Soldier's story rallies supporters
Two fundraising events this week will help pay to build a specially designed house for a Mid-Missouri soldier who lost both legs in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq. But Staff Sgt. Robert Canine of Mexico, Mo., said he wants to make sure the giving doesn't end there.
He is determined to raise enough money to build a second house for the next wounded veteran in need. "I want to pay it forward," Canine said in a phone interview from his temporary home in Maryland. "I don't want to be the guy who just says, ‘Thanks for the house, see you later.' "
Canine is the first Missouri soldier to receive a house from the charity Homes for Our Troops. Fitted with two prosthetic legs, Canine is rehabilitating five days a week at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and hopes to be fully discharged by the end of the summer.
"If you ask me, I'm ready to go home now," he said. "I can't wait."
It all began May 17 when Canine was riding in a convoy of four Humvees on his way back from a patrol in northwest Baghdad. As the infantry squad leader, he rode shotgun in the vehicle as it approached a concrete lighting pole on an empty street. The nondescript pole was hiding an "explosively formed projectile," and when the Humvee came within three feet the bomb detonated, tearing through the 500-pound steel door and into Canine's legs.
"It kind of splattered instead of fully forming," Canine said of the shaped charge. "If it would have formed it would have gone through and probably hit the driver, too. ... EFPs are real nasty. They go through everything."
U.S. military Humvees are equipped with metal poles called "rhinos" that reach several feet in front of the vehicle and simulate engine heat to detonate bombs. That distance might have saved Canine's life.
After the blast, Canine was loaded onto a "spine board," but before he could be airlifted out, small-arms fire erupted from insurgents nearby. His comrades were forced to set Canine down in front of the truck and fight back.
"They fought the fight, which wasn't very long," Canine said. "Those guys don't want to fight us 'cause we'll kill 'em. Once we started getting the machine guns going — the 240s, the 50 cals — those guys just take off."
Canine was flown to Balad Airbase in northern Iraq and then to Landstuhl, Germany, where his right leg was amputated below the knee. Later he was taken to Walter Reed, where it was determined his left leg, likewise, couldn't be saved below the knee.
What followed has been a hard road to recovery. Aided by the strength of his wife Jennifer and his 8-year-old son Sebastian, Canine has adjusted to his new life. In a blog he talks about high points, such as walking for the first time and meeting celebrities as well as low points such as flipping his wheelchair over in the middle of the street.
In a YouTube video, Canine shows himself unable to fit his chair through a narrow bathroom door and straining to hoist himself into bed or into a bathtub.
"As a parent, you can't imagine watching your child sit on his butt and hike himself up the stairs like that," said Canine's dad, Calvin Canine, a physical therapist in Mexico. "And to try to struggle to get on and off the toilet as a 30-year-old man, that's really hard."
In the video, Robert Canine, who had made the military his career — said the injury turned his world upside down. "I went from being the protector and taking care of the household to not being able to take care of myself," he said.
He now hopes to pursue a business degree at the University of Missouri.
Thanks to an aggressive push that began with a phone call from family friend Heather DeMint of the United Credit Union in Mexico, the Mid-Missouri community has raised $100,000 that was needed to build Canine a house through Homes for our Troops.
Construction of the house in Columbia would start this spring. It will be wheelchair accessible with a roll-in shower, reachable cabinets and wide doorways. A call for volunteers last month drew 115 volunteers to Lowe's Home Improvement.
"The way Columbia has mobilized, I was just amazed," Calvin Canine said. "These are complete strangers, and they want to help."
And Robert Canine has decided to raise another $100,000 to house another soldier disabled in Iraq or Afghanistan.