Emotional week for a wounded warrior
TERRY AHNER/TIMES NEWS SPC Robert J. Kislow III is greeted as he arrives Friday morning at the site of his future home at 3011 Delps Road in Danielsville.
First, a newborn child, then a brand new home.
Within a span of two days, SPC Robert Kislow's life has undergone quite the transformation.
On Thursday, Kislow's girlfriend, Amanda Snyder, gave birth to their infant son, Brayden. Then, on Friday, Kislow arrived at 3011 Delps Road in Danielsville, the site of his future home.
As much of a whirlwind as it has been, Kislow, a 2004 graduate of Northampton High School, wouldn't want it any other way.
Escorted to the site by fire trucks and motorcycles for opening ceremonies, Kislow - joined by volunteers, contractors, family and friends - was greeted with a hero's welcome, which he rightfully deserved.
Since yesterday, Homes For Our Troops has been on site to construct the exterior of a specially adapted home to provide Kislow maximum freedom of movement and the ability to live more independently.
Homes For Our Troops, along with a team of volunteers and local contractors, are hoping to finish the exterior of the house by noon on Sunday.
A national non-profit organization founded in 2004, Homes For Our Troops build specifically adapted homes for severely injured veterans.
CAT Country 96 has teamed up with Homes For Our Troops of Bethlehem to build the home for Kislow, who sustained a traumatic brain injury and lost his right leg after an attack in his first deployment to Afghanistan in June of 2005.
Larry Gill, veterans' liaison, Homes For Our Troops, began the program with opening ceremonies.
"This is a great event," Gill said. "We're looking forward to getting started, Rob."
That was followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, along with a prayer by veteran Larry Yeakel.
Gill then thanked each veteran in attendance, which evoked a spirited round of applause. He also thanked Cat Country 96, whom he said has given "tons of support."
Since its inception, Gill said Homes For Our Troops has built over 100 homes nationwide.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Gill said. "It's bittersweet; we regret having to do them."
At that, Mitch Miller and Lee Ann Slattery, of Constructions Specifications Institute, presented Homes For Our Troops with a $1,000 check.
Sergeant Pisey Tan of Philadelphia, himself an injured veteran whom Homes For Our Troops built a specially adapted home for, told Kislow to soak in the moment.
"They did a house for me that I moved into in 2007," Tan said. "It was one of the greatest moments of my life."
Gill said the homes enable severely injured veterans to freely move around their home, a luxury that's often taken for granted.
"It's a new home, but it's way more than that," Gill said. "It allows our folks to get around, give them total accessibility, and renews their sense of independence."
Contractor Mike Kemmerer of Blue Valley Builders of Moore Township, Northampton County, said the home was the least he could do to show his debt of gratitude toward Kislow.
"We wouldn't be here living free if not for you guys," Kemmerer said. "This was just an opportunity for me to give back."
However, Kemmerer acknowledged there's still a ways to go before the home is complete.
"But, it doesn't stop today, tomorrow, or Sunday," Kemmerer said. "Word spreads, and we need more help to get this ready for you as quick as we can."
Next, it was Kislow's turn to pay his respects to everyone who assisted in the endeavor.
"It's exciting; there's a lot going on right now," said Kislow, before he broke down in an emotional moment. "When I came back, my grandparents and my family, they took care of me."
Since then, Kislow said it's been quite the emotional journey.
"I never thought I'd be able to get my normal life back," said Kislow, who resides with his grandparents in East Allen Township. "I'd like to thank my family; if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be as strong as I am."
Kislow, who also credited his unit for their support, said it was his grandmother who kept a business card for Homes For Our Troops that made him aware of the organization.
"I said, this is too good to be true," said Kislow, 25. "It's been a great course we took over the past few months to be where we are now."
At first, Kislow said it was hard for him to accept the home.
"I don't feel like I'm broken," he said. "I have a new life now."
Kislow thanked Blue Valley Builders, as well as Homes For Our Troops.
So enamored by the support he's received, Kislow said it has become his mission to raise over $100,000 over the next two years to assist some other severely injured veteran down the road.
Vocalist Angela Nardini then sang the national anthem, before Kislow and company headed over to the site of the home to raise the first wall.
Before the ceremony, Gill said these particular type of homes cost between $300,000 to $325,000 on average.
Gill said 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.
The home could be ready for Kislow and his family to move into sometime this fall, Gill said.
Kislow was only two months into his first deployment 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.
Presently enrolled in his third year of college, Kislow continues to receive treatments through his local VA Hospital.
An avid outdoorsman who enjoys hunting, fishing, and golf, Kislow is interested in auto racing and repair, and has already completed automotive and business finance courses.
A member of the VFW, Wounded Warriors, and Notre Dame Church, Kislow hopes to one day organize sporting trips for injured veterans.