An expression of gratitude for the service and sacrifice
TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS Timothy Wenrich, 7, of Saylorsburg, Katlyn Unangst, 8, Erin Unangst, 12, Kristen Unangst, 19, Heather Unangst and Allison Unangst, 4, all of Bath, display the signs they created to congratulate Army SPC Robert Kislow.
Some people really know how to arrive to their new digs in style.
A shiny gray Corvette pulled into the driveway, and out walked two stars: one a professional racing legend, and the other a hero the likes of which we may never see again.
Escorted by professional racing legend Mario Andretti, Army SPC Robert Kislow arrived at the site of his new home at 3001 Delps Road in Danielsville on Saturday to take part in a Key Ceremony.
Accompanied by his fiance, Amanda Snyder, and their infant son, Brayden Hunter Kislow, Robert was presented with the keys to his new home compliments of Homes for Our Troops, a national nonprofit organization that builds specially-adapted homes for severely injured veterans.
Kislow's home, located on about two acres of land, consists of three bedrooms and a bonus room, each of which include about 2,600-square feet of space.
Larry Gill, veterans' liaison, Homes for Our Troops, began the program with opening ceremonies.
Vocalist Angela Nardini sang the national anthem.
Gill thanked the veterans in attendance, and asked them to stand and be recognized, for which they received a hearty applause.
"My sons and I have grown up in a free country because of you and your efforts," said Gill, who added that over 100 homes have been completed nationwide since the organization formed in 2004. "We've got a lot of work to do. Keep up the good work."
Gill read a letter sent from John Gonsalves, founder and president of Homes for Our Troops, who congratulated Kislow and his family on their new home.
A veteran with 22 years in the Army, Gill praised the country in which we live.
"Every country in the world has people that want to line up and live here," he said. "Even at our absolute worst, we are still better than any other country."
Afterward, members of the Warriors Watch Riders, Patriot Guard Riders, and American Legion Riders, as well as the army, presented Kislow with a flag of our country, pins, and a rock.
State Rep. Marcia Hahn (R-138) told Homes for Our Troops that it's "wonderful what you do for the veterans."
"Welcome Rob," Hahn said. "Welcome home, happy holidays, and thank you for everything that you've done."
U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Lehigh Valley, said the occasion was a "wonderful opportunity and extraordinary event."
"Thank you for your service and your sacrifice," Dent said. "We'll never have the proper words to express our eternal gratitude for what you've done."
Kislow's aunt said it was difficult to put into words what the home truly means to Robert and his family.
Andretti said "what you see here today is a shining example of how wonderful the human spirit can be."
Gary Birks, local government specialist for state Sen. Pat Browne (R-16), said he was glad to be a part of the special event.
"Sen. Browne thinks everyone who puts on the uniform is a hero," Burks said. "I can't tell you how in awe I am of him (Kislow)."
Contractor Mike Kemmerer of Blue Valley Builders of Moore Township, Northampton County, said the home was special to him on many fronts.
"I really got more out of this project than I gave; it was just a great thing to do," Kemmerer said. "What's best about it is I got to help a local veteran; he was hurt so that I could enjoy the freedom I do."
It was then Kislow's turn to speak.
An 82nd Airborne Division veteran and a 2004 graduate of Northampton High School, Kislow remarked "this is amazing. I've never seen anything like this.
"I'm glad to be a part of this, and to be the acceptor," said Kislow, 25. "There are no words to describe what this means to my family."
Kislow added "this is an amazing thing, and I'm not going to let it end."
"There's lots of fundraising to be done, because there are a lot more guys who need a home," he said. "Don't let this be the last one in Pennsylvania. It's all about paying it forward."
Kislow, who wears a prosthetic leg, was clearly taken aback by the overwhelming support he and his family received.
"I'd like to thank my family, and everyone who helped," he said. "I don't feel like I deserve it."
That remark generated a resounding "Yes you do" chant from the audience.
Gill told Kislow he is the true embodiment of what makes our country special.
"Rob is the epitome of what we stand for," Gill said. "You don't quit, you get up and keep going."
At long last, Gill then presented Kislow with the keys to his home.
After a ribbon-cutting ceremony, Kislow and his family were finally able to enter their home.
A walk-through of the home was then open to the public. Refreshments were served.
Kislow was only two months into his first deployment in June of 2005 when he was shot five times, which caused Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and required the amputation of his right leg.
While on combat patrols in Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, Kislow's team was on a mission to search out aggressive Taliban forces in the mountainous area when they were attacked by a large group of Taliban fighters.
Kislow's bulletproof vest may very well have saved his life, as the two shots that hit it did no damage. However, his Kevlar helmet was punctured by a bullet, which left him with TBI.
Kislow had taken over the forward marksman position for a wounded teammate when he was hit. He continued fighting until a medic arrived and carried him to the top of the mountain, where he was airlifted to the nearest Forward Operating Base.
Later airlifted to Landstuhl, Germany and finally to Walter Reed, Kislow spent 29 months enduring surgeries and therapies as he was recuperating.
Construction on the home began in July with a three-day Build Brigade during which volunteers finished the frame, siding, and roof, and installed windows and doors.
The new specially-adapted home, which goes beyond ADA compliance, features open floor plans, automatic door openers, hard-surfaced floors, roll-in showers, roll-under cooktops, sinks and other features.
Founded by Gonsalves in 2004, Homes for Our Troops is a national nonprofit 501(c) 3 organization based in Taunton, Mass.
Its mission is to build specially-adapted homes for service members who have been severely injured in combat operations since Sept. 11, 2001.
All homes are built at no cost to the veteran through the generous support of individuals, foundations, and corporate contributors. Homes for Our Troops has received a Four Star Rating from Charity Navigator.
For more information, visit www.homesforourtroops.org.