ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- A 31-year-old wounded warrior on the First Coast is getting a new lease on life. A brand new home is being built right now for Marine Gunnery Sergeant John Hayes who lost his legs while fighting our freedom, but his battle isn't quite over yet.
The noise at the construction site along Honey Branch Lane in St. Augustine is music to the ears of Marine Gunnery Sergeant Hayes and his 11-year-old daughter.
He says, "There are no words to really describe what someone giving you a house -- you know -- what that feels like. It's overwhelming. It's definitely amazing. It's definitely awe-inspiring when you have a community that comes together to build me a house and a lot of these people have never met me before. They don't know me, but they're inspired by my service and my sacrifice. It's means all the world."
Hayes of Orange Park was taking part in his 4th deployment on December 28, 2010 during a routine mission. As he was retracing his steps to help his partner, who'd discovered an undetonated explosive, Hayes stepped on an IED that was buried in the sand in Afghanistan.
The force of the blast took his legs and left him facing 60 grueling surgeries so far. But all he's ever wanted to do is serve his country and support his wife and three young daughters ages, 11, 7, and 4.
Now thanks to Homes For Our Troops and countless volunteers and donors, it's a reality. A new specially adapted home is being built for the family right now that they will own. For years, the family has rented but now, they'll have something of their own.
Not only that, Hayes and his family will have some good company because Marine Corporal Tyler Southern from Mandarin already lives right next door. Marine Corporal Southern was also injured when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan two years ago. He lost his legs and his right arm.
Homes For Our Troops also built Southern's home.
Hayes says, "It's going to be great because we're going to be able to lean on each other and help each other out as we continue to grow and kind of refigure out what life is going to be like in this rehab situation."
First Coast News almost didn't get a chance to interview Hayes Monday afternoon because he's been so busy trying to get his daughters enrolled in St. Johns County schools.
He says they were turned away since the family isn't currently living in the county. Hayes says his daughters have had to change schools 4 times in one year so that he could seek treatment for his injuries and go through physical therapy. The family has lived in Okinawa, Japan, Maryland, Fleming Island and Orange Park.
Hayes says he understands the rules, but wishes someone would give his children a break because they've been through so much lately.
The family hopes to move into their new home by the end of the year.
Click here if you'd like to donate or volunteer for Homes For Our Troops. The nonprofit organization provides new specially adapted homes for severely injured veterans at no cost to service members. Jennifer Reed, a spokesperson for the organization, says it is able to do so thanks to skilled volunteers, corporate and private donations as well as fundraising efforts.
Tammie Fields, First Coast News