Hockenberry gets keys to smart home

NEWPORT TWP. – After years of fundraising and construction, Army Cpl. Kyle Hockenberry entered through the front door of his customized smart home Wednesday, with plenty of cheering, flag-waving and support from the crowd outside.

Hockenberry, a 2010 graduate of Frontier High School, lost both legs and his left arm in 2011 from an improvised explosive devise while on patrol in Afghanistan. An effort started soon after to build the veteran a home to accommodate his injuries back in the community where he grew up.

Wednesday, in front of dozens of family, media and friends, Hockenberry and his wife, Ashley, were presented the keys to his now-completed sprawling country home along Bells Run Road in Newport Township.

The two arrived with the escort of a full patriot guard as a helicopter carrying the American flag flew overhead.

“It means so much to us to have all this support,” Hockenberry said. “When I left for Afghanistan, I, of course, had no idea this would happen, but when I got home I never expected all this from everyone.”

The completed 6,600-square-foot home became a reality once $375,000 came in from a variety of donors after an August 2012 benefit concert at Marietta College.

The smart house was built by the Building for America’s Bravest program that helps wounded veterans and service members build accessible housing.

Building for America’s Bravest is a partner program of the Gary Sinise Foundation, which creates programming to honor defenders, veterans and families, and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, established after the 9-11 attacks to help veterans, service men and women and first responders build homes.

“It was with our utmost appreciation of his sacrifices and those of his family that we are able to turn this place over to Kyle today,” said Judy Otter, executive director of the Gary Sinise Foundation.

The smart home includes an open concept with cabinets, cook tops and counters that can be mechanically lowered and state-of-the-art shower and bathroom spaces that are completely controlled by an iPad, along with an elevator to take Hockenberry from the main part of the house to his own “man cave,” complete with camouflage furniture and a big screen TV.

“We shopped for three hours picking all this out, the bedding, towels, cookware, place mats, plates and cups,” Ashley said. “They let us pick whatever we wanted.”

And as an avid hunter, the camouflage furniture was Kyle’s idea.

“When this place started looking like a house finally, we had something to look forward to,” he said. “It was worth the wait.”

A large combination of merchants and donors, from local entities like Marietta Rotary and Knights of Columbus to Jim Shubert of Shubert Design in Missouri – who has completely furnished every home the Gary Sinise Foundation has built for veterans – helped make the house a home.

“A lot of people in this country will wave a flag, but many don’t actually do anything,” Shubert said. “But this community stepped up.”

John Hodge, director of operations for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, said he hopes this home, though it cannot completely make up for what the Hockenberrys have lost, can provide a good pathway for Kyle’s future.

“This house will allow Kyle to live his dreams, and will restore his independence as well as his wife’s,” Hodge said.

Hodge referenced Hockenberry’s tattoo, which is written down his rib cage, that reads, “For those I love I will sacrifice.”

“By our actions today, Kyle, we say, ‘For those who sacrifice, we love you,'” Hodge said.

The Hockenberrys were presented the keys and the controlling iPad, with plans to be completely moved in soon.

“We hope to be able to just relax and enjoy this place, maybe even have a barbecue with family some time,” Hockenberry said.

Hockenberry said though he is grateful to have such a responsive community to support him, he urged fellow veterans to keep their heads up.

“You just cannot give up,” he said. “It’s frustrating, but you can push through it.”