This week, a soldier will return to his home in more than three years after he left it. He will be home in time for Christmas, but he isn’t returning quite the same as he was when he left.
Sgt. 1st Class Mark Allen of Bravo Company, 48th Brigade Combat Team of the Georgia National Guard served in a Iraq for a year before beginning another tour in Afghanistan. On July 8, 2009, he had been in Afghanistan for just a month when he was critically wounded by a sniper’s bullet during a fierce firefight.
According to Allen’s profile from a volunteer from Building Homes for Heroes, the sniper’s bullet pierced his armored helmet and passed through the frontal lobe of his brain. Allen suffered a massive trauma stroke not long after sustaining the gunshot wound and a craniotomy (removing part of his skull) was immediately performed in Afghanistan. He was then transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany the following morning where another craniotomy was performed to ensure minimal damage from swelling. The majority of his frontal lobe and part of his parietal lobe had to be removed to save his life. A few days later, Allen was returned to National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland before being transferred in August of 2009 to the James a Haley Veteran’s Hospital in Tampa, Fla. He has been there ever since, but that is about to change.
Dec. 19, Allen he will be transferred to the Veterans Hospital in Decatur in preparation to his return to his home in Loganville. However, life will not be easy for Allen, his wife Shannon, his son Cody, 14, and the couple's 3-year-old daughter, Journey. Allen is unable to talk or walk and requires 24-hour care. He has limited use of his right hand, but no purposeful movement in any other extremities. His wife said considering his injuries, his recovery has been tremendous. But things are not likely to get much better than they are now.
"He knows who we are and he remembers things. He smiles when things are funny and he cries when he's sad," she said. "He's there - and it will be good to have him home where we can spend time with him."
The Allen's home in Loganville was closed up for more than two years after his wife quit her life in the local area and moved to Tampa to be with her husband. His recovery, however, has now reached a stage where she can continue to care for him in his own surroundings and the family is preparing to return to Loganville. Allen's older son lives with his mother out of state, but has spent a lot of time with his dad and will continue to do so when the family returns to Loganville.
Building Homes for Heroes, a volunteer organization out of Tampa, has taken on Allen’s case. They recently travelled to Loganville to see what could be done to make life easier for the Allen family when their soldier comes home. Hillsborough County, Fla. firefighter Kelly Hallman, a volunteer with the organization, said the response from the Loganville Community has been tremendous.
“ has stepped up in a big way,” Hallman said. “Randy Haney has been neck deep in this whole event. The Patriot Guard Riders () have also been there to help and have done much of the landscaping of the Allen’s back yard. With Home Depot, they are putting in some kind of flat yard in the back so Mark can go outside and watch his kids play. They are also putting a small patio in the backyard for Mark.”
Hallman said much of the funding for the work came from the VA, but Building Homes For Heroes also picked up some of what was necessary to prepare the home for Allen’s return.
“One of the last items absolutely necessary for his return was a generator and we now have that,” Hallman said. “There have also been some other things done such as making the house handicap accessible and there is a therapy room downstairs among other things. The community really stepped up in a big way.”
Allens’s wife, Shannon, has been and will continue to be his primary caregiver, but she will have fulltime nursing support in the care of her husband. Hallman said the Allen family, however, would need continued support from the community.
“Things like just taking care of the yard,” Hallman said, adding it would be nice to see the community turn out to greet Allen on his return home like was done recently for .
While Shannon Allen said it would probably be better for her husband to be able to have some time settling into the home, she too would love for him to see support from the community as they pass through on their way home. Allen grew up in Snellville and some time next week he will be making his way up Highway 78, through Snellville, to his home in Loganville. He will have a Patriot Guard escort for the trip. The day and time will be made know as soon as it is finalized.