Inspiring Army Veteran: Joel Tavera

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Joel Tavera and Family
Sergeant Joel Tavera, once considered the second most severely injured army soldier to survive in the Iraq war, defied all odds and became the first in his family to graduate college, earning his history degree from the University of Tampa in December.
Joel Tavera

After surviving five rockets to his Humvee in Iraq in 2008, Tavera suffered severe head trauma and critical burns to 60 percent of his body, lost his right leg below the knee, and endured over 80 surgeries.  Doctors weren’t sure he would survive the trip to a hospital in San Antonio.

Despite his injuries, Joel Tavera lives life with positivity, optimism and hope, inspiring other wounded veterans, doctors, journalists and anyone he encounters.  In 2011, Building Homes for Heroes gifted Tavera with a mortgage-free home in Tampa, and over 1,000 supporters attended the ceremony to give him a true hero’s welcome.

Tavera’s story of resilience and hope impacted the nation when it aired in 2013. And his story of perseverance through college in spite of his circumstances can serve as a great testament to perseverance and an inspiration for all.

More of Joel’s story:

Army Sergeant Joel Tavera of Havelock, North Carolina (originally from Queens, NY) was deployed to Iraq in the fall of 2007. He was just 19 years of age.

Prior to enlisting in the Army, Joel first fulfilled one of his lifelong dreams; he became an active member of the brotherhood of volunteer firefighters. He spent over two years serving as a volunteer fireman, before following in his father’s footsteps by serving the country in the military. Joel’s father served the country in the United States Marine Corps.

In March of 2008, the Humvee that Joel was riding in was hit by five rockets. The blasts killed three men. Joel was thought to be dead as well. Tragically, Sgt. Tavera lost sight in both of his eyes, his right leg, four fingers on his left hand, and suffered very serious head trauma and critical burns to 60 percent of his body. His parents, Jose and Maritza, have been told that their son is the second most severely injured Army soldier to survive since the war in Iraq began.


Joel received The Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Doctors, nurses, hospital officials, friends and fellow soldiers; and anyone else who has met Sgt. Tavera, all feel that he is a veritable inspiration to all he meets. His will, his passion for life, along with his extraordinary spirit and perseverance, serve as an example for anyone who is facing difficult times.

Joel and his family received a mortgage-free home in Tampa. Building Homes for Heroes is proud to announce Joel graduated from college with a degree in history in December of 2018!


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