BRINGING COREY HOME

BRINGING COREY HOME
After nearly two years of recovering from wartime injuries, Sgt. Corey Briest is ready to come home to Yankton.

However, he first needs a house.

His family's current home in Yankton cannot begin to meet the physical limitations of his blindness and traumatic brain injuries. Briest suffered the injuries Dec. 4, 2005, while serving in Iraq with the Yankton-based Charlie Battery.


Briest has nearly completed his current rehabilitation. However, the Briests have no place to call home just weeks before they return to Yankton from the California facility where Corey is receiving intensive therapy.

What most families take for granted, Jenny Briest finds crucial for her husband and their children: Kylie, 5, and Connor, 2.

The house must have adequate space for Corey to move or be taken from room to room. The home's entrance must accommodate him and a wheelchair, if necessary. If a tornado strikes, Jenny cannot quickly move him down basement steps or easily take him and the children to a neighbor or shelter.

And, realistically, Corey will be living in the home 24 hours a day.

"We need it handicapped accessible. If there are steps, Corey really isn't fast," she said. "I have to think about safety. For some people, these

things are just a luxury. To me, it's almost a necessity."

An effort has been launched to raise $250,000 to construct a house suitable for the Briests in time for their arrival home this summer. It will require the support of everyone possible in dollars, labor, materials or other support.

Professionals established in the construction business are encouraged to provide in-kind contributions.

In addition to work by a Yankton committee, Jenny Briest has met with California architect Terry Tarr, who holds extensive architectural

experience, to discuss possible floor plans for a new house. Tarr has not charged the Briests for his services.

A site to accept contributions for the Briest housing project has been established at www.yankton.net/coreybriest. Updated information will be posted at the site, which will be activated May 1 to accept on-line contributions.

The effort has already received $20,000 from "Operation: Opening Doors," an effort to help provide housing for disabled veterans. Les Cummings of Sioux Falls, who works with "Operation" as well as the Association of General Contractors, presented the check to the local committee spearheading the Briest effort.

"We need to realize, as citizens, Corey Briest has been sent around the world to defend democracy, and it's time to bring him back home," Cummings said. "But the Briests' home is not suitable. Their home is too small, and we need to build them a new home. If all of us get behind it as one team, it makes this soldier and his family very blessed."

The South Dakota National Guard strongly supports the effort to build the house, said Cummings, past SDNG state command sergeant major.

"Adj. Gen. Mike Gorman and his staff have been behind this project and support it 100 percent. Lt. Col. Marshall Michels has been doing a phenomenal job making sure we get every benefit this young soldier deserves," Cummings said.

"It is so absolutely important that we have people's support, whether it is $1 or $10,000. This project doesn't get done unless everyone jumps in and helps."

Cummings emphasized that Briest needs lifetime assistance which demands special accommodations.

"What people have to understand is that this is not a big home," Cummings said. "When Corey comes home, he will be in a wheelchair and be blind. We have got to give him some quality of life."

The effort to secure housing for the Briests needs to go far beyond Yankton, Cummings said.

"We truly need a statewide effort. Let's get it done for this soldier and for each other," he said. "It's just the right thing to do. It's the honorable thing to do in our country. He gave so much for all of us. Let's bring this kid home in style."

Sgt. 1st Class Matt LaCroix, along with other Charlie Battery members, visited the Briests in California. LaCroix was deployed with Briest on the year-long mission of training Iraqi soldiers in Baghdad.

Briest received his injuries during the Dec. 4, 2005, detonation of an improvised explosive device (IED) which eventually claimed the lives of three Charlie Battery soldiers.

Briest has paid a high price and needs the new house be cause of the sacrifices he has made, LaCroix said.

"I'm personally very excited for this to happen," LaCroix said. "I can't wait for Sgt. Briest and his family to return to Yankton and come home to a community ready to greet him with something as special as this new house."

LaCroix believes the project will receive support far beyond Yankton or even South Dakota.

"I think we need everyone's support throughout the state to make this happen," he said. "We need not just the money, but the labor and things like businesses giving discount prices or free-will donations to help support this. That (assistance) would help out drastically."

Briest has shown tremendous determination and stamina in his rehabilitation,

LaCroix said.

"Corey is doing an outstanding job with his injuries," LaCroix said. "He is

on the road to recovery, but this recovery will be awhile. He has been doing it for over a year."

LaCroix quickly tempers his optimism with a dose of reality, describing how much Briest needs the specially-built house.

"When we talk about Corey seeing improvement, it's not the improvement where people get up and run around the block," LaCroix said. "It tugs at my heart. His life and the lives of his family are not the same as normal soldiers or normal civilians. He has limitations to walking and to his sight �

everything that normal human beings take for granted.

"There has to be accommodations for something that he is going to have to live with, that his family and this community has to live with for the rest of their lives."

As part of the fund-raising effort, Marie Steckelberg of Avera Education and Staffing Solutions is working on grant applications. She is drawing up Briest's case story to help draw attention to his pressing needs and the

urgent timeline for finishing the project.

In addition, Avera Sacred Heart Hospital of Yankton has made a $2,500 contribution on behalf of its medical staff and students. Briest's recovery has been slow and agonizing but filled with a number of important benchmarks.

As a result of the IED explosion, shrapnel entered the left side of Briest's brain and went all the way through to the right. Briest underwent surgery in Iraq, during which most of the right part of the skull was removed to make

room for swelling. The explosion injured his lungs, and he was on a ventilator.

Briest was then transported to Germany and then to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. At that time, the Briests were told that Corey was unrecoverable, but a day later, an EEG showed he had organized brain activity.

During the next months of recovery, Corey opened his eyes for the first time, pointed his right index finger and moved his left arm, washed his face by himself and took his first steps. He underwent surgery to rebuild his skull.

Last June, Corey was moved to Casa Colina in Pomona, CA, to continue intensive physical therapy. In the past year, he has spoken his first word, dressed himself, repeated words said to him, and stood by himself and walked with help.

Last August, his feeding tubes were removed, and he was moved to the Transitional Living Center of the Casa Colina facility. The transitional center prepared him to live with his family.

Last October, Corey was able to spend the night with his family and sleep next to his wife. Two days later, he was able to take a walk with his family and friends.

Jenny Briest has maintained a daily journal at www.caringbridge.com. Gov. Mike Rounds receives regular updates on Briest from the National Guard.

"What a special opportunity to honor Sgt. Corey Briest and his family," Rounds said of the house project. "The generosity of the citizens of Yankton and all South Dakota communities is an outstanding example of caring South Dakotans. This shows the real concern South Dakotans have for those who

serve and sacrifice for all of us."

Maj. Gen. Gorman agreed. "South Dakota communities have gone above and beyond to serve those who have served. Our soldiers never leave a fallen comrade, and I think it is clear by this display of generosity and community effort that neither will South Dakota," he said.

The public will do the right thing by helping the Briests, Gorman predicted.

"The care of our veterans and their families should continue to remain a priority for us all," Gorman said. "I thank all of those who have gone out of their way to welcome these troops home and help make things right for them and their families."

Yankton resident Pauline Rhoades, who has been asked to serve with the local fund-raising effort, said she welcomes input on the house project.

"I am open to all ideas and suggestions," she said. "I encourage everyone to watch for information as we�put fund-raising�projects into place."

Briest worked for Shur-Co. at the time of his deployment, and the company, along with all Yankton manufacturers, have started another raffle, Rhoades said. This time the raffle is for a purple 1998 Chevy Cavalier, with the raffle beginning this weekend. For further information, go to www.shurco.com and click on the purple heart. The drawing for this car will be held June 8.

The money raised from the raffle will go toward building the Briests' new home, Rhoades said.

"The community of Yankton has stepped up to the plate time after time to help their own," Rhoades said. "I know this opportunity will be no different."

Briest's return to Yankton holds special meaning for Charlie Battery, LaCroix said.

"We are really ready to get Corey back here. With him being in California, it makes it tough for people to go out and visit him," LaCroix said.

"Corey's return means a lot to all the soldiers here. We have returned from our mission, but we all know that one soldier is still out there. We are

waiting for that day of his return."

LaCroix foresees support from the entire National Guard to make the new home

a reality for the Briests.

"The Guard is made up of brothers and sisters. Everyone is going to help," LaCroix said.

Persons with questions or wishing to offer assistance should contact LaCroix at the SDNG armory in Yankton at (605) 668-3045 or Gary Wood, publisher of the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan, at (800) 743-2968.

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