MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Combat veterans in our state have access to a program unlike any other in the nation.

The Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund is a group WCCO has been reporting on over the past few weeks.

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They simply write a check to any recent combat veteran who returns home.

Stephen Major is a student learning to do HVAC work. His military journey began more than a decade ago.

“When 9/11 happened … I just remember thinking to myself that I need to do something,” Major said.

And so the high school senior enlisted. He eventually learned how to drive a tank, and how to live life in Iraq.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“I was trained as personal security detail for high-ranking officials and celebrities, and I did convoy security, I did a bunch of different things over the course of 16 months,” he said.

But there was one night that changed Major’s life.

“We were ambushed by 19 insurgents all at once in the middle of the night. It lasted for a good 45 minutes to an hour,” he said. “I essentially was knocked unconscious during a firefight.”

His head was injured, and he incurred memory loss and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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“I’ve learned to control my reactions to [PTSD] but my brain will still instantly go back,” he said.

And when he came back home to his family in Fridley, the worst was not behind him.

“I envisioned and pictured in my head my homecoming being this great and glorious parties and parades and, you know, friends and family, and essentially it turned into a nightmare,” Major said.

One night in 2007, he woke up to his house on fire. His family got out, but the home was gutted. Someone told him about MMAF, who gives money to returning vets.

“I was shocked by the amount,” he said. “I almost felt guilty about that.”

Major got a check for $7,500, and he says the timing was perfect.

“It helped me find a new place, to go replace things that we had lost,” Major said. “I had two new baby twins at the time that were a year old, and it just helped immensely with all of that.”

The Purple Heart recipient says it is something he would have never asked for, but it was the answer he needed.

“To have that, an organization that is willing to say, ‘Hey, we recognize you, here you go, here’s what we can do,’ it’s great, puts a smile on your face, makes you happy,” Major said.

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Click here for information on how to donate to the MMAF.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield