It was a homecoming retired Army Sgt. Anthony Patchell and his family won’t soon forget.
Surrounded by the smiling faces of two dozen Shelby Township neighbors Thursday, Patchell accepted the key to his new home on Heyward and struggled to find words that would express his gratitude to those who made this homecoming possible.
“I could have never imagined the generosity of this,” said Patchell, who was joined by his fiancée Amanda Eckman, and daughters, Molly, Emily and Grace. “This is just a dream home … For someone to help us out with this and provide for my family is – I don’t have words for it – it’s just amazing.”
A 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Patchell was injured by a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq the fall of 2003. Returning to the U.S. in 2004, Patchell continued his military service as a senior drill sergeant and senior instructor at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center in Arizona.
“I didn’t know I had a back problem until I went to physical therapy for my knee, then woke up one morning and couldn’t move,” Patchell said. “The therapist asked, ‘When did you break your back?’ Three months later I was a civilian.”
With five fractured vertebrae, seven ruptured disks and a traumatic brainstem injury, Patchell’s army career came to an end in 2006, as did any hope of ever owning a home.
Then, in October 2012, Patchell’s fiancée decided to take a chance and apply to Military Warriors Support Foundation’s Homes 4 Wounded Heroes program, which awards mortgage-free homes to wounded heroes injured during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Eckman remembers the call came on Dec. 11, 2012. They had been accepted to the program. But when they were unable to find available homes near their hometown of Altoona, PA, the family looked to Michigan, where Eckman’s mother, uncle and brother currently live.
With three of six children, two German Shepherds and four cats in tow, the family made its way to Shelby Township, where new neighbors bearing welcome gifts and promises of future play dates crowded their driveway. A representative of Chase Bank presented the key.
Finally making their way into the foyer of their new home, Eckman summed up her feelings in a single word, “Wow.”
“I’m just in awe,” Patchell added, unable to take his eyes off the floor-to-ceiling windows in his new living room.
In the months ahead, Patchell will undergo several more surgeries, but continue his volunteer work with veterans. He and Eckman currently volunteer as staff members with Family of a Vet, a national nonprofit that works with families and veterans suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brainstem Injuries (TBI).
He also hopes to offer his training expertise as an NRA-certified instructor and certified gunsmith to the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office. And in July, he and Eckman are getting married.
“We have a home, but now we have a community,” Eckman said. “It’s a dream come true.”