Some things Kenton Stacy will never come back to, not after an IED in Syria left the Navy bomb technician paralyzed from the chest down and blind in his left eye.
So when he and his wife, Lindsey, received the keys to a brand new home in Poway on Friday morning – a custom-built, mortgage-free home specially adapted by a charitable foundation – his thoughts immediately turned to what ‘he will be. able to do this for the first time since he was injured in November 2017.
Put their four children to bed.
The new 3,500 square foot home features extra-wide hallways and doors to accommodate the wheelchair he uses with his mouth. Unlike the family’s former residence at Liberty Station, where the children’s bedrooms were on the second floor, this one has them on the ground floor.
“Now I’ll be able to come in and say goodnight to them,” Kenton whispered as the family began to explore the house on Friday morning. The bomb explosion also removed part of his windpipe, making conversation difficult.
It is the 71st house built for service members seriously injured in the United States by the Gary Sinise Foundation, which was launched in 2011 by its eponymous actor. Seven of the houses are in San Diego or Temecula County, reflecting that region’s deep ties to the military.
Inside the Stacys front door, in a framed photo collage of Kenton’s service career, is a quote from Sinise that sums up her foundation’s mission: “The nation that forgets its defenders will be it.” – even forgotten.
Kenton, 37, grew up in Greenville, Ohio, a small farming community, where he and Lindsey were high school sweethearts. They married in 2004 and he joined the Navy a year later as an explosive ordnance disposal technician. He was on his fourth combat deployment in nine years, over 50 defusing bombs hidden in roads and elsewhere, when he was injured.
His team was in Raqqa, Syria, training local soldiers in IED disposal. The bombs had been dropped by Islamic State fighters fleeing the US-led coalition that had recaptured the city a few months earlier.
The team went to a hospital and defused half a dozen devices in the courtyard, basement, and first floor. They cleared a stairwell and two bedrooms on the second floor. In the third room, a bomb exploded.
Stacy spent months in the hospital, first in Baghdad, then in San Antonio, then in San Diego. He has had dozens of surgeries and needs 24 hour assistance. Last year he medically retired from the Navy as Chief Petty Officer.
Elizabeth Fields, director of operations for the Gary Sinise Foundation, said Stacy was among the most seriously injured vets her group has helped. The new house reflects this.
On the ceiling of the master bedroom there is a track for a Hoyer elevator, a device that transfers Stacy back and forth to the bathroom and her huge shower.
There is a room next to the bedroom for regular sessions with physiotherapists; it has its own entrance so that caregivers can come and go as needed.
Upstairs is a suite for parents who come from Ohio to help care for the children: Logan, 13; Mason, 9 years old; Annabelle, 7 years old; and Sadie, 5. Logan suffers from cerebral palsy, and there is also a place for his care.
“These are forever homes for these families,” said Scott Schaeperkoetter, director of operations for the foundation’s housing program, RISE. “We build them specifically for their needs. Family members helped choose wall colors, furniture, and other features.
And the location. Lindsey Stacy said they wanted to be in Poway because of the quality of the school district. Land in Poway may be expensive, but they found plenty of it in Green Valley owned by a World War II vet willing to help the foundation, Schaeperkoetter said.
Dozens of local contractors donated or reduced the cost of their labor and materials to build the house.
“It’s a place where you can make new memories,” Matthew Amos, of the MLA general contractor in Fallbrook, told the family in a brief ceremony outside the house on Friday morning. His cabinet oversaw the project. “This is a place for you, Kenton, to know that your family is protected.”
The ceremony included a surprise announcement for the family: the Sinise Foundation, along with another charity, No greater sacrifice, funds college scholarships for Stacy children.
“I don’t know if you really know what this means,” Schaeperkoetter told the children, “but you will.”
Lindsey Stacy knew it. After the ceremony, she sat on a couch in her family’s new living room with a dazed look on her face and used one word to describe what they went through: the bomb, the house, lives changed.
“Unreal,” she said.