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A helping hand for a hero
Homes for Our Troops hands staff sergeant keys to house
WEB 0314 Homes for troops
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Scott Millican receives a steady stream of house-warming well-wishers, including First Sgt. David Kaiser, left, whom Millican served under at Fort Stewart. Millican was the latest severely injured soldier to receive a specially adapted home from the Homes for Our Troops organization. - photo by Scott Bryant/Statesboro Herald

A motorcade of flag-bearing motorcycles and sheriff’s patrol cars escorted Army Staff Sgt. Scott Millican on Saturday to the new house built for him by Homes for Our Troops.

At the end of a lane in the rural outskirts of Statesboro, a couple hundred people gathered for a housewarming event, including Statesboro Mayor Joe Brannen; Capt. Brian Stewart, who is Millican’s company commander in Fort Stewart’s Warrior Transition Unit; U.S. Rep. John Barrow; Fort Stewart’s color guard and more of those flag-flying motorcyclists known as the Patriot Guard Riders.

Called a “key ceremony,” it’s the sort of welcome that Homes for Our Troops — a national, charitable nonprofit — likes to give wounded warriors who become owners of the homes at no cost. Millican’s is the 109th house the organization has built. The home has features designed for a wheelchair user, such as wide doors, roll-under cooktops, pull-down cabinets and a spacious roll-in shower.

“When you see this house, you’ll understand what this does…,” Millican told the crowd, his voice breaking with emotion as he thanked everyone for attending.

He waited while other soldiers and civilian dignitaries talked about Homes for Our Troops and thanked him for his sacrifice before he was handed the keys. Millican invited the crowd inside to enjoy his home.

“When somebody does something like this for you, you don’t even understand how it affects you,” Millican said. “This makes it a lot easier for me to be in a home.”

He explained that his wheelchair has knocked the varnish off furniture and scraped the facings of the standard-width doors in his parents’ house nearby.

Millican, 46, has served 15 years in the Army and National Guard. He served first as an Army medic from 1987-1996. Then, while the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq still were hot with combat, he re-entered the service with the Georgia National Guard’s 810th Engineers in January 2007.

By 2010, Millican was in his second deployment as a combat engineer. Two years ago this week, while on a mission to clear a route of improvised explosive devices, he became the victim of one. The mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle he was riding in rolled over a pressure plate that set off a 250-pound bomb in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on March 16, 2010, according to the account shared by Millican and Homes for Our Troops.

Other soldiers in the vehicle were less seriously injured and recovered to walk again. But the IED went off directly under Millican’s seat. After being airlifted back to the States, he spent 11 months in a Tampa, Fla., veterans’ hospital and then returned to Fort Stewart for continued physical therapy. He has regained movement in his legs, but is left with spinal cord bruising and muscle atrophy, he said.

“The doctors originally told me that I would never walk again and I was really lucky that I lived, is what they basically said. I was blessed. It wasn’t my time,” he said.

Two years after the blast, Millican still is considered an active-duty soldier. But he is a special unit for transitioning wounded warriors, and undergoing a medical review process to determine his retirement status. With hope for walking again, he wants to pursue further therapy through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Homes for Our Troops worked with local general contractor Jamey Cartee of St. Andrews Builders to build the home. Millican’s parents, Charles and Carolyn Millican, provided land on their property. Scott Millican is divorced and his two children live in another state. But they visit, and one may come to live with him, he said.

Homes for Our Troops uses the VA’s application process to determine which wounded soldiers qualify for a home. The grants are applied to the costs, and Homes for Our Troops pays the remainder with money from donations and corporate sponsors.

Former Army Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Preston took part in the ceremony, less than a month into his new role as president of Homes for Our Troops. The Massachusetts-based organization was founded by its previous president, John Gonsalves, in 2004, and since has built homes for wounded veterans in at least 35 states.

As Army sergeant major from January 2004 until February 2010, Preston was the Army’s most senior enlisted person, and the 13th to hold the rank since it was created in 1966.

He said he has seen many severely wounded soldiers, both during his previous service as the senior sergeant major in Iraq in 2003 and in those returning home since then.

“Now transitioning out of the military, it is those young men and women that I worry about, particularly those that are the most severely wounded — what are their opportunities for future employment, to actually get out and compete with the civilian workforce,” Preston said in an interview. “They’re the ones, to my mind, that need the most help.”

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