It’s a hot, recent morning in Maysville as a crowd gathers beneath the shade of a large tent. Folks from near and far have come to honor retired Cpl. Sean Adams, a Hall County Marine who lost both legs and suffered other injuries following an IED explosion five years ago in Afghanistan.
On stage, speakers discuss the contributions Adams has made in service to his country. Behind them, a massive American flag flaps in the breeze, shielding from view what will soon be revealed: Adams’ brand-new, custom-built home.
Each speaker discusses Adams’ selfless courage while expounding with great emotion and seemingly endless adjectives about what it means to serve one’s country. There is extensive applause following every speech.
And then, there is a silent moment that cuts through the ceremony’s formality — of checked emotion, firm handshakes and proper smiles — like a finely honed blade.
Lance Cpl. Mark Rhyne — one of several Marines who on Feb. 10, 2012, dragged Adams, bloodied and nearly killed, from the battlefield — approaches the stage for a handshake. The crowd falls silent, watching as the two Marines suddenly hug, choking back tears. The last time they’d seen each other was the day of Adams’ life-changing injury.
The embrace was five years in the making, and it happened on May 19 — one of the biggest days of Adams’ life.
The Gary Sinise Foundation held the dedication ceremony on the front lawn of Adams’ sprawling, new adapted smart home in Maysville, which is about 60 miles northeast of Atlanta. Adams plans to move in soon with girlfriend Callie Baize and her daughter, 3-year-old Paisley.
Nationwide, the Gary Sinise Foundation’s R.I.S.E. program (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment) honors America’s severely wounded defenders, veterans, first responders and their families by building them specially adapted smart homes. Sinise is an Academy Award-nominated actor known for his work in movies (“Forrest Gump”) and TV (“CSI: NY”), as well as a musician.
Adams’ home was the foundation’s 34th completed house.
During the dedication ceremony, Gary Sinise Foundation Executive Director Judith Otter read a letter from Sinise (who could not attend the event) addressed to Adams: “We are thrilled to see you here about to begin this brand-new chapter in your life … it is our hope that this new, custom-designed smart home … will act as a daily offering and reminder of our thanks. … Thank you for serving our country.”
The home and property were designed and built with Adams’ specific interests in mind: He wanted a muscle car garage, so he could work on his 1970 Chevelle; he wanted enough property so that he could share some of his passions such as hunting and farming with fellow military men and women, as well as others with physical disabilities.
Most of all, though, he wanted a home where he could actually feel at home — “a place of healing,” he called it — undeterred by the many obstacles one faces when living in a residence not built for someone with disabilities.
“I think the accessibility component is the best,” Adams said. “With the technology of this house, it will help me with the daily routines. When I get up in the morning, I don’t have to take an hour and a half just to get a shower and put clothes on. That’s the biggest thing.”
Cedric King of Duluth, who attended the May 19 ceremony, knows all too well Adams’ struggles. The Gary Sinise Foundation built him an adapted smart home back in 2016, and it has since changed his life.
“Now, when I come home, I’ve got a chance to really be at home,” said King, a U.S. Army master sergeant who also lost his legs in 2012 while serving in Afghanistan. “Before we moved into our smart home, it wasn’t easy for me to come home and rest. With a house like this, you can truly relax.”
Chris Kuban, a spokesman for the Gary Sinise Foundation, said many individuals take for granted the simplicity of daily activities like brushing their teeth or getting out of bed.
For individuals like Adams and King, these tasks aren’t so simple in a home not designed for their needs.
Adams’ home will be controlled with an iPad. He can push a button on the device and lights come on or window blinds open and close.
“There’s a lot of technology built into this house to give (Adams) back those few seconds or minutes per day that we all take for granted,” Kuban said.
Following the ceremony, Adams got to show off some of the technology inside his new residence during a brief tour through his home. He led a small group of media through his adapted smart home, demonstrating different gadgets.
In addition to the home’s technologically advanced functions that help him, much of the living space is simply designed so that he can move about easily in his wheelchair and be able to reach and access everything inside, such as ovens, microwaves, a tub, shower and sinks that might otherwise pose a problem for him in a conventional abode.
It feels like home already, he said, while sitting on a plush couch in his living room before a large hearth and fireplace.
“It gives you the feeling that the American dream is still achievable,” Adams said. “At times, I feel I’m not deserving of this home because I’ve watched so many other men and women go through much more than I have …”
Added Adams: “You guys want to call me a hero, but the gentlemen right over there are the heroes.”
He gestured toward several servicemen in attendance, including Rhyne, who helped keep him alive on the battlefield following the injury.
Seeing these men, Adams said, was “a touching, healing moment.”
Adams hopes to use his new adapted smart home to inspire fellow servicemen and others.
“(Being here), it’s a feeling of relief,” Adams said. “It’s the next chapter in life. I can finally shut the door on all the hardship, and I hope I can bring more guys here and say, ‘Hey, look, it’s not over. You’ve got to give faith time. And you’ve got to keep faith yourself.’”
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