Published By: U-T San Diego

Post Date: Nov. 17, 2015

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— With four tours in Iraq, and one in Afghanistan, former Marine Staff Sgt. Robert Jacques spent his career serving his country. Newly diagnosed with leukemia and with a pregnant wife due on Christmas Day, Jacques was surprised when the community turned out to serve him.

On Tuesday, about two dozen volunteers sweated in the front yard of his Vista home, yanking out brush and pruning branches, which had become severely overgrown. The cleanup effort humbled the Jacques family.

“We were shocked,” wife Maricar Jacques, 35, said as workers toiled behind her. “My husband and I didn’t expect this. We try to do things on our own.”

Aubry Jacques, 4, sneaks a peek at a camera as her father, former Marine Staff Sgt. Robert Jacques, talks to a television reporter in front of the family's Vista home Tuesday. Wife Maricar Jacques is on his right. — Teri Figueroa

The project is being organized by Wounded Warrior Homes, a grassroots nonprofit that assists post-9/11 combat veterans with transitional housing, and sometimes, a bit more, as was the case for the Jacques family.

“He can’t work, so we are taking care of it for him,” said Gene Jennett, the assistant director of the organization. The yard work is step one: the group plans to also repair the family’s heater and air conditioner, and do some other interior work.

Team Depot volunteer Jerry Tretera helps clear the overgrown brush and trees from the front yard of the Jacques family in Vista on Tuesday.— Teri Figueroa

Team Depot volunteer Jerry Tretera helps clear the overgrown brush and trees from the front yard of the Jacques family in Vista on Tuesday.— Teri Figueroa

At the Vista home, Wounded Warrior Homes is partnering with Team Depot —Home Depot employees who volunteer for home improvement projects for veterans. The retail company supplied not just the volunteers, but also the materials and funding.

Jacques, 39, said Tuesday he was thankful for the help, although “I just feel like I don’t deserve this.”

“I did my job,” Jacques said of his time in the service. “There are so many people I know that deserve this a lot more than I do. … But this is for my family.”

Maricar Jacques said her husband was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after serving several tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.

“I knew there was something different about him, but I was in denial,” she said of her “best friend” and spouse of eight years.

Things worsened in May, when Jacques was diagnosed with leukemia.

“Everything just crumbled around him,” his wife said. After 16 1/2 years of service — he was aiming for 20 years — Jacques was medically retired from the Marine Corps. He is now about halfway through chemotherapy treatments.

“I can see him trying to be strong, trying to pretend that he is not sick — but he is sick,” Maricar Jacques said.

She too has been overwhelmed. Now eight months pregnant, she is caring for her ailing husband as well as their 4-year-old daughter Aubry.

Enter Bobbi Crann, a retired Navy nurse who met the Jacques family through her current work with Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. As it happens, Crann also sits on the Wounded Warrior Homes board of directors, and said she found the family to be “the perfect candidates” for a bit of help.

“The more stress we can take off a service member, the more time they have to take care of themselves,” Crann said.

The North County-based nonprofit typically works with single men and women who have been medically discharged from the Armed Forces after suffering traumatic brain injuries or PTSD. The group provides temporary housing — free or reduced cost — to those newly out of the service but with nowhere to go. In the past three years, the agency has assisted 37 veterans throughout the county, according to Jennett.

For more information, visit woundedwarriorhomes.org.