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Local businesses pitch in to help Prineville man Ryan Craig, who in 2010 was shot in the head while serving in Afghanistan

PHOTO BY CHERYL MCINTOSH - Local groups are teaming up to build veteran Ryan Craig a home that better suits his medical care.

Ryan Craig enlisted in the Army on March 5 of 2008. He was soon deployed to Iraq, and seven months later returned safely to the States.

Craig's second deployment sent him to Afghanistan, where in his words: "We hit the ground running and were under fire daily."

Craig and his platoon had logged several safe returns from missions accomplished, but while out on patrol on Nov. 19, 2010, the men were caught in a deadly ambush.

In response to enemy fire, Craig positioned himself to return fire and allow his fellow soldiers to get to safety. His selfless actions marked him as a target, and he sustained an injury that would change his life forever.

Craig's helmet was penetrated by a large-caliber round that fragmented, damaging both frontal lobes of his brain. His sacrifice would leave him severely impaired.

It was not expected that Craig would survive.

Following his injury, he underwent multiple surgeries to repair the damage he incurred, suffered three strokes and battled a life-threatening brain infection. After two years of rehabilitation, he was able to have reconstructive surgery performed on his skull.

Having proven time and again that he is a survivor, Craig is now receiving treatment for thyroid cancer.

Currently, Craig lives with severe cognitive impairment and requires 24-hour care. At 29 years of age, Craig's cognitive ability makes it challenging to navigate his day-to-day activities without assistance.

Craig's family has set out to build a comfortable, safe home that will allow them to care for Craig while providing him with the independence and quality of life he deserves.

Jennifer and Ron Miller, Craig's parents, have partnered with New Era Homes to make the construction and completion of this home a reality.

"It started because my son was injured in Afghanistan," Craig's mother explains. "We were going back and forth because someone has to stay with him. We decided to purchase some land and build a house that would accommodate all of us. We heard about New Era Homes through our realtor, Mary Doyle at Coldwell Banker. As soon as we met the builder, Todd McKinney, we knew we wanted him to build our home. He builds beautiful houses."

Miller continues, "New Era Homes actually helped us design the house and talked about things that we didn't even think about to make it more functional for Ryan and for us."

The Millers' home is essentially two conjoined houses separated by a laundry room. The design would accommodate Craig and his live-in caretaker on one side of the dual layout while Ron and Jennifer would occupy the other.

Craig's family has exhausted their personal savings trying to create a more manageable and comfortable living situation for everyone.

"Financially, it's a struggle," Miller describes about the challenges. "My husband's on disability. He had worked at Les Schwab for 40 years when he acquired an autoimmune disease called CIDP. It's kind of like Guillain-Barre. I almost lost him three years ago. He has some memory problems and fatigue, but he's still with us. With me taking care of both of them, I had to retire from my job as nurse for 40 years — which is fine. You got to do what you got to do. We now have a mortgage, and it is a financial hardship because, at our age, you don't expect to be doing that."

"Technically, Ryan should get grants due to the severity of his injury," says Miller, "However, he has been blessed in that he can walk. Usually people with Ryan's injury don't survive at all, but because he can walk, he doesn't qualify for a lot of programs. We got a few donations from nonprofit organizations to help us, but we paid cash for the land out of the money that we saved. So that's where we are."

Miller recalls when she was first notified about her son's injury.

"I got a phone call at 5 a.m. from the ground troops in Afghanistan that just said my son was injured. They didn't tell me how bad; they just said that it wasn't severe enough that I needed to come (to Germany). They said I would get another call if I needed to come, but if I did, it meant the injury was severe and terminal."

A few excruciating hours later, Miller received the call that said she needed to come for her son.

Upon arriving at the hospital in Germany, the medical consensus was that Craig be removed from life support. But Miller hoped for a miracle and decided to bring her son home.

"We got him back to the States, and Christmas Eve, Ryan woke up and looked at me and scribbled a little note on a piece of paper that just said 'Hi mom.' He had five months in a coma. I got to know there was still my boy in there. I did the right thing."

"He saved 22 men that day that were married and had children," Miller reflects on the life-altering day. "He knew they needed to come home, and that's why he did it."

PHOTO BY CHERYL MCINTOSH - Vetarn Ryan Craig and his parents, Jennifer and Ron Miller, stand in the home that are having built.Craig's family started working with New Era Homes on their new home two years ago, and the builder has kept the original pricing in place over that span of time. New Era Homes is essentially building the home at cost. Several other organizations are donating in support of Craig's cause, including national sponsors from nonprofits, local subcontractors and suppliers.

"Even a dollar is helpful," Miller says. "We have to get our financing below a certain level so that our payments will be more affordable. We are trying to raise at least $40,000. New Era Homes has been trying to gather donations for the home, so a lot of companies are contributing to help us as well. Without that kind of help, we wouldn't be able to get this project off the ground."

"It's been a wonderful experience," Miller says of working with New Era Homes. "Todd's whole team is pretty knowledgeable. Things we didn't think about, they thought about. We couldn't have asked for a better builder. He's gone above and beyond to help us. Getting our finances together was a struggle, and New Era Homes stuck it out with us. They haven't raised our prices even though it's taken us a year and a half to get our finances together. It's been wonderful."

New Era Homes, Craig's family's partner in the design and construction of their ideal custom living space, builds semi-custom homes in communities throughout Central Oregon. Owner Todd McKinney was moved by Craig's story.

"Our goal from the very beginning," explains McKinney, "is to honor Ryan's service and immense sacrifice by helping build a home that is comfortable and safe for him as he faces the challenges that come with such a severe combat injury."

Other contributing companies include Parr Lumber, Consolidate Supply, Moen, Trobella Cabinets, Roofline Supply, Johnson Brothers Appliance, KitchenAid and Cascade Design Center.

Donations for their home can be deposited into an account in Jennifer Miller's name titled Donation Account for Ryan Craig at any Washington Federal branch or mailed to Washington Federal, 1570 NE Third St., Prineville, OR 97754.

The above article was contributed by New Era Homes. To learn more about New Era Homes, visit www.newerahomes.com or contact Sales Manager Trent Gardner at 541-330-5463.

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