The Hunters are home. Last week, U.S. Army Sgt. Eric Hunter (Ret.) and his family moved into their new Fayetteville smart home built by the Gary Sinise Foundation.
“Here we are. It’s so hard to believe,” said Hunter at the celebration. “It’s been a year and a half we’ve been looking forward to it. Today has been like a dream come true.”
He expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the many sponsors and volunteers that made it all possible.
“Today you see this beautiful home, but what you don’t see is the year and a half of hard work and dedication that’s gone into this project and all the various hands that had anything to do with it.”
In Afghanistan on his second deployment, Hunter stepped on an IED. The explosion took his right leg and shattered his left, among other injuries.
The road to recovery is a long one. He spent four years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he underwent 61 surgeries.
During a 2017 Veterans Day broadcast on Turner Classic Movies, Hunter said, “For three months in the hospital, it was like surgery every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and the other days I was recovering. The doctor said, ‘I can save your left leg, just give me time.’ But I didn’t know it was going to take four years.”
For the last two years, the Hunters lived in a non-handicap rental. He was unable to use his wheelchair inside the home, which caused significant pain in simply getting around.
The new specially-designed home will ease the burden on Eric, his wife Kenna, and their three children. It will also bring the sweet relief of stability, as Eric noted, their children have changed schools six times over the last six years.
“Today, a lot of the attention is put on me, but it’s more than that. Today is a huge day for our family and our kids,” he said. “We finally have a place that they can call home, and I think that’s my favorite thing about this house.”
The home marked a milestone not just for the Hunters, but also for the Gary Sinise Foundation R.I.S.E. Program, as it was the 50th smart home they have built for a severely injured veteran or first responder.
Started by the famed actor, the Gary Sinise Foundation honors veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need. Through its R.I.S.E. program (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment), specially-adapted smart homes are constructed for severely wounded veterans and first responders nationwide. Each one-of-a-kind home is customized to ease the everyday burdens of a wounded hero, their family, and caregivers.
Unable to attend the event in person, Gary Sinise sent along his remarks in a letter.
“Today, we indeed celebrate an individual’s triumph over the harrowing experiences of war, through the service and courage of one extraordinary U.S. Army soldier, SGT Eric Hunter,” the letter said. “Like so many who have come before him in service to our country, Eric Hunter sacrificed for the liberty and freedom of his fellow Americans. As citizens, I believe we can all do a little more to take responsibility for ensuring that our returning defenders are welcomed back into their communities with the resources to begin a new life, as we are all the beneficiaries of the blessing of freedom they sacrifice to provide.
“Too often we can take for granted the fact that this precious freedom and security is fought for, provided, and sacrificed for, through the service of brave and selfless defenders like Eric Hunter. These special individuals, like the man we honor today, willingly place themselves in harm’s way on dangerous battlefields around the world to make our lives safer here at home. While we can never truly repay the debt we owe them, we can strive to show Eric, and his brothers and sisters in arms, our appreciation and gratitude whenever possible.”
A man who sacrificed so much, Hunter was quick to thank those who supported the project.
“How do you say thank you for something like this? Probably the same way I would say thank you to the guys that drug me out of the dirt in Afghanistan and got me home to my family,” Hunter said. “You can’t say thank you for something like that. All I can do is live every day to the best of my ability and always try to pay it forward and make sure no day is ever wasted.”
The Hunters are home, and they expressed their heartfelt gratitude to the many in Fayette who gave their time, money, and energy to welcome them.
“You are the true meaning of Patriotism,” he said. “We are so thankful to be a part of your community, and we’re so excited to share this day we will never forget with all of you.”