By MARINA WATERS
Friends, supporters and veterans lined the uphill road leading to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9724 in Jonesborough on Saturday, April 22 waiting for a black Ford truck with Army Staff Sergeant Joshua Hall inside to make it’s way behind Hall’s motorcycle escorts.
There wasn’t a person there without a flag in his or her hand waiting for Hall, a retired veteran, to be honored at the ceremony that officially marked the beginning of the house that will soon be built for him and his family thanks to the non-profit organization, Homes For Our Troops.
“I’ve never done anything like that before. That was wild,” Hall said about his escorted entrance at the ceremony on Saturday. “The fact that there’s a packed house on race day around here is pretty big. It’s a lot of support. I grew up here, but I haven’t been back in Jonesborough in a long time so it’s pretty overwhelming and heartwarming to see this many people coming out.”
In 2012, Hall’s left heel triggered an improvised explosive device while conducting a damage assessment after a firefight in Afghanistan. The blast left him without his left leg and with severe damage to his right leg. He also suffered a broken pelvis, fractured neck and back and had to be resuscitated three times before he woke up from a coma two weeks after the explosion.
Now, HFOT is ready to provide Hall with a wheel-chair accessible home filled with more than 40 special adaptations such as widened doorways for wheelchair access, a roll-in shower and kitchen amenities. The home will also alleviate the mobility and safety issues associated with a traditional home, like navigating a wheelchair through narrow hallways or over thresholds.
Saturday marked the beginning of the journey to a new home for Hall and his 2-year-old son—but it’s seeing the project from the community kickoff day to the moment Hall receives the keys to his house that keeps community members, volunteers and people like HFOT Community Outreach Coordinator Alicia Berta coming back.
“That’s one of the reasons why we have these events for the community, so that people can see start-to-finish what we’re doing,” Berta said. “This is like the kick-off. This is the start of our whole process for Josh. When the house is getting ready to be done, we do the landscaping for the home and they can come out and see the home—they can actually help contribute to something that he’s going to have forever. And then at the key ceremony, they have a chance to walk through the home and see it.
“I think that part—where people can see the adaptations and pull down the cabinets and walk into these spaces that have bigger doorways and have bigger space—you can really visualize how important it is for these guys to have it.”
As for Hall, he told those at the event on Saturday that he’s not quite sure what to expect—but he’s ready to find out.
“Someone asked me the other day what it’s going to feel like being in a house without obstacles. I tried to make something up, but the truth is I have no idea what it’s going to feel like because I’ve not had that since I’ve been hurt,” Hall said. “The thing is though, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to find out without the donors and Homes For Our Troops and the sponsors and you guys supporting everything. I want you to know how much I appreciate it.”
But it’s not just Hall’s home that will receive support from the non-profit that uses 90 cents of every dollar they receive through donations; HFOT also follows each veteran after their home is built in hopes of improving other aspects of their lives as well. Since Hall’s accident, he’s taken up Krav Maga which is a martial arts self-defense system and has become a part-time instructor of the sport.
“One of the things they kind of started was the mission. ‘It’s building homes and rebuilding lives’ because a lot of these guys, they might get into a home or adapt their home, but then what else are they gonna do?,” Berta said. “So we try to also encourage them to get out there, do sports, go back to school, whatever. Our veteran support team at our office follows them after they move into their home. I mean, this is kind of our responsibility to pay back these guys that did so much to serve us.”
Hall is ready to also set his sights on a new life in addition to his new home.
“For me it’ll be up to focusing on my son growing up and a career and starting from there versus trying to find somewhere to live and maintain and get through,” Hall said. “The VA and the non-profits have helped, but I’ve spent a lot of personal income modifying things just to get by. Now that I won’t have to do that, I’m going to have a lot more money and time to do what I really want to do.”
Hall and HFOT have done much of the preliminary work before even setting the foundation for his new home, but for him, the reality of owning his own home won’t really sink in until he sees it with his own eyes.
“It felt great (first hearing the news of getting a new home),” Hall said. “I’m kind of one of those delayed-reaction people so it will probably hit once I’m sitting in the living room—I’m looking forward to it.”