MUSKEGO – It’s safe to say Bobby McCardle will not live the life he envisioned before an explosive device cost him his right leg and so much more in Iraq.
The lance corporal infantryman for the U.S. Marine Corps certainly knew he could be hurt in the line of duty, carrying a risk shared by others serving in a post-9/11 world. What he didn’t know at the time was that a charitable organization focused on the lives of injured veterans would have his back.
McCardle will become the fifth Wisconsin resident, among more than 300 nationally, to live in a custom home secured and built by Homes For Our Troops, a nonprofit organization that says 90 cents out of every dollar collected goes toward buying land and building homes for severely injured military personnel.
It’s a charitable benefit that will leave him mortgage free in a home on Loomis Drive in Muskego built specifically with his needs in mind.
Severely injured by explosion
Unfortunately, the feel-good efforts from supporters are necessitated by a typically daunting reason, such as McCardle’s devastating injury nearly 15 years ago.
McCardle was serving his second deployment with the 1st Battalion, 4th Marines, in Al-Qaim, Iraq, when his vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device on April 24, 2007. He suffered internal injuries as well as what has been described as a traumatic brain injury, but the most visible of his injuries was the one that would force him to adopt a new lifestyle.
He lost most of his right leg, below the knee, which left him with extensive physical therapy that included the use of a prosthetic that allows him to walk.
In a homebuilding kickoff celebration attended by volunteers and supporters of the HFOT program, McCardle offered a somewhat blunt assessment of how his life changed in 2007, as well as his appreciation for what others are doing to help.
“It has been a long time,” McCardle said as he recounted the moment the IED exploded, breaking his hip, elbow and jaw in addition to shredding his leg. “Twenty years old, and the recovery process was long, and it will be forever.”
That “forever” feels more obvious today than it did 14 years ago. He said age plays a factor as he tries to live his life, now “medically retired” from military service.
“Rehabbing, getting out of the hospital, that was easy,” McCardle said. “You get (to age) 30, 35, as I am right now, every year the injuries just seem a little more difficult adapt to. If life is a glass, and it’s half full — the only part I really like to focus on — it’s also half empty.”
A special home
That empty half is filled in part by the efforts of Homes For Our Troops, McCardle said, as he expressed his appreciation for the organization’s mission and how it helps all severely injured veterans, himself included.
“There are so many areas that, when I look down the line, Homes For Our Troops is going to have my back on,” he said, noting how the charitable effort also benefits his family: his wife Stephanie, their daughter Taylor and their son Chase.
“This matters so much,” he added. “The future is so much brighter from the financial side of things … and we are eternally grateful for it.”
Internally, at least, the house is a typical Muskego subdivision home.
According to the organization, the home will feature more than 40 special adaptations for McCardle’s needs, including widened doorways for wheelchair access, a roll-in shower, and a kitchen that has pull-down shelving and lowered countertops. He won’t have to traverse narrow hallways in his wheelchair or reach for cabinets too high, all safety considerations missing from the typical home.
Jeremy Stengel, a U.S. Marine Corps corporal who, like McCardle, lost a leg in 2007 during his military service in Iraq, said such considerations have made his life better in his Homes For Our Troops home in Franklin.
“It gives me the freedom when, as I’m sure Bobby can attest to, we do have our off days, which really frustrates us to no end,” Stengel said. “To have that freedom to hop into my wheelchair and be able to move freely from Point A to Point B around the house is pretty special.”
McCardle’s home, whose construction is led by Witico Development Corp. in Kenosha, is expected to be complete by Thanksgiving Day. The walls are already erected as the home takes shape.
He’s increasingly excited by the promises of his new home. “It’s certainly starting to feel real,” McCardle said.
To date, 319 homes in 42 states since 2004 have been built for veterans injured in the military conflicts that have erupted in the days following domestic terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Each home represented a new challenge to raise funds to make it possible, organizational leaders say.
Which is why Homes For Our Troops uses its homebuilding kickoff celebrations to gather a crowd and explain what it does.
The organization held the kickoff celebration in late July as a way of both introducing McCardle to the community and to publicize its own efforts, which leaders say depends on charitable assistance to help HFOT carry out its mission.
“Home for Our Troops is not federally- or state-funded, so believe it or not, most of our funding comes from patriotic and generous supporters like all of you here today,” Shaquanta “Q” Bailey, HFOT community outreach manager, told a room filled with attendees at Lakepoint Church in Muskego on July 24.
Bailey said Homes For Our Troops is a “highly rated” military charity, as rated by Charity Navigator and Charity Watch. That’s important in its effort to get people involved, either as volunteers, as fundraisers, or as participants in its monthly giving program, including a $15 support level.
“You may not think that $15 makes a difference, but it makes a very big difference,” she said.
Bill Ivey, a HFOT representative, explained that the difficulties the organization faces each time also includes some practical considerations that come with land acquisitions.
In McCardle’s case, HFOT representatives felt pressure from the development of the Foxconn electronics manufacturing complex in Mount Pleasant to obtain land before real estate prices realized a forecasted rise. The organization had to abandon efforts to find land in Franklin, but, with the McCardles’ approval, found property in Muskego that was within financial reach.
But the building of the home isn’t the end of Homes For Our Troops involvement in McCardle’s, and other veterans’, lives.
“That’s our first step,” Ivey said. “The important thing we do is stay in contact with our veterans to assist them in rebuilding their lives in whatever it is they want to do.”
Essentially, the organization is continually adding to its network of social, service and business organizations who can play a role in helping veterans adapt, including in employment opportunities.
For McCardle, though, the home holds meaning enough.
“When you sign up for military service, there’s no house in the deal,” he said. “How grateful and blessed myself and my family feel to be able to be part of Homes For Our Troops, I do not have words to describe it. It’s truly, truly life changing.”