U.S. Army Sgt. (Ret.) Eric Hunter and his family have moved into their new home near Fayetteville, built by the Gary Sinise Foundation R.I.S.E. (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment) program. Eric endured 61 surgeries following damage done by an IED (improvised explosive device) while deployed in Afghanistan in 2012.

“We’re finally home,” Eric said, sitting on the couch in the family’s living room following the home’s dedication on Aug. 1. “This is where our kids will grow up.”

It was minutes earlier that 300 people attended the Gary Sinise Foundation R.I.S.E. program’s dedication of the new home, where the Hunter family was honored and the dozens of local and national companies participated in the planning, construction and outfitting of the 3,500 sq. ft. specially-adapted smart home south of Fayetteville were recognized.

Sinise Foundation staff said Eric never really found a sense of purpose until he joined the military at the age of 22. He first deployed to Iraq in 2010. While there, he connected on the internet with a girl from his hometown named Kenna, and the two became close throughout his deployment. A few months after Eric’s return, on June 1, 2011, Eric and Kenna got married and she and her two children came to live with him at Fort Campbell, Ky.

Eric’s second deployment in April 2012 took him to Southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan. On May 31, 2012, the day before Eric and Kenna’s one year wedding anniversary, while on a dismounted patrol with his unit, Eric stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). The bomb took his right leg and shattered his left, along with many other injuries. Eric was flown to three different hospitals before arriving at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where Kenna came to be by his side.

Eric spent four years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center where he underwent 61 surgeries with more possible surgeries in the future. Eric feels significant pain daily as a result of his injuries. In December of 2016, Eric and Kenna welcomed a new baby girl, Adley, making them a family of five that includes 13-year-old Kensley and 11-year-old Jayce, according to foundation staff.

The family spent the past two years living in a non-handicap accessible rental in Marietta. Since Eric cannot use his wheelchair in his home, he has had to cope with significant pain while moving room to room. The Gary Sinise Foundation is honored to provide the Hunters a specially-adapted smart home to further enable this soldier and his family to move forward with their new life together, Sinise Foundation staff said.

Noting the daily challenges experienced by Eric and many others, Sinise Foundation representative Chris Kuban said, “The simple tasks of everyday life, climbing stairs, reaching a high shelf, getting in and out of the bathroom, are easy to take for granted. Because they’re done without a second thought, it’s impossible to imagine an inability to perform them. But that’s often the reality for our severely wounded heroes, where basic tasks are impossible obstacles and the enduring ambition of rehabilitation is to achieve a semblance of normalcy. Through its R.I.S.E. program, the Gary Sinise Foundation is building specially-adapted smart homes for our nation’s most severely wounded veterans and first responders. We are constructing these one-of-a-kind homes all across the country for a wounded hero, their caregivers and their families. With a place to truly call home they will now be able to move forward with their lives.”

Eric and wife Kenna agreed, personally thanking the contractors and participating companies represented in the large audience at the dedication.

Eric spoke of the hard work and caring that went into bringing the house project to fruition.

“A lot of hard work and dedication went into this,” Eric said. “To everyone who has had a hand in this, we’re so thankful. It’s a huge day for our family, for our kids. And to Fayette (County), we’re so proud to be a part of the community.

“When we started, we didn’t know what to expect,” Kenna said to the assembled audience. “No words can express our gratitude. We’ve been blessed with the most dedicated, hard-working people. This is more than just a roof over our head. This home is Eric’s freedom and independence and our family’s safe haven.”

Jayce also spoke to the audience during the dedication.

“He never gave up,” Jayce said of his dad. “And that made us proud of him.”

Eric and Kenna had their choice of cities and states in which to live. Though they had lived in Marietta, the couple investigated many areas around metro Atlanta, until the drove through Fayetteville on Ga. Highway 85. As they drove south in the Porter Road area, the couple said they knew they were in the place they wanted to call home. The choice puts them within driving distance to relatives and close to the acting community, Eric said.

“We loved Fayetteville,” they said.

Having moved four times in recent years, Kenna and Eric said they now have a place where they can settle down, a place where the kids will not have to change school districts again.

The many features of the smart home are accessed by an iPad. And beyond the technological enhancements found in the home such as lights, heating and cooling and blinds that can be controlled with the iPad, the home also features an adapted shower, drop-down cabinets, extra-wide doorways and no stairs to negotiate.

For the R.I.S.E., the new residence near Fayetteville is the organization’s 50th specially-adapted home.

It was during the home’s dedication that so many of the speakers thanked the hundreds of local community members and the thousands across the country whose participation led to the completed project. A sampling of the donor companies included the Marcus Foundation, The Home Depot Foundation Semper Fi Fund and Hope For The Warriors, as well as building partners, including Shubert Design Furniture, Nortek Security & Control, Owens Corning, National Wood Flooring Association, National Tile Contractors Association, GE, Sunbelt Rentals, Benjamin Moore, National Association of Home Builders, Kay Fulp, North American Moving Services, MAPEI, Broan-NuTone, American Airlines, Crossville Tile, Natural Stone Institute, Eaton, Huber Engineered Woods, Haines, Mullican Hardwood Floors, Brent Scarbrough & Company, Dentons US LLP, JCPenney, and Hamlin Homes.

The Gary Sinise Foundation honors America’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need. Through its R.I.S.E. program, specially-adapted smart homes are being constructed for severely wounded veterans and first responders nationwide. Each one-of-a-kind home is customized to ease the everyday burdens of a wounded hero, their family and caregivers. Other programs include Relief & Resiliency Outreach, Invincible Spirit Festivals, Gary Sinise & the Lt. Dan Band, Arts & Entertainment Outreach, Serving Heroes, First Responders Outreach and Soaring Valor. Its latest program, Snowball Express, serves the children of our fallen military heroes, surviving spouses and Gold Star families. For more information visit GarySiniseFoundation.org