Billings native and double-amputee Navy SEAL Bo Reichenbach celebrated the groundbreaking for his new smart home last week with approximately 50 other attendees, including his family and Billings Mayor Tom Hanel.
“It really means a lot to our family to be able to have this,” Reichenbach said. “It’s pretty tough for me because I have trouble asking for help and I love doing everything myself. But it really means a lot that we can have this for our family and that I can be back here in Montana. Thank you all for being here and supporting our family.”
Reichenbach’s house will be built on 120 acres on a hill surrounded by mountains near Lockwood. He will share the house with his wife, Lacy, and 6-year-old son, Landon.
Seven months into his deployment in Afghanistan, Reichenbach stepped on a 20-pound Improvised Explosive Device. He lost both of his legs. He also severely injured his right arm and sustained hearing loss in both ears.
Reichenbach has since undergone more than 30 surgeries and was released last month from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.
He will retire from the Navy next month and receive the Bronze Star – one of the highest honors in the American military.
The smart home will be built by Reichenbach Construction, which is owned by Bo’s father, Don. Reichenbach will be part of the construction team on the project, which is expected to be finished by this fall.
The smart house will feature accommodations to make independent living easier. These include automated doors and lighting, wider doors and special showers to accommodate a wheelchair, cabinets and counters that can be raised and lowered and central heating and air conditioning systems that can be controlled by iPads.
Mayor Hanel was the first of several speakers at the ceremony and used his time on stage to express his appreciation for Reichenbach and all members of the American military.
“There is one thing that all of us here have in common,” Hanel said. “Bo, we love you. And we not only love you, but we respect you, your family, your sacrifice and all your brothers and sisters in the military.”
Mayor Hanel continued, “It’s because of men and women like you that we have the freedom we have today. Thank you to all the members of the military of yesterday, today and tomorrow for all the sacrifices you’ve made.”
Other speakers also emphasized the importance of the military during the hour-long ceremony.
“These young men and women give so much of themselves and sacrificed their bodies for us to be free,” said Jack Ohem of Tunnels to Towers. “In my mind, this is the least that we can do for these young men and women that sacrificed so much for us.”
He continued, “Too many people in this country of ours take for granted what our military does for us day in and day out. We honor those who can shoot a basket or hit a golf ball, but we forget about our veterans coming home that are catastrophically injured.”
Teamwork was another common theme addressed in the speeches.
“My wife, Robin, and I both come from military families, and we’ve both lost family members during times of conflict,” said Hanel. “It’s not easy. And it’s not easy when our family comes home and they’re injured. But we can overcome by working together and supporting each other.”
Ohem echoed that sentiment. “Nothing gets done without a team,” he said.
Indeed, the groundbreaking was made possible by the efforts of a large team of organizations and businesses. The Reichenbachs received a $400,000 grant from the Tunnels to Towers Foundation and a $50,000 grant from the Semper Fi Fund.
Other businesses, such as Carpet 1, will donate materials to the project. The Phoenix Patriot Foundation, which co-hosted the event with Tunnels to Towers, also contributed money to the project.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation works to honor the memory of New York firefighter Stephen Siller, who died on Sept. 11, 2001. The foundation does this through such projects as an annual Tunnel to Towers Run at Ground Zero in New York City. In 2011, the organization began the “Building for America’s Bravest” program, which has built 23 smart homes for critically injured veterans.
The Phoenix Patriot Foundation was started by former Navy SEAL Jared Ogden in 2010 with the purpose of helping wounded veterans.
“When we heard Bo’s story, Jared made it very clear to the board that this would be a top priority for us,” said PPF board member Blake Bechtel. “Immediately, we started discussing the vision for his home.”
The Semper Fi Fund has given more than 11,800 grants to injured military members over the last 10 years. These have included grants for hospital care, college education, adaptive vehicles and adaptive housing.
According to Bechtel, one of the most important contributors to the process has been the city of Billings itself.
“The overwhelming support has been humbling to all,” he said. “The Billings community has been a true example for all their local men and women in the military. Thankfully, we’ve be able to share that today. You’ve all been tremendous.”
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story misspelled the names Jared Ogden and Blake Bechtel.