Six military veterans were handed keys Thursday to new homes built just for them in Islandia through a joint effort of area home builders and a local technology company.
"Santa does exist," said Tim Ward, 33, who 10 years ago spent Christmas Day near Fallujah, Iraq, as an Army infantryman.
The homes, which are arrayed around a cul-de-sac on Motor Parkway, were built on a roughly 3.5-acre parcel of land donated by CA Technologies, formerly Computer Associates. Members of the Long Island Builders Institute constructed the homes using donated labor and materials.
"This is great," said former Marine Sgt. Eric Petry, 28, as he stood in the kitchen of his new home. Petry plans to move in shortly with his wife and 4-year-old child. They are expecting another child in July.
Petry said it is unlikely he would have been able to purchase a house on Long Island had it not been for the program. "I can't wait to celebrate Christmas in our new home," he said.
The three-bedroom homes, each about 1,200 square feet, with a full basement, and with backyards that look out into an oak and pine woodland, cost each of the veterans $199,000, less than half the cost of similar homes, officials with Long Island Builders Institute said.
Recipients of the homes -- Jason Broyles, Shawn Hunkins, Thomas Schreiber, Paul Milazzo, Petry and Ward -- were selected from among about 130 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans by a panel of Veterans of Foreign Wars commanders.
One member of the selection panel, Sidney Lynn, 65, of Centereach, said he and others felt it was important to provide assistance to veterans of America's most recent wars -- support he feels Vietnam veterans mostly lacked. Lynn said creating an environment where veterans can live together could also provide psychological benefits to the men, who may better understand the postwar stresses veterans often endure.
"This is something we didn't get but we can do for them," said Lynn, who served in Vietnam from February 1967 to May 1969. "This is fantastic."