With a single snip of a pair of scissors a local wounded Army veteran and his family were given a chance at the American dream
Pfc. Brett Bondurant was handed the keys to a new home in his hometown of Lawrenceburg, Ind. Saturday that will allow him to live with a degree of normalcy he hasn't known since losing both of his legs two years ago while on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
"Having an accessible home, built to meet my specific needs will erase some of those challenges, giving me back my independence and also giving much more hope for me and for my family’s future," said the 24-year-old, who will share the house with his wife London and the couple's young child.
Sponsored by the nonprofit group Homes For Our Troops, the dwelling is a brick, single-level space that took a year and a half to complete due in part to its unique layout. The house, which was specifically designed to fit Bondurant’s needs, features wider-than-usual hallways, pull-down cabinets, roll-under countertops and a roll-in shower.
Event spokesperson Jennifer Reed said during Saturday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony that the homes her organization helps build are crucial to letting the soldiers get back to an existence that’s “boundary free.”
"Specially adapted homes which provide open floor plans and adaptations allow (the selected vets) to live a boundary-free life," said Reed, whose organization has played a role in the construction of 160 residences for veterans across the country since 2004.
RELATED: Take A Virtual Tour Of A Homes For Our Troops House
Homes For Our Troops, which as of Feb. 1 has 45 additional projects in the works, is on a mission to put soldiers who have suffered severe injuries into newly built houses free of charge as a thank you for serving their country.
So the wounded warriors and their families can stay focused on the road to recovery, the organization coordinates the entire building process by raising the needed funds, acquiring needed materials and procuring the services of professional laborers.
Life Isn't 'One Size Fits All'
Adjusting to his new way of life is an ongoing process of Bondurant, who has spent the last two and a half years relearning how to perform some of the most basic everyday tasks due to his life-changing injury.
On Sept. 28, 2011, while out on a minesweeping mission in the village of Mushan, near Kandahar, Bondurant’s second step into a darkened room triggered the pressure plate of an IED; the blast traumatically amputated his right leg above the knee and his left leg below the knee. He also suffered severe injuries to both arms.
After the incident, moving forward into his existence as a husband, civilian and amputee wasn’t easy. While he still openly speaks of his refusal to accept retirement from the military, he admits that even the months he spent adapting at a rehabilitation center in Texas weren't enough to prepare him for the obstacles he now faces on a daily basis.
“As a disabled veteran, it is hard to stay positive at times, especially since I am faced with many challenges on a daily basis, even in my own home," he said.
Even though he can walk with a set of prosthetic legs, the fifth generation military man often relies on a wheelchair to get around and perform day-to-day duties. Bondurant said most living quarters he has occupied since his injury haven't been equipped to accommodate his unique needs.
"I could only fit in the kitchen or the living room. I couldn’t get to any other rooms (of my homes)," he recalled Saturday.
In a promotional video posted to YouTube by Home For Our Troops, Bondurant outlines some of the difficulties of being a wheelchair-bound man in an apartment with a floor plan intended for everyone else.
"The apartment in San Antonio where we stay at now it’s pretty small, but it’s the best we could find at the time. It was on the first floor and everything like that but it’s not really handicap accessible,” he said in the video posted Feb. 4, 2013, almost exactly a year before his housewarming party in eastern Indiana.
“I kind of have to shimmy my way through the doors, which is pretty difficult, especially from the dining room to get through the living room. It’s like an open walkway but it’s still pretty difficult to get through."
He also discusses the difficulties of trying to be self-sufficient in the kitchen while not physically able to stand up:
"If I want a drink or something I have to call (my wife) to get a glass down… because I can’t reach anything above of the stove if I’m in my wheelchair."
It's not much easier when you're trying to use the bathroom, he said.
“The bathroom is pretty difficult. The sink is really difficult to maneuver because it’s like as soon as you open the door the sink is sitting right in front of you so I have to turn my wheelchair sides," he said. "It’s especially (difficult) if I’m trying to shave because I have to grab a towel and a glass of water because I can’t look in the mirror."
a shower, Bondurant said, is an actual health hazard.
"Our shower is a standup shower and there’s probably like an 8-inch block in front of it so I have to stop in front of it, put one hand on my wheelchair and then one hand in the shower, and kind of get myself over it, which is pretty dangerous, especially if the shower is running."
London, Bondurant's high school sweetheart, said in the video that their past living situations were difficult for her as well because while it was painful to see her husband struggle with the little things, she wanted to make sure she wasn't overbearing with her efforts to take care of him.
“I just want to be there just in case, just in case something happens," she said. "I’m always paying attention to what he’s doing and trying not to get too overbearing but just to make sure I’m there in case he needs it."
But those concerns began to dissipate Saturday when the Bondurants moved into their new home.
“I'm just so happy that his life will be bettered because of the charity of the community and Homes For Our Troops,” said Chad Williams, a member of the military who was one of the dozens of people in attendance for the unveiling. "To me, Brett is an inspiration."
Bondurant and his family have long served as an inspiration to the people of Lawrenceburg. Since news of his injury was first broadcast, the community has rallied behind him and his family and whatever was in their power to help -- from sending well wishes to raising money for their return to the Tri-State.
On March 23, 2013, a welcome home celebration was held in the Bondurants' honor at a Skyline Chili restaurant on U.S. Route 50 in eastern Indiana. In addition to tasty regional cuisine and a good time, the event served as a fundraiser to help the couple, which was expecting their first child at the time, transition back to living in Lawrenceburg.
A portion of the proceeds from sales during that event were donated to the family to help with moving costs and living expenses.
"It's pretty special... I never had a doubt the community would stay strong like this and they sure proved me right," Bondurant told WCPO at the time.