WASHINGTON – When David Battle left his family in Fort Stewart, Ga., in May 2007 to serve in Iraq, he never expected he would return with only one limb.
Almost a year after he was injured in Baghdad, Battle, whose family has moved to the Washington region, will become the first triple amputee and first Maryland recipient of a house built by Homes For Our Troops, a non-profit company that finds volunteers to construct homes for wounded veterans.
On Dec. 18, 2007, a blast from an improvised explosive device took all of Battle’s limbs but his left arm. His wife Lakeisa Battle received the news that same day.
“I was very scared, upset and scared,” she said. “When I first found out, they only told me that both of his legs were gone. They didn’t tell me about his arm.”
When he returned to the U.S. on Christmas Day — more than eight months before his tour of duty was to end — Battle and his family moved to Walter Reed Medical Center for additional treatment.
The Battles wanted to return to Georgia to be near family but decided to remain in the area “because of all the therapy David’s going to need,” his wife said.
After a year of living in a room at Walter Reed’s Fisher House, one of 42 community homes for hospitalized veterans nationwide, the Battles are ready to move into a place of their own.
“(I’m just looking forward to) getting out of here,” David Battle said.
The Battles, who declined to give their ages, and their four children — ages 2, 14, 16 and 18 — will move to their new four-bedroom home in Pasadena sometime next year.
“I am excited about receiving a home from Homes for Our Troops,” Lakeisa Battle, a store manager, said. “We are desperately in need of one, and I can’t wait until we get it.”
John Gonsalves started Homes For Our Troops in 2003 after watching news about a soldier who lost his legs in a convoy attack in Iraq.
Gonsalves, who has a construction background, once built a handicap-accessible home for a couple with a daughter using a wheelchair.
“That’s when I got to thinking that this is the kind of home that many of our injured military members are going to need,” he said.
Homes For Our Troops, which is based in Taunton, Mass., has completed 33 homes and has 19 in progress in 24 states.
“There’s nothing else I would rather do than what I’m doing now,” Gonsalves said. “After Sept. 11, there was a void in my life of, you know, ‘What am I doing for my country?'”
Homes For Our Troops’ drew on its relationship with METALCON, the Metal Construction Association, to help with the Battles’ new home.
At its annual show this year at the Baltimore Convention Center, METALCON built a steel-framed structure designed specifically for the Battles.
Former Marines Spencer Padgett and Aaron Drummond of Arrisbrook Builders, an Ellicott City-based construction company made up of Naval Academy and West Point graduates, volunteered to build the rest of the home.
“We’ve always looked for ways to give back to the people that are doing what we’re no longer able to do or not doing in terms of service,” Padgett, the company’s founder, said.
They broke ground on the home the first week of October. Now, Padgett said, the foundation is in, and they are framing the house.
“It will be the New Year before it’s done,” he said. “We don’t know exactly when. … We’re building it as quickly as we can because obviously we want the Battles to get in there and get comfortable in their new home soon.”
The house will be a single-level to accommodate Battle’s disability.
“The hallways, the doorways, all the counters, cabinets and so on in the house are designed so he will be able to maneuver his wheelchair around without any barriers,” Padgett said.
To increase Battle’s mobility, Drummond said they are attaching a harness to the ceiling. It will be tracked to connect Battle’s bedroom, closet and bathroom so he can move without his wheelchair.
The innovative features extend beyond Battle’s amenities. The house is being built out of metal, Padgett said, so it will be sturdy and energy efficient.
Padgett and Drummond said they will donate their construction services to Homes For Our Troops whenever a house needs to be built in Maryland.
Gonsalves said he hopes his organization can continue finding volunteers to provide the service.
“All we’re asking people to do is volunteer for the greatest volunteers that we have in this country, (which) is the men and women of the military,” he said. “It’s just a really remarkable way to give back.”