News: 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' Builds Home for Victim of Fort Hood Shootings
Story by Spc. Ken Scar
FORT HOOD, Texas -- Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler reported to the Soldier Readiness Processing Center on post, returning early from his second deployment in Iraq to attend Officer Candidate School. For reasons that may never be explained, fate delivered him to that one particular building on Fort Hood's darkest day -Nov. 5, 2009.
Just after 1:30 p.m., Zeigler’s future, past, and everything he knew was blown into black by a bullet from an automatic pistol wielded by a man wearing the same uniform he was. By the time the gunman was taken down by two Fort Hood police officers, he had killed 13 people and wounded 32 others, including Zeigler.
Weeks later, Zeigler woke up in a hospital room to discover he had been shot four times and that doctors had removed approximately 20 percent of his brain. His promising future as a soldier, which had been so clear, became lost in shadows.
Zeigler suffered through multiple surgeries and months of therapy. More than one year later he can now walk with the help of a cane and has regained much of his motor functions, but his recovery will take years – if not the rest of his life.
Last week, the makers of the ABC television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” coordinated an army of volunteers to build a house for Ziegler and his wife, Jessica – and bring a little light back into their life.
“Whenever we get the chance to give back to some of the men and women who sacrifice so much for our country, it’s an honor to be able to do it,” said Ty Pennington, show host.
Pennington said that being able to give this soldier a chance to begin a new chapter on his life is not something you get to do every day.
“It’s a great way for all of us to come together for one cause,” said Paul DiMeo, designer and co-star of the show. “It is nice to be able to thank those people who give me the freedom to do the things I do.”
Each episode of the show features a family who has suffered through hardship. The show’s producers coordinate with a local construction company to either completely redesign the home or, in Zeigler’s case, build a new one from the ground up while the family is sent on a lavish one-week vacation.
The show coordinates and films the construction but does not pay for it – all materials and labor are donated by local vendors, and anyone who wants to help.
“When the producers of the show approached us we didn’t know it would be Patrick we’d be building the home for,” said Michael Thorn-Leeson, chief operating officer for Tilson Home Corporation, the lead contractor for the project. “When we found out, it made this whole thing so much more special. I have a 92-year old father who lives in Spain and even he has been following [Zeigler’s] story.”
Hundreds of people, including many fellow soldiers and military families impacted by the Fort Hood shooting, flocked to a field in Salado, Texas, all week to do whatever they could for Zeigler and his wife.
Lines of volunteers queued up around the clock, some waiting for five or six hours for a chance to move dirt, dig holes, pour cement, frame walls, hang drywall, paint doors, lay sod – anything needed to build Zeigler’s new home.
Though Zeigler had no affiliation with the 104th Engineer Company, every day a platoon’s worth of soldiers could be seen at any given moment, in their Army Combat Uniforms and red hard-hats, swarming over some part of the structure.
“It’s great to be able to come out, represent the U.S. Army, and do something for one of our own,” said Capt. Adrian Vasquez, the 104th Eng. Company commander.
Besides working on a place to live for Ziegler and his wife, EMHE also invited comedian Dane Cook to perform at Fort Hood Friday night in front of a large American flag as a background.
“To say it’s a gritty story is an understatement,” said Cook. “I wouldn’t have missed this. In fact there were a couple things that could have prevented me from being here but I said, ‘I cannot not be a part of their lives.’ I will never forget this day.”
After Cook’s show, Ziegler said, “Our family and friends are here, and it’s great. I mean, it’s just unforgettable; it’s life changing in every way.
“This American flag behind us means a lot to everybody in this room, and a lot of people aren’t here because they served under this flag and our nation. They’re all here with us in one way or another,” he said. “It means a lot. I love that flag.”
The atmosphere on the build site was more like a revival than that of a location shoot for a TV show. Volunteers would break into sing-alongs while they waited in the holding area to be called to work. Smiles and handshakes flooded the place like confetti, and service members in uniform were given VIP treatment by the cast, crew, and celebrity guests.
Staff Sgt. Keith Laird, a fire support specialist with 2nd Battalion, 395th Field Artillery Regiment spent four days and nights of his off-time toiling away on the project with his wife, Sherri. “She signed us up for this online,” said Laird. “We didn’t know it was going to be for [Zeigler] but when we found out we said, okay, now we’re really glad we did this.”
Laird could be seen rushing around the house with a paintbrush minutes before Pennington got the massive crowd to start cheering, “Move that bus!”
That’s the big moment on every episode of the show – when the family is chauffeured to their new home, with the huge “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” bus blocking their view of it. Pennington gets the chant of “Move that bus!” thundering through the crowd and then the bus pulls away, revealing the new home.
In a first for the show, Patrick and Jessica were surprised by the news that the show would be throwing them the wedding they’d wanted with a reception in their new backyard immediately following the reveal.
So it was in her wedding gown and his dress blues that the new Mr. and Mrs. Zeigler, cheered on by a crowd of thousands, entered their new home – and a future brighter than ever.
The episode is slated to air on ABC in February.