By Vince Little, The BayonetNovember 1, 2010
Nearly four years after a life-changing helicopter crash in Afghanistan, SFC Scot Noss is finally back home.
On Tuesday, the Soldier from 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and his wife, RyAnne, moved into their new 2,400-square-foot, four-bedroom house in Trussville, Ala., a Birmingham suburb. It came courtesy of Homes for Our Troops, which is planning a special key ceremony at 11 a.m. CST on Veterans Day.
The Massachusetts-based nonprofit group's mission is to build specially adapted homes for service members severely wounded in the war on terrorism. It broke ground in February and organized support from professional tradespeople, countless volunteers, thousands of donations from numerous individuals, and the community of Trussville, according to a news release.
"I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders when we were home last night," Ms. Noss said Wednesday. "It's hard to explain that feeling, but I was just able to breathe again. ... Scot really hasn't been home in three-and-a-half years.
"Yesterday, for the first time in three-and-a-half years, I was able to go to sleep and turn off my phone, because he's in the same house with me and just a room away."
In February 2007, SFC Noss, then 29, was flying in an MH-47 Chinook helicopter when it crashed in the mountains of southern Afghanistan. Eight of the 22 service members on board were killed, but he had the most serious injuries, suffering a traumatic brain injury and several broken bones.
Following a stint at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, he was transferred to the James A. Haley Medical Center in Tampa, Fla., where he remained until his discharge Monday. The only exception was a seven-month stay earlier this year at the Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation in New Jersey, where he received experimental treatment in collaboration with the International Brain Research Foundation.
SFC Noss is still considered minimally conscious, his wife said, but he has maximum freedom of movement in the single-story home, which is fully handicapped-accessible and features an overhead lift system.
"I am so grateful," she said. "We may not have been blessed with the miracle of recovery, but we have been blessed by the community and so many others. People have come together to build a home for a complete stranger and Homes for Our Troops has made that possible."
Ms. Noss said the house in Alabama allows them to be closer to her family in Birmingham and additional networks of support.
Ms. Christina Brooks, a full-time realtor, served as a lead volunteer on the Homes for Our Troops project and donated hundreds of hours, starting in June 2009.
"I felt that Scot, as well as every other service member ... chose to put themselves on the line so that I could continue to be free," she said. "They chose to face the dangers they face. The hundreds of hours is the least I can give back.
"I am ecstatic. ... We counted the days down to get them home. Their family and new extended family can wrap its arms around them and say, 'We're here for you.' Just because this project is over doesn't mean we'll stop."
Ms. Noss completed a Ph.D. in chemical engineering at Auburn University last year but has put her life on hold to look after Scot, helping dress and feed him daily and work with physical therapists on developing his muscle strength and eye control. She hopes that someday he'll be able to respond to questions by moving his eyes.
"You can definitely tell he's more aware," she said. "One thing I am able to do is create a home environment that's safe and healthy so he can continue his improvement. It's such a better quality of life for both of us to be out of the hospital and into a home.
"I always have hope that one day there'll be a new medical treatment available for him, but this also gives me an opportunity to find my new norm in life."