With a smile so positive, so optimistic, it's hard to believe that 25-year-old Army SPC Reas Axtell faces a life of challenges that most of us will never know - challenges he never imagined.
"My first reaction was uh, it couldn't have been him," Reas' brother-in-law Shiloh Boling said.
On the evening of August 28, 2007 a rocket was lobbed into the U.S. Military base in Kirkuk. It landed four feet behind Reas. One of his friends was killed in the attack, several others were hurt and Reas was severely injured.
On the emergency flight from Iraq to Germany his heart stopped twice. It stopped again on the way to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. "It was horrible because, I mean, when somebody is that close to you it's hard to deal with. It was tough," said Shiloh.
But with a supportive family, a loving wife and four young-children, Reas would show that he was the tough one. Just three months after the attack, with cheers pushing him up, Reas climbed a rock wall.
It may not seem such amazing feat for a strong soldier who had trekked across the Iraqi desert, but Reas had defied the odds. "When he woke up at the hospital and stuff he joked with the nurse. He said, 'Hey nurse I need you to do your job so I can get out of here and do stuff'," said Shiloh.
"The doctors told him that when he first got hurt that it would take at least four to six months before you're even outpatient. He got hurt on August 28 and was out by the end of October," Reas' sister-in-law Sheena Boling said.
You see, while the attack didn't destroy his spirit, it severely shattered the bones in both of his legs like broken glass. In order to save Reas' life, doctors had no choice but to perform a double hip disarticulation.
"When the kids went to see their dad right after when he was back here. He's laying there (in the hospital) and obviously he doesn't have his legs. One of the little girls notices and she says, 'Daddy, where are your legs?' He just smiles and says, 'Honey I left them at work'," said Ron Webb who is hosting a benefit raffle for Reas.
At the end of the month, Reas will be released from the Army. While he continues to surprise his doctors, Reas still faces many challenges - like moving home to Idalou. That's where Homes for Our Troops comes in. It's a support group that builds accessible homes for injured veterans.
"Many of these guys are young, and they haven't really started life and they don't have a lot, but they have families at home, they have special needs. (The homes are modest and specially designed) you know a shower that he can roll a wheelchair into. Just the simple things that we don't think about. Just being able to walk through a hallway or doors that have to be a certain width," Ron said.
Started by a Massachusetts builder, the national non-profit organization has built dozens of homes for severely injured soldiers. Reas' will be the first of its kind on the South Plains.
"By getting involved with this project what you're doing is validating everybody that's been a veteran that's served our country faithfully before Reas and up to now and who will serve our country in the future and recognizing the sacrifices that these young men and women do for our country every day," Ron said.
All services provided by Homes for Our Troops are at no cost to the veterans, and that's where the community comes in. From labor and lumber to paint and time, to even picking up trash, everything is donated, and of course cash donations are greatly appreciated.
The first fundraiser for the house is this Sunday. And it's a pretty neat raffle - especially if you're a sports fan.
Some of the raffle items include:
The raffle will be held this Sunday at the Starbucks near the Marsha Sharp Freeway and Milwaukee at 2pm.
For more information contact Ron Webb at 806-559-8898.
You can also donate by calling 1-866-7-TROOPS to make a donation by phone.
Every penny donated goes to build a home for Reas and his family.
Click here to learn more about the Homes For Our Troops fundraiser for the Axtell family or to make an online donation.
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