Wounded Cascade soldier's home dedicated
April 28, 2007
CASCADE — Staff Sgt. John Bennett's new home here is more to him than the brick and stone it's made of. It represents increased mobility, independence and a chance to tuck his kids in at night, something he couldn't do easily for two years.
The Montana National Guard soldier was left paralyzed from the waist down by sniper's bullet while serving in Iraq in February 2005. He now lives life largely from a wheelchair. Prior to moving into his specially adapted home, built by a national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping wounded veterans, Bennett struggled to get around his two-story home, which had narrow door frames and was not handicap-accessible.
He has none of those obstacles in his new home," said Kirt Rebello, director of projects and veterans affairs for Homes for our Troops, the nonprofit that built the home in cooperation with local and national businesses, at no monetary cost to the Bennetts. "What we have here before us today is more than just a house," Rebello said, adding the structure was a product of support from across the community, state and nation. "It really is the reflection of a grateful nation."
The new one-level home, which was dedicated Saturday, features wooden floors, more open spaces, lower door handles and wider door-frames, among other accessible features. However, while Bennett appreciates all of that, his favorite part is having his four children's bedrooms on the same floor as the other rooms.
"Being able to get to my kids' room," he said when asked what he liked most about the home, following the dedication.
He added that he also enjoyed being able to go room to room "through the doors without scraping my knuckles."
Bennett also expressed his gratitude for Homes for our Troops, adding that he wished more organizations like it existed so that a larger number of injured veterans could have the same opportunity he received.
"They are a wonderful organization. They do so much for wounded vets," he said.
Saturday's dedication event began with a crowd of approximately 100 friends, family, community members, dignitaries and volunteers singing the Star Spangled Banner as a Black Hawk helicopter flew over the new home.
"Isn't it wonderful when good things happen to good people?" asked Brig. Gen. Stanley Putnam in his remarks on the front patio of the new home, which features columns in front of the door, two planters in the lawn and a sidewalk to a small concrete pad, which houses a flag pole that flies the American flag.
Bennett said the flag area, which is flanked by a sign reading "Proud to be an American," would be dedicated to his friend, Sgt. 1st Class Robbie McNary of Lewistown, who was killed on March 31, 2005, while serving in Iraq.
During the dedication, representatives from U.S. Sen. Max Baucus' and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg's offices read statements from the congressmen thanking Bennett for his service and congratulating the family on the new home, which they moved into in February.
State Rep. Mike Milburn, R- Cascade, referenced the final stanza of the national anthem in his remarks, first thanking the troops for ensuring that the U.S. remains "the land of the free."
He then took a look at Bennett's new home behind him.
"The home of the brave — this is it," he said.
"I'm proud, very proud, of this community, and the efforts of all the people here for making this day happen," said Cascade County Commissioner Peggy Beltrone.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., arrived shortly after the dedication to tour the home with Bennett and Rebello.
"It's great," Tester said after taking his tour, adding that veterans who sacrifice so much for their country should be treated right. He also expressed pride in the way the community of Cascade came together to build the home and support the Bennetts.
"That's the Montana way," he said. "This is something pretty special, really."
The theme of cooperation within the community was addressed several times during the day, including by Bennett, who expressed gratitude for the help and support he, his wife Dena, and their four children, have received since his injury.
"(In) Cascade County itself ... the state of Montana, people just genuinely care about people," he said.
"I know that 'thank you' doesn't say enough," he said earlier, before finishing his remarks and entering the new home flanked by his wife and kids — and about 100 house guests.
Reach Tribune Night Communities Editor Ryan Hall at 791-1477, or firstname.lastname@example.org