By Pam Robinson
When Sgt. Kenneth Harker enlisted in the Army back on August 18, 2005, the then 21-year-old Evansville native welcomed the opportunity to add direction and purpose to his life. He didn’t foresee his new career would cost him both legs—a horrific sacrifice to protect the people of his country and their freedom.
“For four months, I was in Afghanistan and got shot,” Harker says. “Then, I was in Iraq six months and got blown up.”
During his deployment to Iraq in June 2008, an Explosively Formed Penetrator, or EFP, cut through his Humvee and traumatically amputated his left leg. Severely injured, his right leg required amputation about a month later also. Then, Harker spent more than three years at Walter Reed Hospital for treatment with surgeries and physical therapies before finally returning to his home in Evansville last fall.
Now his community has the opportunity to support Harker as he strives to regain his own independence in spite of his life-altering injuries. The national organization Homes For Our Troops is sponsoring the first home build in Indiana for Harker, his wife Heather and their 6-month-old daughter Kenslee.
The family needs volunteers to help out in the Build Brigade scheduled this coming weekend, July 20, 21 and 22 at 11400 Savannah Court, near Busler’s here in Posey County. A sign there reads “Future Home of Sgt. Kenneth Harker” to mark the spot. The Build Brigade will get the house under roof and weatherproofed to prepare the way for Evansville contractor Michael Conti to complete construction.
Local build coordinator Karen Maxey insists volunteers, especially such skilled tradesmen as carpenters, roofers and blockers, are welcome right up to this weekend, the weekend of the build. Meals have been donated for volunteers, but ice and drinks (such as Gatorade, lemonade and tea) are still needed. Snacks may also be dropped off at the build site. Any leftover food will be taken to a local shelter, so nothing will be wasted.
Monetary contributions to Homes For Our Troops will pay forward the gift of a new home to more qualifying military veterans with a spinal cord injury or amputation sustained while serving their country. So far, the organization has built homes across the nation for 100 veterans with these injuries. The website provides a wealth of information: www.homesforourtroops.org.
ADA compliant, the new home for Sgt. Harker will allow him to move about much more freely and thus regain his independence. Right now, he must, for example, scoot from his wheelchair to a computer chair just to squeeze through the tight doorway into his bathroom. In addition, he cannot reach items in overhead kitchen cabinets. Worst of all, he cannot visit his daughter Kenslee in her nursery since the hallways are too narrow for his wheelchair.
“I think it’s important for people to understand, as far as Kenneth being wounded, your home isn’t the same anymore—a place of comfort and security,” stresses Harker’s wife Heather.
Their new home will provide overhead cabinets within arm’s reach and equipped with pull down shelves for storage. Doorways and hallways will be wide enough to accommodate Harker’s wheelchair.
The location of their new home pleases the couple also. Harker appreciates the wooded country setting with enough open space for riding his four-wheeler. He and Heather both look forward to the privacy as he adjusts to a different lifestyle, including living as a civilian.
“I am grateful to this community. I wouldn’t be able to do this build on my own, that’s for sure,” Harker says.
“The community has embraced him and is stepping up to help out in any way they can,” Harker’s wife Heather adds. “We feel very blessed to be from such a tight-knit, appreciative and supportive community.”
The Harkers will leave from the parking lot at the University of Southern Indiana at 7:30 a.m. with an escort to the build site on Friday, July 20, to get things underway. Maxey invites groups to bring up the rear of the escort and individuals to hold up signs of support along the way on Highway 62 West.
Once the Harkers arrive at the build site Friday morning, an opening ceremony will kick-off construction. The Indiana National Guard unit in Evansville will serve as honor guard and Chris Harp will sing the National Anthem. Among the speakers will be Indiana State Representative Wendy McNamara and former Indianapolis Colts’ star Jacob Tamme.
Once the Harkers’ home is finished this coming September, more volunteers will come in to clean up the site and to do landscaping. A key ceremony will be held to give the Harkers the keys to their new home when it is move-in ready.
Anyone wishing to help the Harkers may contact local build coordinator Karen Maxey at 812-425-1593 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Sgt. Kenneth Harker, readers may visit www.homesforourtroops.org/site/PageServer?pagename=KennethHarker.