Called to serve: marine veteran sheltered people in need during Texas winter storm

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WESLACO, Texas (KVEO) — Hundreds of thousands of people in the Rio Grande Valley lost power during the winter storm two weeks ago. Some were without power for days, suffering through frigid temperatures with no way to get warm.

Others never lost their power throughout the entire ordeal and often did what they could to help those without.

“You hear stories of Texans pulling together and coming together to help each other out, and I was just doing my part,” said Jose Villarreal, a retired Marine Corps lance corporal.

Villarreal was wounded by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan during his second tour of duty with the Marine Corps. He developed Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) from smoke inhalation after the blast.

In the years since he was wounded, Villarreal has received a great deal of support from the Semper Fi & America’s Fund, an organization that provides immediate financial assistance and lifetime support for veterans during their time of recovery and transition back into civilian life.

It was through the Semper Fi & America’s Fund that Villarreal acquired his all-terrain wheelchair that he uses outside. 

“I’m able to be a little more agile, more mobile. I get to be out there on the ranch with my kids and just be able to do more than I was restricted to.”

Last year, Villarreal was gifted a generator by Semper Fi & America’s Fund and the Home Depot Foundation to use during hurricanes.

Villarreal and his Army veteran wife Jessica, played the part of caregivers. 

Thanks to the generator, Villarreal’s house was able to keep electricity and heat going while others were not.

“We did not anticipate that something like this would happen, a freeze where we would be without power for four or more days,” said Villarreal. “We were the only people in the neighborhood with power. This whole street down here was without power.”

Seeing the hardship that was going on around him, Villarreal once again felt the call to serve his community. The same one that caused him to join the Marine Corps fresh out of high school at the age of 18.

“The fund has blessed me and my family so much that we just wanted to give back. And [this] was an opportunity to do that,” explained Villarreal.

During the roughly 72 hours his area was without power, Villarreal welcomed 26 people into his home to stay warm.

It started with a few family members who lived close by. They asked if they could bring some neighbors who also had no power, which Villarreal graciously allowed.

He told KVEO that on a trip to the store, Villarreal noticed some people in need of help.

“Some people that I just opened up freely, just because it was so cold outside,” said Villarreal. “You know you see someone out there, some homeless vets, you invite them over for at least a day.”

Because of his COPD, which is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow to the lungs, Villarreal is at an increased risk from COVID-19. 

When asked about the danger bringing people into his home could bring him, he said that he “really didn’t think about that.”

“I was just more worried about people’s medications; they needed a place to keep that refrigerated. Children that needed someplace warm to stay,” Villarreal said.

The courageous and generous actions of Villarreal are a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there are always those who are willing to lend a hand.

“It was just a blessing to open our home to them. And to have that opportunity to do that. It was just a humbling experience just to have people here that we could provide that to,” said Villarreal.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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