Oklahoma veteran's family receives 'Smart Home'

Retired Staff Sgt. Rusty Dunagan


By PATTY MILLER | The Edmond Sun, Okla. | Published: May 23, 2015

EDMOND, Okla. (Tribune News Service) — Overcast skies and temperatures hovering in the mid-50s didn’t dampen the spirits of retired Staff Sgt. Rusty Dunagan's family and the crowd that gathered to honor his service and sacrifice for America Wednesday during ceremonies where Dunagan and his family received a “Smart Home.”

Dunagan and his family were escorted to their new home by the Patriot Guard Riders who had also placed American flags around the house earlier and who stood at attention holding flags throughout the ceremony.

Surrounded by about 150 people including members of his family, friends, ‘brothers’ he served with in Iraq and Afghanistan and members of the Patriot Guard Riders, Dunagan received an iPad and keys to his custom designed, specially adapted “Smart Home,” he and his family will be moving to in northwest Edmond.

The ceremonies also included presentation of the colors presented by the Choctaw High School Air Force Junior ROTC and 11-year-old Summit Middle School student Olivia Kay singing the national anthem.

“These specially adapted custom Smart Homes are built through the Gary Sinise Foundation’s  R.I.S.E. Program (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment) and the Building for America’s Bravest partner program,” said Chris Kuban with the foundation.

William “Billy” Wagasy, director of programs and outreach for the Gary Sinise Foundation, said this is the 17th home the Foundation has completed and by the end of 2015 there will be 35 homes completed or in some phase of development.

Representing the foundation, Wagasy quoted Sinise as saying, “Too often we take for granted the courageous few who put self in harm’s way. It is our duty as citizens to make sure the needs of our returning soldiers are met. We can never repay the debt they have paid but we can show our appreciation. This home is a daily reminder, a small symbol of gratitude for a hero who has helped make our home, America, safer.”

Wagasy was one of many who told Dunagan he was inspired by Dunagan’s resilience and courage. “Thank you for all you have done,” Wagasy said.

Battalion Chief Jack Ohem was at the World Trade Center Towers the day they fell and works with the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation (T2T).

“Something is wrong when athletes are our heroes ... There is something wrong with America when we can’t come together and take care of our (real) heroes. This guy and other veterans are our heroes,” Ohem said.

The iPad is the control center for the home as it is used to control the home’s features including an automatic lighting center, cabinets that raise and lower in the kitchen, whole house audio, automatic doors and blinds, zoned heating and cooling and a security system including cameras.

Scott Schaeperkoetter, owner of Signature Homes in Jefferson City, Mo., and project manager for the building process said in 2012 he saw a community step up and provide a Smart Home for a returning veteran and it changed his life forever.

“We can’t do this without the local community, and this community has stepped up like no other one has,” Schaeperkoetter said.

Stuart Jolly of Edmond who helped oversee the building of the home was also on hand.

Dunagan will be able to operate the systems remotely with a smartphone or iPad, Schaeperkoetter said, something that will change his life.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Rusty Dunagan (Ret.) always knew he would join the military, but after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2010, his conviction grew stronger. A decade later in 2010 while on patrol in Southern Kandahar Afghanistan, Dunagan stepped on a land mine attached to an IED, causing him to lose both his legs and his left arm.

After years of physical rehabilitation and transition into civilian life, Dunagan said this will be their last move.

“This is home and from now on we will be growing our roots in our new community,” Dunagan said.

The ranch style home will give him more independence and a feeling of security for him and his family, Dunagan said.

Dunagan said like many veterans he is always in a hyper vigilant mode.

“This Smart Home will allow me to check on the status of the doors from bed without getting up. Not only is it convenient, but it gives me peace of mind. With the push of a button the house is in good night mode,” Dunagan said.

“This home is everything I thought it would be and more. There will be no more narrow hallways, bathrooms that are not ADA accessible and cabinets that cannot be reached. It also means I don’t have to worry about bumping into things. I can turn around in my wheelchair if I need to,” Dunagan said.

Dunagan and his wife Angie have five children, ranging in age from 18 months to 17. The eldest Marissa, 17, spoke during the dedication ceremonies thanking the Gary Sinise Foundation for providing them a home where they will be able to continue to create bonds together as a family.

Her younger siblings include Daniel, 15; Rocky, 12; Annalisa, 5; and Rosalee, 18 months.

After the dedication ceremony, when Angie was asked what she liked best about the house she replied, “Everything! It is the peace of mind knowing Rusty will be okay if i have to leave. I like the openness and the kitchen. I can’t wait to get in there and start baking.”

The Gary Sinise Foundation along with the following donors: Wounded Warriors Family Support, Bowers Construction, Carrington Companies, Carpet One, Core Brands, America’s Fund, Mohawk Flooring, General Electric, Shubert Design, Walmart, Brent Gibson Classic Home Design and more, joined the Edmond community for triple amputee SSG. Rusty Dunagan, U.S. Army (Ret.) and his family.

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 freedom.  

©2015 The Edmond Sun (Edmond, Okla.)
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