EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — As Michael Shelton walked into his new kitchen, his eyes went right to the new appliances and open counter space.

He was already planning how he would set up his cooking stations and which recipes he was going to try first.

“It will be the start of new traditions,” Shelton said.

On Monday, Shelton, a U.S. Army National Guard veteran, was given a mortgage-free home in Egg Harbor Township from a joint partnership program with the nonprofit Military Warriors Support Foundation and Wells Fargo bank.

Shelton said he kept his belongings at his sister’s house in Millville while he was on active duty as a National Guard specialist. After living with his sister for many years, Shelton is now a homeowner and is looking forward to hosting holidays and cooking many, many meals.

“I’m love to cook,” said Shelton, “In Louisiana, during the off-duty day, those guys I was stationed with would say ‘come on, get up, we’re going to cook.’”

Shelton’s military career spans decades: first joining the U.S. Army Reserve in 1993 and rejoining the New Jersey National Guard in 1999.

In 2006, Shelton was deployed to Iraq where he was injured. After a stay in Walter Reed Army Medical Center for treatment of injuries from a detonated improvised explosive device and a heart attack, Shelton was relieved of duties from the New Jersey National Guard, but rejoined for active duty service with the Louisiana National Guard.

He then served another tour before being discharged in 2015.

After leaving the National Guard and receiving several awards including a Purple Heart and Army Commendation medal for valor, Shelton then worked to find passion and drive in civilian life.

“The transition for many can be difficult,” Shelton said.

He recently completed a master’s degree program in social work from Widener University and plans to begin a career in substance abuse counseling with the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard. Shelton said he is looking forward to continuing his education, as well as giving back to the community locally in South Jersey.

Shelton’s family, who joined him for the key exchange ceremony, was taken aback by the generous program, as well as the local legislators who came to welcome him home.

“This has been an amazing day,” said Shelton’s mother, Evelyn, “(Michael) has his own place, and it’s really great to see all the support here.”

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, greeted Shelton in the American flag-lined driveway. During a brief ceremonial key exchange, Van Drew presented Shelton with a specially minted 2nd District military “challenge coin.”

State Assemblyman John Armato, D-Atlantic, and Egg Harbor Township Mayor Paul Hodson also welcomed Shelton to the area.

“This is a great program, and to have Michael move into Egg Harbor Township is great because we are very supportive of our veterans and military,” Hodson said.

Since 2010, the Military Warriors Support Foundation has awarded almost 1,000 homes across the country to combat-wounded veterans through its Homes for Wounded Heroes program. Wells Fargo, a national partner with the foundation, has donated more than 400 homes to veterans in the U.S., including eight in New Jersey.

“I wish I could do this every day,” said John Zimmer, Wells Fargo region bank president. “This is the best part of my job, and it means so much when you see the smile or the tears in his eyes. He’s worked and done so much for our country and to be able to give this to him as a result of his hard work and dedication means the world.”

The Military Warriors Support Foundation oversaw the remodel and renovations to the home. Looking out at the kitchen’s back door, Shelton mentioned how he already contacted a local veteran-owned landscaping business to help spruce up the yard.

“This is a great home. It’s a great thing because it’s going to give me a chance to help build my own traditions, make my own community, have a stable area to give back, and also show other veterans we are achieving goals, and it’s great to have a good foundation, a great community and great state to back us up and welcome us home,” Shelton said.

Contact: 609-272-7286 Twitter @ACPress_LC

Staff Writer

Joined the Press in November 2016. Graduate of Quinnipiac University. Previously worked as a freelance reporter in suburban Philadelphia and news/talk radio producer.

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