa, with the other in Bettendorf. But this isn’t the first donated house in Des Moines. Wells Fargo works with other nonprofits to provide service members with mortgage-free homes. Lammers’ is the third in Des Moines.
In 2012, on Veterans Day, Wells Fargo made a three-year, $30 million commitment to give away homes to veterans. At the end of the commitment, Tyler Smith with Wells Fargo said there will be about 300 donated homes across the country.
Lammers heard about Operation Homefront through a friend who had heard there was an open home in Des Moines. Lammers wanted to stay in Iowa, so she applied soon after their conversation.
About 100 people apply for each home, Pettibone said. Operation Homefront matches the home with a veteran whose needs meet the home best. The organization then matches the service member with a housing caseworker, a person who helps the veteran with the transition from military life to civilian life and homeownership.
Lammers said that she would finish moving in Monday night and that she and Titus would spend their first night in the home.
Lammers doesn’t know how she’s going to decorate; she said, “The Army issues everything you need in life, and I’ve never had a place of my own to decorate. It’s going to take me a year to figure out what colors go together.”
But Lammers does have one decoration that’s close to her: a cross that says “amazing grace.” It’s going to be the first item she hangs on her own wall.