A Marine veteran who lost both legs in an IED explosion received keys to a specially adapted home this week.
Retired Marine Sgt. Chris Fleming, a southern Illinois native, spent the day after his 40th birthday exploring his new home in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. The house, built by Mattamy Homes, was designed with Fleming’s unique needs in mind ― starting with the fact that he is both a prosthetics and wheelchair user.
“I’ve never been able to leave my house in a wheelchair before,” said Fleming, an eight-year Marine Corps veteran. “I’ve never had even slight adaptive features. But this house is going to put me in a better climate where I can actually heal my body and be more active throughout the year.”
Fleming was the 16th recipient of Helping a Hero’s “100 Home Challenge” initiative. The charity partners with famous brands like Bass Pro Shops, Ashley Furniture and My Pillow to build disability-friendly homes for wounded post-9/11 service members. Recipients pay $50,000 of the mortgage, and once paid off, can contribute to another selectee. One of Fleming’s friends nominated him last fall.
“When I found out in November that they accepted my application, I was speechless,” said Fleming, a father of two. “I’m an optimist by nature, but I was extremely pessimistic about this. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
Fleming, who lost his legs while serving as a DOD contractor in Afghanistan, was happy to discover that he was wrong this time.
“I’m not much of a crier,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened here.”
In a star-studded unveiling ceremony, big names like Florida Congressman Brian Mast (also a veteran and double amputee), singer Lee Greenwood, Helping a Hero founder Meredith Iler and even Challenger the bald eagle welcomed Fleming and his sons into their new home.
The four-bedroom, three-bathroom house already had some of Fleming’s personal items in his bedroom. Unique touches abounded, including no thresholds for his wheelchair to struggle over, widened doors and showers and a front-loading washer and dryer on pedestals so that he can easily do laundry. There was even an accessible outdoor kitchen.
“My mom was unable to attend, which was very upsetting for her, but they offered to send full photos of the completed project,” said Fleming, who hadn’t seen the house himself since its drywall phase. “So she was actually the first person to see it finished, which meant a lot.”
Greenwood serves as an ambassador for Helping a Hero, attending approximately 60 percent of their 100+ home unveilings thus far. Though the ceremonies require travel, he said that performing at them is a priority.
“Today’s world is very dangerous, and we want to help as many veterans as we can,” he said. “Even though I’m still touring, we always carve out as much time as possible for these men and women.”
Iler pointed out that Fleming was the first DOD contractor chosen to receive a Helping a Hero home. “
We thought it was important for America to recognize their service and sacrifices they make,” she said. “We believe in really serving these patriots.”
Her favorite portion of any unveiling, she said, is seeing the families enter their new homes for the first time and recognizing all their favorite colors in the tiles, counters and more.
“One of our other recipients said it best,” she said. “‘When I walk into my house, it feels like a big bear hug from America.’”
Greenwood echoed the sentiment.
“We want Sgt. Chris Fleming to smile,” he said. “When he walks in the door, we want him to feel a sense of pride, knowing that America cares enough to give him a new home.”
Mission accomplished, Fleming said.
“It feels really good to be recognized. It’s hard to realize that this is all for me.”