Sgt. Eli Patterson, Courtney Patterson, and their son Heath, at home in Woodstock, February 20, 2014
WOODSTOCK, Ga. - How many ways are there to say thank you to a wounded soldier?
A soldier wounded in battle last year, who just came back home to Woodstock, who has a young family to support, is finding out.
And he is calling it a "humbling, wonderful experience."
Sgt. Eli Jordan Patterson of the Georgia Army National Guard, A Battery 1/214th Field Artillery Battalion, came home in January after undergoing nine months of surgeries and rehab at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, at Fort Gordon, Georgia.
"In May of 2013, I was wounded during an attack in Afghanistan," Sgt. Patterson said. The worst of his wounds are to his left leg, centered on the knee.
Recovery is slow. But he can now walk short distances using crutches.
"There's been a lot of damage done.... The ligaments have sustained a significant amount of damage.... So it might be nine months, maybe longer, until they can find out what's wrong. We've gone through one round of surgeries. We've got another round coming up soon... Then physical therapy."
Yet Sgt. Patterson says no one is more blessed than he.
He came home to his wife and son one day before their son's first birthday. And every moment since, he says he has been overwhelmed with people saying -- Thank you.
And not just saying it, but showing their gratitude and respect.
"They want to say Thank You. Almost the first thing that I hear out of their mouth is, 'Thank you for your service, thank you for what you've done for our kids, for our families.' And they want to give back. I don't know that we deserve that, I think that it's a humbling experience because what they're giving is so much more than anyone could ever ask for."
Sgt. Patterson, an administrator and teacher and coach at King's Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, had just bought a house in Woodstock, a fixer-upper.
So the King's Ridge community spread the word --
Someone donated new floors
Someone else is donating a new kitchen, new appliances.
Someone else is donating a new roof.
Someone else is donating a new coat of paint.
Kim Reagan of Cumming started a GoFundMe.com campaign for the family, and in just two weeks it is more than halfway to raising the goal of $10,000.
"And not only have we had money donated, but labor, time, materials, where it sounds to me like they're going to get almost a complete remodel of their home.... And we're just so happy to do it for him, he's such a great man. We feel so lucky that we have him in our lives, and I know he thinks it's the opposite, but to know that people like that are influencing your children, you can't buy that, you can't repay that... Means the world to us.... People not only appreciate the service to his country, but they appreciate the service to our children. Students are raising their own money to donate to him. Because we want to say thank you for what you did. It's important because he's doing something that I think in our hearts we would all love to do, I think we would all love to say that we're brave enough to go overseas or Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever there's conflict.... It takes a really, special person to do that, and for us he's one in a million. We just want people to know that we're doing this because of the person that he is, and we can't do what he's doing, but he's doing it for us."
Sgt. Patterson says he is the one who is thankful for what so many are giving him and his family, "A real home, and not just a house.... With an injury like this one, I just couldn't do some of the things, and they were there. They picked me back up when we needed it.... It's amazing... We've got an example that we're trying to live towards, and what we're asked to do is to be Christians and a family of Christians. They've been Jesus with the skin on."
Reagan says that all those who support the Patterson family are just getting started.
"We're now going to do for him what he can't do, we're going to get this house ready and make it a great place for him to recover."
Bill Liss and the 11Alive Help Desk are getting involved, as well, and on Friday will follow up with the Pattersons about additional projects at their home.
Sgt. Patterson hopes that after more surgery and rehab, he'll be able to return to work at King's Ridge Christian School, maybe, within the year.
Those who are offering labor and materials, he says, include the Brannon family of Crystal Marble in Cumming. "Their daughter was one of my students. And she wrote me a couple letters while I was oversees. And that would have been enough!"
Also, Gregg Brown of Affinity Homes took measurements throughout the house and, Patterson says, told him, "Anything you need, the sky's the limit."
Patterson has been hearing from people he doesn't know.
"I got letters of support and a blanket, a hand-made blanket, from a group of ladies in Ohio. Never met them before. But I know that they care about us."
His "family" at King's Ridge, he says, have been with him and his family since he was deployed in late 2012, and have continued to support the family.
"They've been the foundation that we could base our family on. The community, the King's Ridge community, has been fantastic. They've stood by us this entire time. It really is a family. It's amazing what Kim Reagan and the other King's Ridge parents have done. It's been the life raft for us. We didn't expect it. It's been just a humbling, wonderful experience."
And his thoughts are still with other wounded troops. One, in particular:
"Sgt. Randall Seaton, down at Fort Gordon. He's one of the good guys. He just came out of surgery today. And we just want to make sure we tell him we love you. Get well soon, Brother. Get back up on those feet."
A "HOME" Coming for a HERO GoFundMe Campaign: http://www.gofundme.com/6o6960