BREMERTON — Their forever home in Bremerton won’t be completed until October. But on April 22, Air Force Tech Sgt. Daniel Fye and his family arrived early — and in style — to attend the community kickoff event celebrating the beginning of construction of their new 2,650-square-foot home.
Fye was an explosive ordinance disposal team leader in 2011 in Afghanistan when he lost his left leg, and his right leg was severely damaged, by an improvised explosive device. Since then, the family had been living in Texas. But when Homes for Our Troops offered to build them a specially designed, mortgage-free home anywhere in the country they wanted to live, they chose Kitsap County.
And now their cavalcade came rolling over the crest of the hill on Sixth Street, riding in Bremerton Fire Department fire trucks and led by a motorcade of Bremerton police cars, Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue vehicles, and a rumbling squadron of cruisers, courtesy of Brothers in Arms Motorcycle Club.
Fye, his wife, Nicole, their four children, and Fye’s service dog, Susie, disembarked at Bremerton Eagles Post 192, 205 Sixth St., where they were greeted by Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent and a cheering, flag-waving crowd.
Despite the threat of rain, more than 75 people showed up that Saturday morning — veterans, active-duty military, fellow wounded warriors, family members and relatives, and a lot of good friends they had never met before. They had all come to welcome the Fye family and to learn more about the Fyes’ new home in Bremerton that is one of the latest Homes for Our Troops building projects.
Homes for Our Troops is a nonprofit organization with the goal of building mortgage-free, specially-adapted homes for more than 1,900 veterans nationwide who have been injured since 9/11, according to its executive director, Bill Ivey.
Inside Eagles Aerie 192, most of the guests sat. The 15 members of the Brothers in Arms, men and women veterans and active-duty personnel stood in formation across the back of the meeting room. Also in attendance: Gary Coykendall, president of Brothers in Arms’ West Puget Sound chapter; Jonni Oben, the organization’s state president; and Chris Sargent, national president.
An Air Force color guard from Joint Base Lewis-McChord presented the colors and Naomi Bentz sang the National Anthem. Everyone stood and took off their hats. Some veterans put their hands over their hearts, some saluted, one was openly moved to tears.
The opening welcome was given by Mary Espinoza, Homes for Our Troops’ community outreach coordinator. She said Homes for Our Troops would receive no federal funds to aid with the building of the Fyes’ new $440,000 home. She said 90 cents of every dollar donated goes into the program, which has built more than 231 similar homes in 41 states. “We have a four-star rating as a charity,” she said. “We spend little or nothing on advertising and salaries, which may be why you’ve never heard of us.”
She added, “We have a lot of veterans moving to this area, so we need your support.”
Espinoza shared the various ways audience members could get involved. But she spent most of her time talking about the Homes for Our Troops family: the wounded warriors and their families, the sponsors, the builders, and other nonprofit organizations they work with. She said Homes for Our Troops’ responsibility does not end when they hand over the keys. The group’s motto is “Building homes, rebuilding lives” and that means continuing to serve those families by helping arrange for any needed services in the future.
“They [all] become part of our Homes for the Troops family,” she said.
Speaking on behalf of corporate sponsors, Hillary Allen of Budget Blinds said it is “a privilege to with such a wonderful organization” that is building a home not only for the veteran, but also the veteran’s family. “When a veteran serves, the family serves,” she said.
Operation Ward 57 President Brittany Hamilton also lent her voice in support of Homes for Our Troops. She said the two nonprofits share much the same mission: Operation Ward 57 supports wounded, injured and ill service members, veterans, their caregivers and those that aid in their recovery. The organization provides assistance and outreach in recovery, comfort and morale; and advocates for those it serves and their families.
“For the wounded, the fight never ends,” she said. “What these homes are providing is comfort for both the good days and bad days. They provide family peace of mind.”
Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent welcomed the Fyes to Bremerton and talked about the city’s military history.
The next speaker was Staff Sgt. Samuel Shockley, U.S. Army, ret., a veteran representative for Homes for Our Troops. He lost both legs to an IED. He and his family had just moved into their Homes for Our Troops home and he spoke openly about what a joy it is to “be able to live a normal life,” thanks to their home’s many adaptive features like kitchen cupboards that pull down, handicapped accessible bathrooms, wide doorways and no step entries.
“I had to pop a little wheelie to get over the door sill [in our old house],” he said.
He talked about trying to rake a bottle of A-1 Steak Sauce off a high cupboard shelf in that old house and having it fall on his head. In their Homes for Our Troops home with its pull-down kitchen cabinets, “there’s no need for ninja moves or McGyvering,” he said.
Ivey, an Army veteran, encouraged the public to join in Operation Lasting Support, Homes for Our Troops’ monthly giving program.
“We do not see what we are doing for veterans as charity,” he said. The home is the first step. “In the long run, we want to help vets get on with their lives.”
Then, Fye spoke. He described the incident that cost him his leg. But he didn’t dwell on it.
“[My family and I], we’re always looking forward, always moving on,” he said.
They are currently living in a rental in Olympia, he said. They can hardly wait until fall comes and they move into their new home.
“We want get involved in the community and become part of Kitsap County,” he said. He told how the family fell in love with Washington when they were stationed here. “I know we picked the right place coming out here,” he said.
Fye praised the improvements in prosthetics, but shared the behind-the-scenes truth about many of those positive TV clips we see that show amputees running or skiing.
“Those 3o seconds of action are often followed by several days of pain and discomfort,” he said. “At the end of the day, you just want to be able to come home, take off the legs, sit in your wheel chair and still be able to live a normal life.”
To learn more about Homes for Our Troops or to donate to the program, go to www.hfotusa.org or call 866-787-6677.
— Terryl Asla is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.