About five years ago, Linthicum, Maryland-based NFM Lending was looking for a way to shift from sporadic donations to service members to a dedicated effort that regularly recognized their sacrifice. Their answer was the creation of the NFM Salute, an initiative in which one military member or veteran is selected each month to be honored as the “Salute of the Month.”
Selected from nominations on the NFM Salute website, the honorees receive a thank-you gift and have a $2,500 donation made in their name to a military-focused charity. Gregory Sher, chief business development officer of NFM Lending, emphasized the importance of this initiative, saying, “So much is sacrificed by those who serve. The vow our service members take to protect our freedom above all else is the most sacred vow.
“The risks these Americans take should never be taken for granted and should always be honored. We must do our part,” Sher added.
The salute of the month
For the October Salute of the Month, the initiative honored the mother and stepfather of fallen U.S. Marine Corps Lance Corporal David Lee Espinoza. As part of the initiative, the family chose to donate the $2,500 to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which gives aid to those wounded in combat, on behalf of Espinoza.
Espinoza was one of 13 U.S. servicemen and women killed on August 26, when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device at the Kabul International Airport. In an interview with Espinoza’s mother, Elizabeth Holguin, and his stepfather, Victor Dominguez, for NFM TV, a media division of NFM Lending, Holguin expressed that her level of anxiety was elevated leading up to the day of the bombings.
“When he was in Jordan, of course, I was worried. Like any deployment, as a mother, you worry. But he would FaceTime over there and he would say it was very calm. So I learned how to live with it. But once he moved to Afghanistan for that week, we were just counting the days for August 31 when they were all coming back,” Holguin said.
During the interview, Holguin honored the memory of her son, sharing her son’s passion for the military.
“He made me so proud, always did. He’s my American hero. He was doing what he loved so I can’t be prouder than that,” she said. “He loved it, he embraced [being a Marine]. You know what he did, and so as parents, we couldn’t be prouder of him,” Dominguez said. “I know the situation that happened is not what you would expect as a parent, but knowing he lived and did what he loved, that means a lot to us.”
Espinoza was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
According to Sher, the families are not the only ones impacted by the salutes but so is the NFM Lending staff. “Probably the biggest surprise around the salutes is just how many of our employees have a close connection to service members,” he said.
It fosters a “common admiration and interest that shows up in various ways, like when employees nominate salutes and volunteer to go to the airport to welcome back plane loads of troops and hand out goodie bags,” he said.
In addition to the NFM Salute, NFM Lending has been sending troop boxes overseas to soldiers for 13 years. Each box is filled with snacks and non-perishable foods, with the money for the contents donated by the company’s employees.
“We never once in 13 years across multiple initiatives have asked for any business or tied the two together in any way.” Sher continued. “Yes, we are a mortgage lender, and we do veteran loans, but we’re grateful Americans first.”
When asked which salute stood out the most, he recalled the February 2020 NFM Salute. That month featured fallen Army Sgt. Eric Houck, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2017 when Houck and two fellow soldiers were gunned down by an insider attack in Afghanistan. Houck’s family also choose to donate the $2,500 to the Gary Sinise Foundation on his behalf.
Prior to the interview with NFM TV, Eric Houck’s father, Mike Houck, went to meet Sher and his team at the NFM headquarters.
“When Mike was taking the tour of our building, many of our employees rose up out of their chairs…some applauded, while several others embraced him,” said Sher. “We all cried together. It was one of the most pure displays of compassion you’ll ever see.”
Discussing why his son chose to join the army, Mike Houck stated, “He could probably have achieved anything he wanted to, but he felt this was his way to take care of his family.”
“Sometimes I honestly still feel like we are alone, but when people like you and your organization decide to honor Eric, that makes me feel like we’re not alone. I don’t want to say that it’s upsetting, but people can just go through their normal day,” Lisa Houck said during the interview with NFM TV. “It’s hard to go through our normal day because it’s a loss, it’s a heartache that will never heal. You try to find things that make you happy and it’s really hard to because you’re just missing such a love that was a part of you. It will never heal…but Eric’s alive in us, because we have him in our heart.”
Houck posthumously earned the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Combat Action Badge, and Army Commendation Medal with a second oak leaf cluster for his end-of-tour awards.
Reflecting on the impact of the NFM Salute, Sher said, “We have worked very hard to make sure the stories we share are impactful to our audience and to those we honor.”
“The biggest impact we’ve made is on the families who have lost their loved ones while serving,” he said. “They tell us there’s a certain peace that comes with being able to share the legacy of their fallen heroes.”
This article was first featured in the Dec/Jan HousingWire Magazine issue. To read the full issue, go here.