AUSTIN — As retired Staff Sgt. Ryan Kelly stood before the crowd of people in the driveway of his newly remodeled home, he recalled an Army cadence.
It says old soldiers never die; they just fade away, he said, standing at the podium using the prosthesis he received after his right leg was blown off in Iraq more than 10 years ago.
“I tried to fade away,” Kelly said. “I tried to redefine who I’d be, not by my injury and history.”
But the nonprofit Helping a Hero and the insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield wanted to ensure Kelly knew his sacrifice was never forgotten. On Thursday, the organizations presented him with a complete remodel of his Austin home to better suit his needs.
“It’s overwhelming. Thank you for this tremendous show of support,” said Kelly, a former civil affairs reserve soldier who was attached to the 3rd Cavalry Regiment when his injury occurred in April 2003. It was his second time attached to the regiment, having first served with the Brave Rifles in Bosnia in 2000.
“Once you are a trooper of the regiment, you’re always a trooper,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. Harvey Reed, who attended the event alongside current members of the regiment.
Reed presented Kelly and his wife, Helena, with a wall decoration featuring many of the combat operations conducted by the regiment to hang in his renovated home.
As Kelly took people on a tour of the renovations, he made a point to highlight changes to the bathroom. For the past 10 years, Kelly said he’s had to shower sitting down. The remodel added a ledge at the exact height of Kelly’s amputation to provide him support to stand up.
“This has become the absolute perfect place for my wife and I,” Kelly said while showing off his new bathroom to Bert Marshall, president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas.
“It’s an inadequate way to say thank you for your service and sacrifice,” Marshall said. “I hope this is a happy home and a wonderful home for you and Helena.”
In the past, the two organizations have teamed up to provide new homes for wounded warriors, but the Kellys suggested a remodel of their existing home instead.
This is the second home to be given in the Austin area and two more are planned later this year, said Meredith Iler, national chairman of Helping a Hero.
“We wanted to say thank you in a tangible way,” she said.
The Rocket Delivers
Also on hand to say thank you was former professional baseball player Roger Clemens, a pitcher who was nicknamed “The Rocket.”
“At the time he was getting injured, I was on the mound ... trying to bring entertainment and enjoyment and this man was making me feel safe doing it,” Clemens said.
After a home tour, Kelly shared with Clemens a shadow box holding his Purple Heart medal and the shrapnel that hit him. Kelly was en route to a conference about schools when the roadside bomb hit his convoy in Iraq.
Third Cavalry’s Lt. Col. Larry Croucher said it’s important to honor veterans of the unit because they will “forever be a solder and member of the cavalry.”
“It’s our lineage,” he said. “(The regiment has) 167 years of continuous service and that lineage and bond exist and it’s hard to put into words.”
After being medically retired in 2006, Kelly went to school — something he turned down to deploy to Iraq — and is now a medical emergency helicopter pilot in Bastrop.
“He’s the epitome of selfless service, love of country and what it stands for,” said Allen Bergeron, veteran consultant and ombudsman for the city of Austin, who spoke on behalf of Austin’s mayor, Lee Leffingwell. “You will forever look at every day as a new day. You won’t take anything for granted, not the little things.”