During CMA fest on Saturday, June 10, in Nashville, Tenn., Sgt. 1st Class (ret.) Eric Long was recognized for receiving a home in Enterprise through the Operation Homefront program and its partner, Chase.
Operation Homefront provides mortgage-free homes and supportive services to veterans with help from partners Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.
Long's family, including his wife, Silby, and son, Stefon, received the "keys" to their new home during a presentation hosted by country singer-songwriter RaeLynn, whose husband is an active serviceman.
Long, a Louisiana native, had family members who served in the military. His brother is also an active service member.
What inspired Long to join the Army in 1992 was watching CNN coverage of Desert Storm.
"Before 9/11, I had 10 years in already," Long said about his service. "After 9/11, everything just kind of buckled down."
He served two tours in the Middle East, one in Iraq and and one in Afghanistan, during his years of service working with aircraft and fuel and serving as a combat driver.
"That was a unique opportunity," he said.
Long returned home after suffering from back and neck injuries and low impaired vision. He was transferred from Germany to the Warrior Transition Unit at Ft. Drum, N.Y.
He served 24 years in the military.
After returning home, Long began to think about transitioning back to civilian life.
It was during his transition in 2015 that he heard about Operation Homefront. He went online and researched the national nonprofit and found out more about the Homes on the Homefront program.
According to a press release from the program, Long never thought of saving for a home to call his own while serving.
Thanks to Operation Homefront and Chase, Long received a mortgage-free home in Enterprise.
"For the last year, the military has really helped me," Long said about transitioning back to civilian life. "(Getting the house) really relieves a lot of stress so I can focus on my family."
Long described Enterprise as a place "for opportunities."
"It's really great that Enterprise has a community college right there and an hour up the road, Troy University," he said. "There are chances for opportunities.
"I was very surprised how big the city is. I thought Enterprise was a small country town. Enterprise is really nice. We've got pretty much anything you could think about. Where we're located at, my home is right there in the center of Enterprise."
Long said it was nice to have access to everything Enterprise has to offer, including the downtown shops and being near Fort Rucker, where he can visit the medical facilities and other post facilities.
"Being selected for the home in Alabama, it was right outside of Fort Rucker," he said. "I always wanted to retire and be close to a military base because that's all I know."
Enterprise is known for its support for its military, and Long said that support surprised him too.
"When I walk downtown, there are tons of people that actually say thank you, thanking me for my (service)," he said. "That's a good feeling.
"I remember when 9/11 happened, and every doorstep had the flag. That's another thing, in my neighborhood¬ – it's an older neighborhood – almost every house is flying the red, white and blue."
In his new home in Enterprise, Long said he is looking forward to spending time with his family and joining local veteran organizations.
However, he said he is most looking forward to eating good food, relaxing and "just enjoying life."
"I'm looking for time to actually go out and go fishing," Long said. "I can't tell you the last time I went fishing. I'm looking forward to that, and I'm looking forward to sitting by the river and just relaxing.
"I'm really looking forward to enjoying life."