When Army Major Edward “Flip” Klein stepped on a dismounted IED, in Afghanistan in 2012 — losing both his legs above the knee, his right arm and three fingers on his left hand — he thought he survived the worst.
About a year later, he lost many of his belongings in a house fire in Maryland.
Klein said adjusting to his “new normal” makes everyday things challenging.
“I spend a lot of energy just living,” he said.
Upon hearing his story, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation stepped in to help. Tunnel to Towers builds mortgage-free smart homes for catastrophically injured service members to enable them to live better, more independent lives.
Each home is custom designed to address the unique needs of each individual. Smart homes include several features such as automated doors and lighting, wider halls and doorways, special showers to accommodate wheelchairs, automatic door openers, cabinets, counters, and stove tops that can be raised and lowered, back-up generators, and central heating and air conditioning systems that can be controlled by tablets.
This is the first Tunnel to Towers smart home built in Washington.
The new smart home, located in Issaquah, was unveiled for the first time Aug. 24. A large ceremony of sponsors, new neighbors, and Patriot Guard Riders welcomed Klein, his fiance Kim, and his service dog, Ranger, to their new home.
The huge backdrop of the American flag shielded the smart home from view until the grand unveiling. Members of the King County Sheriff Department escorted Klein to the site.
John Hodge, the COO of the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Tower Foundation, was the cousin of the foundation’s namesake. Siller passed away when serving as a firefighter during 9/11.
“I know some of you are probably thinking there isn’t a direct line from Stephen’s story to helping wounded service members,” Hodge said. “But it is a direct line. If September 11 had never happened, then Major ‘Flip’ Klein wouldn’t have been in harm’s way and would never have gotten injured. So we recognize that connection and we decided we wanted to do something about it.”
Over the past 17 years, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Tower Foundation has built almost 75 homes across the country. Their commitment is 200.
“We can’t thank all of the businesses enough to help us on our journey here,” Hodge said. “But we can’t thank you [Klein] enough for your service and for the sacrifices you and your family have made over the time. This is one small way that we can say thank you to you for everything you’ve done.”
Some of the sponsors who participated in developing Klein’s smart home included Ashley Furniture Homestore, the Home Depot Foundation, JC Penny, Carpet One, MasterBrand Cabinets, Hunter Douglas, General Motors, Hydro-Block Shower System and the Semper Fi Fund.
Carrie Grose, a representative for Semper Fi Fund, read a message from Klein’s case manager, Karen.
“Flip, I’m so happy for you that you are receiving your fully adapted home today. So much has changed in six years and I’m so proud to have been there to see what a fighter you are. I’m happy that you have found your true passion in life — mountain biking, skiing and most importantly, Kimmy. Continue to keep fighting and doing great things,” Karen’s message read.
Before the unveiling of the new home, the Patriot Guard Riders presented Klein with a challenge coin for his service and sacrifice. Hodge also presented Klein with a statue made from the steel of the south tower of the World Trade Center from the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Tower Foundation.
As the crowd chanted “U.S.A,” the large American flag backdrop slowly unveiled the new home.
“Being injured sucks and a lot of days are spent trying to gain perspective and trying to find the silver lining. It’s been a long journey, it’s been almost six years,” Klein said.
Klein was injured Oct. 22, 2012. He met his fiance, Kim, on Oct. 22, 2016 and they are getting married this year on Oct. 22.
“The idea that this was to try to take a period of my life that was focused on one thing and use it as a day to launch a new chapter, and now we have one more piece to that chapter and that’s the home that we’re going to live in,” Klein said. “Thank you to all the sponsors and the nonprofits and foundations that are here today…it’s been a long journey and everyone who had an influence in this has made a significant impact on my journey.”