When Army Pfc. Cody Smith returns home this summer for the first time since a rifle bullet struck his lower back in Afghanistan, instantly paralyzing his legs, the former South Medford High School standout football player will know the community hasn't forgotten him.
Volunteers plan to build a handsome new studio apartment with wheelchair access and other amenities added to the classic 1913 Craftsman-style home in Ruch where he spent his childhood.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the community effort to help Cody Smith, a soldier critically wounded in Afghanistan, can make contributions to any branch of the South Valley Bank. An account has been established for the soldier in the name of Chris Smith, his father.
And it will be built largely by the loving hands of Jackson County residents, many of whom have never met the young man.
"We feel Cody Smith is in the same class of people who stormed the beaches of Normandy," explained Rush Behnke of Medford, one of the local contractors helping to organize the builders, carpenters and others in the effort. Normandy was the site of the D-Day invasion by the Allies on June 6, 1944, during World War II.
"He is a hero," added Behnke, an Army veteran. "We love him for what he has done and respect him so much."
Cody Smith, 20, the son of Chris and Vicki Smith of Ruch, is currently at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., where he has been undergoing physical therapy and other medical treatment for the past two months.
In anticipation of his return home this summer, the volunteers submitted an application for a building permit on Friday.
The goal is to build it in two weeks once the permit is approved, Behnke said.
Nearly two dozen contractors and suppliers already have volunteered their services and materials.
"We have an army of men and women ready to help," Behnke said.
"Our intention is to make it really quick. We want everything completely finished before he gets home."
Members of the soldier's family say they are overjoyed with the show of support for their son by friends and strangers alike.
"It's huge what they are doing — overwhelming," Chris said.
In addition to two older siblings and his parents, the soldier's local family includes grandparents Jack and Pat Smith of Jacksonville.
"It's awesome — we're very excited about it," his grandmother said of the community effort. "Cody has lived in that house all his life."
The well-liked Smith family operates the Wilderness Trails youth ministry camp in the Applegate Valley. Cody participated in the camp and has been a member of the Applegate Christian Fellowship in Ruch since he was a youngster.
A soldier in the 101st Airborne Division, he was shot in the lower back on Feb. 17 of this year, the bullet shattering a vertebrae. The insurgent attack on his unit came during Operation Northern Avalanche in Kunar Province in northern Afghanistan. The division is based at Fort Campbell, Ky.
Cody Smith underwent surgery twice in military hospitals in Afghanistan before he was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he spent six weeks. He was transferred to California two months ago.
An avid outdoorsman and an all-conference right guard during his senior year, he joined the Army immediately after graduating from South Medford and has served in the 101st since 2009. He was deployed to Afghanistan in May 2010.
Before he was wounded, he was scheduled to return home in April.
"He wants so bad to make it home before his 21st birthday (on Aug. 9)," his father said. "We don't know if he will be able to come home and stay at that point, but we're anticipating he will be released for visits by then."
Noting that his son was in top shape when he was shot, his father said Cody has some movement in his thigh muscles.
"For his condition, he is doing awesome with his spirit and attitude," he said, adding that Cody's positive attitude makes it easier on the rest of the family.
"There is always hope," he said of Cody's ability to regain his ability to walk.
Behnke, president of Ark Built, and Ken Snelling, of Ken Snelling Design, are leading the effort to retrofit the home to accommodate the wounded warrior.
While the VA will provide $6,800 to the family for the renovation, the amount falls well short of what is needed, Behnke said, noting anyone wanting to help with the effort is encouraged to donate to an account earmarked for Cody Smith in South Valley Bank branches.
"We will be short funds needed to buy all the building materials," he predicted. However, he estimated the labor and materials already donated would add up to between $80,000 and $100,000.
Plans call for the existing family room, bath and dining area in the home to be remodeled to create a one-bedroom studio apartment. It will include a new bathroom with wheel-in shower and a bedroom with a sitting area and a closet accessible by wheelchair, Behnke said.
A covered porch with a wheelchair ramp to the garden and garage also will be added, he noted. A half bath will be needed for the rest of the family on the main level, as well, he concluded.
Work already has begun on a raised garden in the nearby yard for Cody.
"We're hoping we can go further to buy things that will make his life better," Behnke said.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.