By Sara Belsole
FORTSON, GA - SFC Michael Schlitz personally bulldozed the first tree on the lot where his future home will be built.
The only catch, he did it without his arms.
Schlitz lost both arms and 85% of his skin in a IED explosion in Iraq in 2007. But today, 81 surgeries later, Schlitz is preparing to move into his first ever smart home in Fortson, Georgia.
"It's very humbling, what can I say, I am very grateful," Schlitz says.
Schlitz's new 3,000 square foot dream home became a reality thanks to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Tower Foundation. The foundation is named for the off-duty New York City firefighter who ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and into the World Trade Center on September 11th. He was killed when the towers collapsed.
The foundation has since teamed up with Building for America's Bravest to build smart homes for soldiers wounded in the War on Terror, like Schlitz.
"We build a lot of these and he is definitely more deserving than most. He just has the most wonderful spirit about him," John Hodge, Director of Operations for Tunnel to Towers, says."
After the foundations built a home for one wounded warrior in New York, it was actor Gary Sinise that encouraged the organizations to touch more lives. Sinise played double amputee Lt. Dan in the film Forrest Gump.
"Gary took that role to learn more about disabled veterans and to get involved," Terrence Tierney, Managing Director for Building for America's Bravest, says..
Schlitz's new home will be customized to his needs, especially when it comes to his sensitive skin. It will have a special air conditioner to keep the home about 10 degrees cooler than normal, and the home will be well protected from direct sunlight.
And everything will operate off Schlitz's iPad.
"That's lights, entertainment systems, automative door systems, anything that helps him get around the house and in and out of the house easier," Tierney says.
There will also be a separate living space for Schlitz's caregiver, his mom.
"She is with me 24/7 and she needs to have her own space that she can call home too," Schlitz says.
But Schlitz's favorite part of the house? It's location. "It's a great community, they've done a lot to clean it up over the past 10 years. It's close to Fort Benning so there's the veterans community," he says.
Schlitz's home is the 7th home the foundations have built. They have another 14 on the to do-list this year and want to build 60 by the 15th anniversary of September 11th.
"I hope to be able to speak for them some more, get out to their fundraising events so we can keep pushing this on for the next soldier, the next marine, the next airman," Schlitz says.
Schlitz's home is expected to be finished this July.
The foundations still need to raise $300,000 for Schlitz's home. You can donate online at www.TunneltoTowers.org, www.GarySiniseFoundation.org, or www.BuildingforAmericasBravest.org.
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