COCHRAN, Ga. — Sergeant Mark Smith served in Iraq in the U.S. Marine Corps, until his third combat tour in 2016 when he stepped on a land mine and lost his leg.
After rehab and a new prosthetic, he still faces chronic knee and back pain while working as a Georgia State Patrol Trooper.
He's actually the first amputee to go through the Georgia State Patrol Trooper School.
Now, he's been given a gift that comes straight from the heart.
Saturday morning, the Smith family celebrated cutting the ribbon on their new house in Cochran.
It was a donated by the national nonprofit, Homes For Our Troops.
"This is not charity work, what we do is we help the American people repay a debt that we owe these woman and men that have sacrificed so much," says Executive Director Bill Ivey.
Ivey says they seek to rebuild veterans' lives by building them specially adapted homes.
The Smith's house has over 40 special features that are wheel-chair friendly, like widened doorways, lowered countertops, pull down shelving, and a roll in shower.
"It'll help with the functionality of everything. Of everyday life," says Smith
The family got to pick the location they wanted to live. They say they picked Cochran because it was close to family and has good schools.
Smith says he's still in shock. After his wife submitted an application for the group, he never expected a response.
"It was just a huge surprise when they actually called and said "hey we're gonna build you a house", I was just blown away," he says.
At first, the family was even hesitant to put in an application, not wanting to take a spot from someone they felt was worse off.
However, Smith says he struggles daily, and is constantly in pain.
"In our current house I basically have to keep my leg on a trudge through the pain," he says.
His wife Tabitha says its more pain than he'll admit -- "On the outside looking in people forget that these guys can have skin breakdowns, they can get in-grown hair, and they can't walk," she said.
Now that their house makes room for a wheel-chair, Smith can get off of his feet and still move around the house.
"Like I can take my wheelchair and roll right up to the stove and cook and do all those things I like," Mark says.
He can also help out with the kids. Tabitha says before he wasn't able to do things like bathe his kids or put them to bed because he couldn't be on his feet, so this will make a difference for all of them.
"This just gives him the opportunity to be mobile in the home, but to be relaxed in his wheelchair, and not have to miss out on quality time with his kids," she says.
There's also less financial stress, because the home is mortgage-free.
"We can obviously put that money like in college funds for our kids, we can have savings for our kids, not just that but we can give back to our communities," says Tabitha
Alongside their mortgage-free home, the Smith's were also connected to a financial planner, and a peer supporter from the Home For Our Troops staff.
The family is expected to move into their new home next weekend. They say they are excited about cooking in their new kitchen, and Tabitha says she is excited about her new closet.
Homes For Our Troops has built 346 homes in 44 states. 13 have been built in Georgia, with two more soon to come.
Ivey says there are three easy ways for people to show support for the organization:
- Welcome Veterans into their community
- Tell people about the organization
- Donate and fundraise
If you want to donate to the group or you're an injured Afghanistan or Iraq veteran who needs a new home, you can go to the organization's website at hfotusa.org.
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