OXFORD, Me. — (Editor's note: This story was contributed to NewsChannel 9 by A Soldier's Journey Home and the Chattanooga Fire Department).
Eight Chattanooga firefighters are spending their summer vacations building a home -- in only 12 days -- for an injured Army veteran in Oxford, Maine.
Lt. Tyler Swindell, FF Jake Case, FFE Mark Coffman, FFE Joe Fuller, FFE Brandon O’Dell, FFE Britt Bradshaw, FF Josh Hixson, and FFE Keith Mosley are all supporting construction of a mortgage-free smart home for retired Army Sgt. Christy Gardner, a double amputee who was severely injured while serving as part of a peacekeeping mission in Asia in 2006.
Gardner, a Paralympian and former military police officer, suffered life-threatening injuries while on patrol, including skull fractures, internal injuries, two missing fingers, brain injury and spinal cord damage that caused leg paralysis below her knees.
Dozens of surgeries and hundreds of hours of grueling rehabilitation later, Gardner was medically retired from the Army in 2007 and returned to her native Maine for help from family in her recovery and care.
After suffering from severe pain caused by nerve damage, Gardner made the decision to have both of her lower legs amputated.
She has since gone on to compete in elite-level athletic programs, including the Paralympics and hopes to join the U.S. Paralympic Team for the 2021 games in Tokyo in August.
Gardner also founded her own non-profit, Mission Working Dogs, to train purpose-bred dogs to aid individuals with disabilities so the handler can live a full and more independent life.
The home build is overseen by A Soldier’s Journey Home, a 100 percent volunteer-driven non-profit that is made up primarily of firefighters and veterans from throughout the country.
The Chattanooga firefighters have been an integral part of ASJH builds for veterans since 2014, constructing homes in Tennessee, Illinois, Georgia, Ohio, and Texas in addition to Maine this year.
“A Soldier’s Journey Home is very grateful for the dedication and support provided by the Chattanooga Fire Department volunteers. They are an integral part of our organization and our builds and we are fortunate to have them with us each year. It is the true meaning of brotherhood,” said ret. FDNY Lieutenant Paddy Neville, A Soldier’s Journey Home president.
The home will be finished and the keys turned over to Gardner in a ceremony on June 19.