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“This means so much to me and my family. We will never have to worry about the financial burden of finding a home that meets my needs…it will make our life a lot better and I cannot thank Homes for Our Troops enough for giving us this opportunity.”
CPL MARCUS DANDREA
Ft. Meade, MD
Marine Corporal Marcus Dandrea was on his second deployment when he lost both of his legs in an IED blast in Sangin, Afghanistan on February 24, 2011.
A member of the 2nd Radio Battalion, Cpl Dandrea stepped on an IED resulting in injuries so severe, both of his legs required amputations above the knee. Cpl Dandrea was prepared for transport and medically evacuated from a mountain top by helicopter. First treated at Camp Bastion/Leatherneck in Helmand Province, Kandahar, Afghanistan, Cpl Dandrea was airlifted to England and next to Landstuhl, Germany before arriving at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, MD where he continues to receive treatments and therapies at this time.
Cpl Dandrea enjoys spending time with his family. He and his wife, Victoria, are expecting their fourth child. Marcus also enjoys a variety of activities including; swimming, gardening, biking, racing, aviation, the computer, and Playstation.
Cpl Dandrea says he cannot even comprehend that an organization such as Homes for Our Troops exists…an organization that will actually provide an accessible home, mortgage-free to him and his family. “This means so much to me and my family. We will never have to worry about the financial burden of finding a home that meets my needs…it will make our life a lot better and I cannot thank Homes for Our Troops enough for giving us this opportunity.”
CPL ZACHARY NELSON
“Having a place to call home, to establish roots, and to raise a family in the future is one of the greatest blessings I can imagine.”
On July 5, 2012, just two days before his twenty-first birthday, Marine Corporal Zachary Nelson was severely injured in a vehicle rollover on a mission to Camp Delaram in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Cpl Nelson, stationed as gunner on top of the vehicle, was crushed in the accident and could not move his legs; other members of the Regimental Combat Team 6 sustained serious injuries as well. The last thing Cpl Nelson recalls after the accident is his best friend kneeling next to him keeping him calm before he was loaded on the MEDEVAC chopper. Upon his medical evacuation to Kandahar, Cpl Nelson learned that he had sustained a T-4 complete spinal injury, rendering him paralyzed from the chest down.
After undergoing a 13-hour surgery to stabilize his spine and months of aggressive physical and occupational therapies at Walter Reed and James Haley VA in Tampa, Zachary continues to focus on his recovery in Indiana. Now medically retired, he is engaged to Kiley Moreillon and the couple is planning a November 2014 wedding. In his spare time, Zachary enjoys football and basketball; he’s also a car and truck enthusiast.
Receiving a specially adapted home from Homes for Our Troops, Zachary says, will eliminate many of the obstacles he faces on a daily basis. Specifically, Zachary says he is looking forward to simple things like being able to carry groceries on his wheelchair from the garage without struggling over thresholds in doorways. He also has difficulty reaching and bending for items, so features such as pull-down cabinets and a roll-under sinks will be a huge help to completing his everyday activities. He also feels the home will return freedom to Kiley too, as she wouldn’t have to worry about him being home alone during the day. A mortgage-free home will also allow Zachary to concentrate on starting college and give Kiley an opportunity to focus on her career as a nurse.
“Thank you to Homes for Our Troops and your supporters for the generosity and compassion you show toward wounded Veterans,” says Zachary.
SGT DUSTIN JOHNS
Kansas City, MO
A technician with the 2nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Company, Marine Sergeant Dustin Johns was clearing an area of explosive hazards in the Sangin Valley, Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). The blast occurred on November 12, 2011 while Sgt Johns was on his second deployment, and resulted in the traumatic amputation of both legs and two fingers on his right hand.
After doctors performed life-saving surgeries at Camp Leatherneck, Sgt Johns was transported to Landstuhl, German and then flown stateside to Walter Reed in Bethesda. After just seven weeks of intensive therapies, Dustin was ready for his first step on prosthetics, his wife Melissa proudly watching on. But as the couple soon found out after Dustin was released from the hospital, learning to walk again would be just one of several challenges during his recovery.
As a Marine, Dustin was trained to adapt and overcome, and nowhere is this lesson more applicable than at his current home which is not navigable by wheelchair. The Johns presently live in a home with stairs, which Dustin must navigate with prosthetics which are often uncomfortable and painful when worn for many hours. Melissa worries about him slipping on the floor or getting injured while climbing the counters or “doing acrobatics” to reach for things in his quest to “do things himself.” A specially adapted home from Homes for Our Troops, they say, will alleviate all of these worries-and more.
“The chance to live in an accessible home would mean the world to my wife and me,” says Dustin. “I would enjoy the security and freedom knowing that I could navigate my home without barriers.” Additionally, the Johns say that living mortgage-free will allow them to pursue their education. After Dustin completes his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, he plans on getting his masters in prosthetics and orthotics. Melissa would like to attend nursing school. In his spare time, Dustin enjoys playing golf, disc golf, hiking, skiing, and SCUBA diving. The two would like to thank the donors and supporters for this opportunity to help them rebuild their lives.
I’ve definitely “crossed the line.” The past 3 days account for over 800 miles of riding. Temps up to 103 degrees on US 50 named the “Loneliest Road In America.” I have gone 1-2 hours with only seeing a car or two, maybe a 3 building town and not a person anywhere. But this road is not at all lonely compared to the road our vets face returning to America. The home that they left can no longer meet their physical needs. Building specially adapted homes for them and their families…”That’s why I ride.”https://fundraise.hfotusa.org/fundraise?fcid=313660
SGT Timothy Hall, from Hawthorne, NV received his specially adapted home on March 30th, 2013. He wants to thank past supporters and donors for giving him the gift of freedom and independence. “I am happy to pass his thanks along,” and remind people of how important it is to contribute to the effort to help our veterans that have sacrificed so much for us.
Here is a piece of this warriors story.
Army SGT Tim Hall was 6 months into his 1st deployment when he lost both of his legs as the result of a mortar attack while at his Forward Operating Base in the Logar Province of Afghanistan on June 10, 2010. Standing in line at the PX (Post Exchange) at FOB Shank, SGT Hall was waiting to purchase some items when a mortar attack threw him into the air, critically injuring the 20 year old from Hawthorne, Nevada.
A Communications Signal Support Systems Specialist, SGT Hall’s legs required amputation the following day due to the severity of his injuries; his right leg amputated at the hip and his left leg amputated at the thigh. Initially treated at Bagram Air Base, Tim was airlifted to Landstuhl, Germany where he spent nearly a week being stabilized for transfer to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC on June 18, 2010.
SGT Hall has endured more than sixty surgeries to date, and received ongoing treatment at the newly renamed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
SGT Hall would like to thank all of the donors and volunteers who made his specially adapted home from Homes for Our Troops a reality. He is now living in a specially-adapted home that provides him with a safe environment that is based specifically around his adaptive needs. He says,
“I cannot say thank you enough for everything that is being done for me. Thank you for caring enough to make a difference.”
There are many more important numbers than the 10,000 miles I am riding throughout America. And as important as these numbers are, they are difficult to find. The reason, according to “Forbes” and “The International Business Times” is as follows. “In March 2013 the VA abruptly stopped releasing statistics on non-fatal war casualties. But previously it was reported that more than 900,000 service men and women have been treated by the Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics, since returning from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that the monthly rate of new patients to these facilities as of the end of 2012 was around 10,000. Beyond that, the picture gets murky. “
I have now completed more than 6,300 miles on my journey throughout America. I have spoken to people from every walk of life, every economic class and every political position. My conversations have been in parking lots, restaurants, bars, gas stations, roadside food stands and on the streets of towns of every size. And I have concluded that “Our American Flag” has been hijacked.
In talking to Americans, “Our Flag” the “Flag Of The People” in many cases has become the flag of politics. The “Flag Of Our Country” can still be found in the hearts of the American people. One on one my discussions with people always lead to a common position when it comes to our veterans.
“If we send them…take care of them.” In my listening to “the people” I am sometimes asked what I think about the sending of the troops and what president is right, wrong or to blame for the current situation.” My answer, which has been forged by the miles I ride alone, recognizes that the discussion of our politics has nothing to do with our responsibility to serve those who have served us and sacrificed so much.
“If we send them…take care of them.”
I believe that we cannot wave the flag…and let a flag of politics blind us from waving the flag of the people, “The Flag Of Our Country.” In a past divisive time President Lincoln on March 4, 1865, a time of great uneasiness gave a speech to thousands of people gathered near the capitol.
President Lincoln turned from the divisive bitterness at the War’s roots to the unifying task of reconciliation and reconstruction. In the speech’s final paragraph, the president delivered his prescription for the nation’s recovery:
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right asGod gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in,to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
“If we send them…take care of them.”
So what are those most important numbers that I referred to at the beginning of this post? I have listed them below for you to read. I have included them in what I write so you can internalize the reality of the burden that I believe we should all accept responsibility for. Not the responsibility of the politics or the discussion of should we have sent our troops or not. I only ask that you consider the words of President Lincoln and the wisdom of the American people that I listen to each mile that I ride. I believe, everyone who does something to help our veterans is a waving of the flag of the people…the “Flag Of Our Country.”
The numbers as available…and are changing daily.
Since 2001, in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, over 6827 American military personnel have been killed in action in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Overall, 270,00 servicemen and women have suffered traumatic brain injury on the battlefield or elsewhere, including 3,949 with penetrating head wounds and 44,610 with severe or moderate brain injury.
Among the combat wounded from all the military services are 1,572 patients with major limb amputations, including 486 wounded troops with multiple amputations.
2,542 servicemen and women have suffered traumatic burns; 142 have lost at least one eye, and five lost both eyes in combat.
PTSD, reached 300,000 several years ago and is probably much higher now.
Getting on my motorcycle in Portland, I began to think about my meeting in Tacoma the following day.I would be meeting Brian and Sharon for lunch.
The reason for our meeting began in 2006. That was Brian’s first deployment as a combat medic in Iraq. During this tour he was involved in 3 separate IED (improvised explosive device) incidents. IED, three letters that I am sure we are all familiar with thanks to our favorite news channel. But Brian’s understanding came as a result of the shocks his brain suffered as a result of the explosions. Being a medic, Brian knew how to answer the medical examination questions given to evaluate his ability to return to combat. Brian said, “ I use to give these test, so I knew the answers.” Brian was determined to continue his service.
I arrived in Tacoma and rode over to the restaurant that Sharon had suggested meeting at. I pulled into the parking lot and heard a voice call out, “Hey Richard you can park over here.” It was Brian. It seems that he and Sharon arrived at about the same time that I did. So I parked the bike and went through the usual process of turning off the engine, taking off my helmet and grabbing the tank bag to take along with me.Brian smiled and said hello and I immediately saw the eyes of a warrior. Someone who had not seen war but had “been at war.”
We talked as we walked over to the restaurant, went inside and joined Sharon and their son Sean at the table. After sitting for just a few minutes, I felt comfortable and knew these were special people. Brian and Sharon had an obvious “connection.” They both were more than a loving relationship; they were a “Team.” And it became evident as our discussions went on that this “Team” had clear priorities and was focused on making each day a positive step forward.
After ordering our lunch, I asked Brian about the injuries he sustained during his second deployment, this time to Afghanistan. Brian paused and said, “I was riding in an armored Stryker vehicle.” I asked when that was and Sharon added, “March 22nd, 2010.” Brian told me it was a mission that he was not supposed to be on. It seems that another SGT. scheduled to go home in 4 days, stayed behind, and told Brian that he would be going on the mission instead.The mission that day and the chance decision that Brian would be seated in the commanders hatch, rather than the drivers seat, would change the course of Brian’s life with one sudden explosion.
One IED. One Sudden explosion.
At first Brian didn’t know what happened. Brian was strapped in and remembers trying to get out of the vehicle. This effort, while not successful, did reveal to Brian that he could not move his legs.
Brian said to me, “I was the patient and the medic at the same time.” I was going through my head, checking my ability to move and had no movement in my legs.” At this point the driver of the vehicle was cutting the straps that held Brian in, so he could be removed and given medical attention.The injuries were overwhelming. Brian had injured both legs, had severely fractured his pelvis, snapped his tailbone in half and had sustained internal injuries.
Brian barley hung on to consciousness. Next he was on a helicopter. Then the helicopter landed and Brian told me, “ I was being carried to the medical tent, a tent that I had carried so many other wounded to in the past. “ Brian then added, “the tent was open at the entrance, dark inside and it was open at the other end exposing the daylight. “ Brian then described it to me as, “the light at the end of the tunnel.” He went on to say that he must have passed out at that point.” Sharon then said to me that Brian “bled out, he had lost 8 liters of blood.”
Brian’s next memory was 7 days later in Walter Reed Medical Center with his father and brother at his bedside.
Brian’s injuries resulted in the amputation of his left leg below the knee, severe damage to his right foot that may still result in its amputation , a fused pelvis, the implantation of two metal rods in the left hip, one in the right hip and 2 metal rods down the spine.
I said earlier that these were two special people. Two people connected. Sharon is a woman in love, a woman that met Brian after everything happened that I have just described. Sharon’s connection to Brian can easily be seen. It’s in the way she looks at him, in the way she champion’s his medical care and in her sensitivity to his emotional challenges.
So I have told you about the “American Warrior.” I have described the combat medic and the horrific injuries he sustained. I have related the bravery of a soldier. But I have not told you about the Brian that carries the war like a movie in his head. The Brian that is heart broken over the suffering of others, not his own.
At one point towards the end of our time together Brian closed his eyes and began describing in detail driving through the villages in Afghanistan. He spoke in detail about the buildings and their worn colors. He described the smells as he drove past asphalt pits. And Brian described the “Child.”
Brian, with eyes closed , told me about the movie that he was watching.“I was on patrol in the marketplace of a small village when there was an explosion. People are in a panic…running …confusion and fear. I ran to the scene and a mother was lying on the ground, dead from her wounds. Lying on the ground next to her was a baby. I went to the baby and examined her. She had cuts and bruises but nothing that was life threating. I picked her up and held her in my arms. “I was so relieved that I could comfort her.” I looked around and saw an old man from the village. I walked over with this innocent child and handed her to the man. I was sure that the child was now safe again. Now removed from the horrors of war. The old man took her from me and then did the unthinkable. He held up the child by one leg. She was now upside down and her terror returned. The market place was filled with the sound of her crying. The old man then motioned a woman over and handed the child over. The woman and child then disappeared into the crowed. In an instant I realized the ugliness of the situation’s truth. This child had survived only to become a burden for the village. She had survived death only to now endure a life of suffering. This innocent child’s crying will be a continual calling out for love.”
Listening to Brian, I didn’t notice that Sharon had moved over next to him and she was gently rubbing his back. I could tell that she had been here before. And was there for Brian.
I was overwhelmed by the realization that Brian’s terrible injuries and ongoing struggles both medically and emotionally, for him were nothing compared to the destruction of innocence. I came to meet Brian and Sharon to hear “their story.” Instead I heard a story of selflessness. I heard a story that demonstrated how each of us must grow past our own injuries. These “injuries” go unseen but they are real. They are the “invisible injuries” that make us focus on ourselves and lose sight of the needs of those around us.
Brian can close his eyes and “see.” He can “see” others pain and rise above his own. I can only hope that each mile that I ride, will give me the chance to tell Brian’s story. I can only hope that Brian’s strength and Sharon’s unselfish love will help all of us to see with eyes wide open.
Our lunch ended when a child at a nearby table began to cry. Brian said, I’m sorry but I need to go.”