EDMOND, Okla. — Retired U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Rusty Dunagan is a dedicated American soldier who always knew he would join the military, but after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, his conviction grew stronger.
About a decade later, on Sept. 21, 2010, Dunagan was on his second deployment on patrol in the southern Afghanistan province of Kandahar when he stepped on a land mine attached to an IED, causing him to lose both his legs and his left arm.
Dunagan is a dedicated husband and father to five children, who range in age from 8 months to 16. After enduring dozens of surgeries and years of physical rehabilitation and transition into civilian life, the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, along with community support, honored Dunagan Wednesday morning by starting construction on a custom designed, specially adapted “smart home” to give him more independence.
“After retirement, there was pretty much no question involved where we wanted to be with the kids for public school reasons,” Dunagan said. “The Deer Creek and Edmond schools are the best in the state.”
Dunagan and his family moved to the area last spring.
“The support that we’ve had from the community has been overwhelming,” he said. “There’s a lot of people out there that do care.”
Building for America’s Bravest, a partner program of the Gary Sinise Foundation and Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, and donors joined the local community for a groundbreaking ceremony at Dunagan’s future home site, located along Sorghum Mill east of Meridian Ave.
Dunagan said he’s seen videos of some of the smart homes.
“It’s just going to make it where I don’t have to worry about bumping into things. I can turn around in my wheelchair if I need to,” he said.
Scott Schaeperkoetter, owner of Signature Homes in Jefferson City, Mo., thanked members of the local community for their overwhelming support and said design work on Dunagan’s new home began about four months ago.
Schaeperkoetter said the home’s features will include automatic lighting control, a security system including cameras, cabinets that raise and lower in the kitchen, whole house audio, automatic doors and blinds and zoned heating and cooling, which is important for veterans who want it either really hot or very cool.
Dunagan will be able to operate the systems remotely with a smartphone or iPad, Schaeperkoetter said.
“It’s very important to these guys,” he said. “Something that’s very easy for you and I is not that easy for Rusty. So just the ability for him to operate that home from his phone, from his iPad, is going to be something that will change his life.”
Dunagan said the new home will give his wife more freedom to pursue her desire to further her education.
William “Billy” Wagasy, director of programs and outreach for the Gary Sinise Foundation, enlisted in the Navy following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and became a U.S. Navy S.E.A.L. in 2003. He completed four combat tours — three to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and one to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
After describing what it was like to learn diving in a pitch-black environment, Wagasy said meeting Americans like Dunagan and communities like Edmond are at their best when someone is going through the darkest time of their life.
Wagasy, who spent time with the Dunagan family Tuesday evening, read a note from Sinise to the family, which began with acknowledgment of Dunagan’s injuries, his will to overcome and his loyalty to the military.
“His indomitable spirit is an inspiration to me,” Sinise said via the message. “Rusty is a true American and a true patriot. It is the Gary Sinise Foundation’s proud privilege to support such an outstanding individual, to help Rusty reclaim his independence and freedom, the very things he fought to protect for each of us, is the least we can do in appreciation for his sacrifices. I only wish I could be there to thank you personally, Rusty.”
The Gary Sinise Foundation and Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation have developed the Building for America’s Bravest Program to give independence back for those that have paid the ultimate price for our freedom.
“I’ve met Gary several times and every time I meet him I’ve just been awestruck, the person that he is and what he does,” Dunagan said.
Construction on the home will begin in a week or so and the move-in date is expected to be in about nine months. The groundbreaking ceremony began with a Patriot Guard Riders escort, presentation of colors by the Choctaw High School Air Force Junior ROTC program and the singing of the national anthem by Carol Hefner. Members of the Patriot Guard Riders set up American flags to welcome Dunagan to the neighborhood. Several of his new neighbors attended the event.