SEABECK — Kitsap residents will have an opportunity on Aug. 26 to put on their gardening gloves and hats and show their appreciation to a disabled veteran and his family for their sacrifices for this country.
Homes for Our Troops set that day aside for volunteers to help professionals landscape the “forever home” they are building for T/Sgt. Daniel Fye, USAF, and his family.
Fye lost his lower left leg, and his right leg was severely damaged, in a 2011 IED explosion in Afghanistan. After years of rehabilitation — and with the aid of his service dog, Mary, and the support of his family — Fye can walk on prosthetic limbs. But that mobility comes with a cost.
That became apparent during a July 24 tour of the home construction site. After walking for an hour on the loose gravel and irregular dirt ruts, Fye was obviously in pain and sat down on a retaining wall to rest. At his feet, Mary took that opportunity to flop down and take a nap in the warm sunshine that filtered through the pine trees surrounding the property, while the youngest of the Fyes’ four children played among the trees.
“After Aug 26, the turf will be in and all this will be flat,” said the general contractor, Carey Miller, indicating the drive and lawn and future walks.
Just as the rest of us like to come home after a hard day and sit down in an easy chair, Fye said he likes to come home and be able to “take off his legs” and sit in his wheelchair — something he couldn’t do in the homes they lived in in Florida and Texas before this.
The problem is that most homes aren’t designed with wheelchairs in mind, said Bill Ivey, executive director of the nonprofit foundation. And almost none are designed with an eye to the special needs of disabled veterans.
All Homes for the Troops homes are, he said.
Homes for the Troops has a lot of experience with regard to these needs, having already built about 425 homes around the country for severely disabled troops, said Ivey who is a retired Army officer himself who was injured in the line of duty.
Then he and Miller gave the family and visitors a tour of the house.
The outside of the new one-story-ranch style home was complete; During the tour, painters were finishing up the exterior caulking and painting under the watchful eye of Doug Clausson, owner of Clausson Painting and an Army Airborne veteran.
Going inside the house through the garage, one big modification became immediately apparent: There are no steps anywhere inside or outside the house, Miller said.
The electrical panel in the garage is low enough to be checked by someone in a wheelchair. Likewise, all of the doorways are wide, again for easy access.
When it is complete, the kitchen will accessible, too, so Fye can help with cooking and other chores.
There are also two air-conditioning and heating systems — one for the master bedroom and another for the rest of the house.
The shower off of the master bedroom is wheelchair accessible. Waterproof control panels at the entrance and inside will allow Fye to “dial in” the desired water pressure and temperature.
The bathroom fixtures were donated by Kohler, a project sponsor. Sherwin Williams donated all of the paint; its representative, Steve Martin, is a U.S. Marine veteran.
Ivey said 70 percent of the cost of building the homes comes from donations. The other 30 percent is in the form of free or reduced costs from sponsoring organizations.
Peace of mind
These special features come with another built-in benefit: peace of mind for Fye and the rest of the family.
Features like the wheel-in shower mean Nicole Fye doesn’t have to worry so much about her husband falling and injuring himself when she is not around.
“I will be able to live like a normal human being again, and that’s huge,” T/Sgt. Fye said. “Homes for the Troops is an amazing program. It’s going to give me the opportunity to live a more normal life. Right now, we live in a two-story house with no ability to use a wheelchair. [In] this home, I’m not limited at all. I can use a wheelchair anytime I need to …
“On top of that, it gives me a place to make a home for my family, where I can give them more opportunities without having a mortgage. It lets me spend more time with the family and make up for a lot of lost time from the military and the injury afterward.”
Nicole added, “I’m really thankful to Homes for Our Troops. They’re giving us an opportunity to give our kids a life we couldn’t give them.
“He’s going to be able to take a bath without me worrying about him falling. He’s going to be able to use a wheelchair when his leg is hurting. He’ll be able to live comfortably. Spending time in a wheelchair is a huge break for him. His leg right now — you can’t see it — is very swollen and it gets sore and in the house we have now he can’t [use] his wheelchair. He can’t make it down the hall. Here, he’ll be able to do everything people with two legs can do.”
The mission continues
The mission of Homes for Our Troops will not end when it hands the Fye family the keys to their new home at a special ceremony in the latter part of September.
Homes for the Troops considers the veterans they build homes for as family, Ivey said. So, they stay in touch after the homes are completed, helping put their “family” members together with any other support services they may require in the future.
“Our motto is ‘Building homes and rebuilding lives,’ ” Ivey said.
When Homes for the Troops offers to build a home for a disabled veteran, it lets her or him choose where they want to live. The Fye family chose to come back to the Northwest because they had loved the cooler weather when they were stationed here.
“Originally, we came here to look at Poulsbo,” Fye said. “Then we saw this area [near Seabeck] and just fell in love with it.”
T/Sgt. Fye’s story is online. You can find that — and volunteer to help with the landscaping of the Fye home on Aug. 26 — by going to the Homes for Our troops website, www.hfotUSA.org.
— Terryl Asla is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.