By Alex King |
When someone is willing to sacrifice their life to protect us, the American people and our freedoms, we must hold these heroes in the highest regard, which is the lesson in this remarkable home for the brave – a community effort with GySrgt Thomas McRae at its center: a soldier, a triple amputee single father raising a daughter. He is a true American hero.
GySrgt Thomas McRae knew the military was the life for him when he enlisted for the Marine Corps right after high school. After McRae’s fourth deployment, he left the infantry and volunteered for explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) work. “EOD is all volunteer-based,” he explains. “I was really hitting a point where I was unhappy with the way my career was going, so I started looking at the job and what the job entails, and I decided that it was for me. I went to school for a year. You learn how to deal with everything from IEDs and fuses to WMDs and nukes. “
On January 16, 2012, in the town of Sangin, McRae’s life would take a dramatic turn.
“We had a bomb disposal robot that got stuck in a compound,” Thomas explains. “I went back to the truck in an area we had cleared to get some equipment, and as I was heading back I stepped on an IED that was 15-20 pounds. I lost both legs above the knees, lost my left arm above the elbow, and received a very serious head wound. Then something hit my eye socket and shot bone fragments into my brain resulting in a severe eye injury.”
Thomas woke up four months later in a VA hospital.
McRae had no idea that the sacrifice he made for us would resonate in the hearts of so many: on April 7th, 2016, after four years of recovery, GySgt Tom McRae and his daughter, Aidan, finally had somewhere to call home in Maple Hill, NC. This was made possible by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation “Building for America’s Bravest” program. The home designed and built for McRae has high-tech smart features that will allow GySgt McRae to be as independent as possible – and make it possible for him to care for his daughter. The home features technology that allows doors, lighting and thermostat system to be controlled completely by a tablet device like an iPad. The counters, furniture and bathrooms are wheelchair accessible. This custom built home for the brave even has a man cave.
Catherine Christman Media Relations of the Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Foundation, explained that McRae’s new home, and others like his, are representations of the foundation’s motto “To Do Good” by helping critically injured service members upon their return home and impending recovery. The foundation was formed to honor firefighter Stephen Gerald Siller, who died on Sept. 11 rescuing people from the Twin Towers. Firefighter Stephen Siller was off duty when the first call came in that a plane had hit the world trade center. Stephen packed his gear and tried to take the fastest route to the Twin Towers, through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to meet up with his Unit Brooklyn’s Squad1. When he got to the tunnel it was blocked. So he grabbed all 60 lbs of gear and ran through the tunnel. Despite the heat and weight of his gear Stephen ran toward the towers determined to help save lives. Catherine explains, “We now celebrate his life and courage every year with the annual Tunnel to Towers 5K run. The last race had over 25,000 participants. This is a major fundraising effort to benefit the foundation.”
Tom said what he most enjoys about his “smart home” is how much all of the features in the home help him navigate day-to-day living. For example, he says, “The cook-top and cabinets move up and down to make preparing meals easier.” He has begun dabbling in cooking – he isn’t doing anything “complex” yet, but he expects that will happen.
At night, he says, “I can shut off all the lights without having to go through the house by using my iPad. In the morning I can turn on the lights without ever getting up.
Tom enlisted the help of his mom and stepdad to decorate Aiden’s bedroom. They chose a “Frozen” theme from the hit movie, which Aidan loves, and included a “Frozen” alarm clock that plays “Let it Go.” Tom laughs when he explains that Aidan will bring her clock into his bedroom when Elsa’s song is being played to help wake him up when his own alarm clock isn’t doing the job of getting them up and out.
GySrgt McRae offered advice to fellow military personnel who have suffered profound injuries while serving: “Don’t dwell on it. When you dwell on what happened that typically comes along with depression and that makes it worse.”