Wounded Springhill Veteran Closer to Home

15 September 2006

By John Andrew Prime


SPRINGHILL — Children Alex and Allison perched on his lap, Kyle Burleson whispered commands into his voice-activated wheelchair and sped through yellow tape — and probably a lot of red tape, too — and moved closer to having a home of his own today.

It was a little more than two years ago when Burleson’s world changed forever. A terrorist sniper’s bullet tore through his neck while he manned a top gun on a Humvee on patrol in Baghdad. The specialist, then just 21, was paralyzed from the neck down.

Today, Burleson had a bit of a cold and was more subdued and quiet than usual, especially in a crush of friends, relatives, media and representatives of groups from throughout the nation that help wounded veterans.

But his words were words of wonder and awe.

“It’s really BIG,” he said of the house to which he and his wife, Kristi,
received the keys. The ceremony featured a high school band, a singer rendering “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the presentation of a $10,000 check from the group American War Heroes and the reading of a letter to Burleson from Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker.

“It’s big,” his wife, Kristi, agreed. She, too, was a little awed by the occasion even though they won’t face the toil of a move into the house quite yet. “I’m looking forward to moving in, but they say it will be late October. There’s a few things that need to be done — a generator, flooring, lighting. But they’ve got the main construction done.”

She said Alex, their son, isn’t too worried, but daughter Allison is at the age to ask questions. “My little girl says ‘Where’s my room?'” Kristi said.

Three Humvees and a group of soldiers from the Shreveport-based 2/108th Cavalry Squadron took part in the ceremony. The yellow ribbon was suspended from two of the vehicles. Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Giles led the pledge of allegiance.

The sight of soldiers in uniform was hard for Kristi Burleson to bear. “I hope everybody who has to go back comes back safe. I hope nothing like (what happened to Kyle) happens to them.” But, she said, “it’s hard not to be proud of (those) that serve.”

A little more than a year ago, after much work and cajoling by the Massachusetts-based Homes for Our Troops and local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5951, ground was broken for the state-of-the-art, 3,000-square-foot, $300,000 house for the Burlesons.

The house is built of ECO-Block insulated concrete and can withstand 200-mph winds. It also has special features to accommodate Burleson’s needs.

Burleson, a specialist with the 1st Cavalry Division, was shot by a sniper during a firefight in the Sadr City section of Baghdad, Iraq, on Aug. 18, 2004. The bullet struck his left cheek and traversed his neck, shattering vertebrae and nerves. He’s undergone surgery to fix an old sports injury so he could join the Army; his wounds in that Army’s service forced his medical discharge.

Command Sgt. Maj. Kelly Craig, the top enlisted member of the Shreveport-based 2/108th Cavalry Squadron, said it was heartening for soldiers to see the community’s outpouring of love and support for Burleson.

“If a soldier sees this, it’s like a great medevac,” he said, referring to the life-saving evacuation a soldier gets from a place of danger. “This is incredible, awesome. What Ken Koval and the guys from the VFW have done is incredible.”

The event drew some visitors from thousands of miles away. Ed and Judie Huss traveled from the suburbs of Chicago to attend.

Ed Huss was a Vietnam War veteran who served in the 1st Cavalry, the division to which Burleson belonged. He learned of Burleson’s needs after contacting Fort Hood, at his wife’s suggestion, to find out some good they could do with surplus money their veterans’ organization had raised. Later, the couple organized a golf fundraiser to help Kyle.

Likewise, Dan Goodell of Colorado-based American War Heroes showed up today to present the Burlesons with a check for $10,000. “We try to give back any way we can.”

Janet Brady, a Gold Star Mother from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, also attended. She’s a founder of the organization Adopt a Soldier Now. Kyle and Kristi were their first adoptees.

Brady said the soldiers in her son’s unit were like family, and that’s how it is with Kyle and his wife. “That’s what this is all about. Kyle’s like a son to me.”

Brady and Rosanne Swacker, one of her partners in Adopt a Soldier Now, have worked for more than a year with Koval, builder Bob Simpson, Kyle’s uncle Wayne “Fig” Newton and contractor Ken Williams to make the house a reality. It is real now and just awaits the final touches.

Kristi Burleson said one nice thing about the new house is it will allow her husband to be more places where things are happening with her, their children, his mom and other relatives. Hallways are wide, doorways can accommodate his wheelchair and the kitchen and bathroom are gargantuan.

“He’s looking forward to getting up and being part of everyday family things.”

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