Homes for Our Troops builds house for injured Pawnee soldier
SPRING BRANCH, Texas — Everything is literally coming into reach for Ret. Army Cpl. Joshua Stein.
"Everything is the right height. I don’t have to worry about pushing on my prosthetics," Stein, 27, said. "They built this house so I can retire." Stein, who travels in a wheelchair or uses prosthetics, along with his wife Nicole and their three daughters Rachael, 7, Jasmine, 4, and Desiree, 2, will soon be the recipients of a new custom built house courtesy of Homes for Our Troops.
Homes for Our Troops, which began in 2004 is a non-profit organization dedicated to building homes for veterans who received serious physical injuries in combat after Sept. 11, 2001. Each home allows veterans to live independently, without barriers, and complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Stein, an enrolled member of the Pawnee Nation, said he sometimes has to jump on to the counters to reach stuff, his wheelchair can’t fit into the guest bathroom, and his prosthetics shove against the carpet when he walks. He said everything will soon be out of the way and he will no longer have to step sideways into an area. Stretching for clothes in the closet or navigating around the house in a wheelchair won’t be a problem anymore either.
On April 16, 2006, Easter Sunday, Stein was on patrol in Taji, Iraq driving a Bradley Fighting Vehicle when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blew up and ripped-out both of his legs, broke both his arms and left him unconscious. Prior to losing consciousness and despite two broken arms, Stein was able to raise the rear hatch of the ravaged vehicle for his team to get out and then lifted his own hatch to let his team know he needed help.
He was flown to Balad, Iraq then to Landstuhl, Germany then to Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. When he awoke from an induced coma a month later, the first thing he asked was if his team was alright. Everyone was fine, but he soon learned that both his legs were gone.
"It was a very difficult time at first," Stein said. He soon began physical therapy. "I had to tell myself it’s just pain, it’ll go away." He also soon conquered his fears. "I was scared once then I wasn’t scared anymore. If you want it, you can get it. Nothing is ever impossible … game on," he said.
What kept his spirits up was family being there with him, being around other people in a similar situation and "cracking jokes all day long." His uncle Dave Oritz remembers a joke he and Stein shared while at the hospital and how that moment brought everything into focus.
"Right then and there I knew that my nephew was going to be OK and that he would meet this challenge in the tradition of our people with a warrior’s heart. I knew that nothing would break his spirit. I am 57 years old and have known of and have personally known many heroes, but when people ask me who my hero is I do not hesitate when I say ‘my nephew Josh,’" Ortiz said.
Stein received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star Medal with Valor on Feb. 9, 2007 at Fort Hood, Texas for his service during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He said the ceremony was scheduled for an earlier time, but he wanted to wait until his team returned to their duty station at Fort Hood so they could be there with him. "Those guys will forever be my brothers," he said.
"The American Indian Movement of Central Texas (AIM-CTX) is honored to count Josh among our members and to have the opportunity to share his story and work with Homes for Our Troops to get a handicapped-accessible house built for Josh and his family," Ortiz said. "All the people of this nation owe a great debt of gratitude to Josh and all the men and women who have served honorably and sacrificed so much to ensure our security and protect our freedoms. We humbly thank them all."
Stein now resides in Spring Branch, Texas but will move about an hour away once his new home is built.
Volunteers from the community will help Homes for Our Troops begin construction of the Stein home during a three-day "Build Brigade," which is scheduled to begin on Sept. 24, Nicole Stein’s birthday.
"I’m very, very grateful that there are people out there who would do something like this," Nicole Stein said. Sept. 25 is Josh Stein’s birthday.
"It’s all about love. All the little blessings and grace I’m getting are all about love," he said. "I feel it. I feel all that love. If the world had a ton of love, it would be a beautiful place."
Stein said some of his perspective comes from words he once heard his father say: For those who defend it, freedom has a flavor that the protected will never know.
His parents are Jesse Stein, also a former Army combat engineer, and Sandra Kaulaity.
Although Stein is officially retired from the Army, he hasn’t taken a leave of absence from life. He said there are many things he’d still like to try. For example: the Baja 500, jet skiing and some extreme sports. Yet, he also said the best thing he has going for him right now is being a stay-at-home dad.
"My kids still think I’m superman," Stein said.
To learn more about Homes for Our Troops or to help build the Stein home, call (866) 7-TROOPS.
Stein said he can’t speak highly enough about Homes for Our Troops and said his whole family feels the love.
"It’s an awesome way for America to say thank you," Stein said.