One Perham man enlisted to serve in the U.S. Army because he felt like it was an obligation he needed to fulfill. Lucas Schmitz decided he wanted to serve after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but he didn't make the decision to enlist until a year into college.
"I wouldn't feel right if I didn't (enlist)," Schmitz said. So, Schmitz joined the Minnesota Army National Guard as an infantryman. In 2005, he went to Iraq with the Second Combined Arms Battalion of the 34th Infantry Division.
On July 25, 2006, Schmitz and his unit were on their way back to base after a patrol, and their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, also known as an I.E.D. Everybody in the vehicle was okay, but it was on fire. Because of this, they left the vehicle and walked to their second one.
It was in this moment, that Schmitz stepped on the second I.E.D.
"It just popped me up in the air," he said in a Homes For Our Troops video. "I can remember spinning through the air and landing on the ground."
Due to this explosion, Schmitz lost his right leg. He was treated throughout several years and now, fully recovered, uses a prosthetic leg and a wheelchair to move about.
After medically retiring, Schmitz and his wife made the decision to move back to Perham around five years ago. "This is home," he said. Perham is where is parents live, and he wants them close for his kids. He now works in special education at Heart of the Lakes Elementary School.
He originally heard about Homes For Our Troops, an organization whose goals are to build and donate custom homes to injured post-9/11 veterans, several years ago. At first, he was reluctant to receive their help, but, as of this year, Homes For Our Troops is helping Schmitz receive a customized home.
"For me, it is hard to accept the grace (Homes For Our Troops is) giving me, but it means longevity in the home and safe accessibility," Schmitz said. "(It means) being able to have the peace of mind that this home will stay with me as I get older."
The house is being built by Hemmelgarn Builders and will likely be finished in late September. On Saturday, June 26, St. Henry's Catholic Church hosted a community kickoff for the construction of the house, where people greeted the Schmitz family with cheers and American flags. Friends and family of Schmitz and those involved with Homes For Our Troops spoke at the event, detailing the organization's and the Schmitz family's stories.
The kickoff ended with a speech from Schmitz himself and a provided lunch.
To the Perham community, Schmitz said, "Thank you for being there for me. There’s a reason why I want to live here. It’s an amazing town, full of very good people."
To learn more about Homes For Our Troops or to donate, visit hfotusa.org.