This Thanksgiving, former Army Sgt. Joey Bozik and his wife, Jayme, wanted what anybody would want: a holiday meal with family. A turkey, some vegetables, a football game on television in their new home, a new baby on the way.
Four years after his body was blown apart by a land mine in Iraq, Joey wanted his mom and his brothers to see that his life was coming together.
Hundreds turned out in October to watch a limousine bring the Boziks to their new home.
The 2,600-square-foot house built by a battalion of volunteers was being given, free, to honor Bozik’s service. In a two-hour ceremony, the 82nd Airborne Band played; the Airborne Chorus sang the national anthem. A trio of Black Hawk helicopters flew in.
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When the speeches were done, Joey walked stiffly on two prosthetic legs to the center of the gathering and took his wife’s arm for balance. An Army parachute team floated from the blue sky, and one of the paratroopers handed the grateful couple the key to their new place.
Since Joey got hurt in a mine explosion in Iraq, nothing, it seems, has been simple.
In that split-second flash, an Airborne-trained military police officer went from being able to jump from planes to needing help getting out of bed. With both legs and his right arm severed, and his left arm in a cast, he couldn’t even feed himself at first.
Joey had entered the military the way he goes into everything, with a pragmatic eye. Growing up in Wilmington, N.C., he wanted to do police work, but felt local departments underpaid their officers. Federal law enforcement looked like a better option. He particularly liked the U.S. Marshal Service, and figured five years of military experience would look good on a resume.
He enlisted in the Army in January 2001. Basic training was the first time he had ever left home.
He was assigned to a military police unit of the 82nd at Fort Bragg. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he was sent to guard the Pentagon. In 2003, he was in Afghanistan.
An officer there introduced him to a friend, Jayme, from Texas. Joey e-mailed her. They couldn’t believe how much they had in common.
He especially liked the way she could be emotional about something, then make a rational decision about it.
The night of Oct. 27, 2004, Joey was seven months into a 12-month deployment in Iraq when his group of MPs was sent out south of Baghdad to investigate a possible roadside bomb. They left, as they always did, in a convoy of three: a Humvee, a tank, another Humvee.
Joey was in the rear Humvee when it started down a highway on-ramp and hit a mine.
Amputees are common among the casualties of such violent explosions sent to recover at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
Triple amputees, such as Joey, are relatively rare. As he underwent one surgery after another, set and achieved physical therapy goals and began to do things he had done before his injury — play golf, water ski — Joey became something of a celebrity. In most of the stories, somebody nearly always called him a hero.
Joey’s own heroes include Abraham Lincoln. Veterans of World War II. And those local cops who risk their lives at every traffic stop for $32,000 a year.
“I don’t see myself as a hero,” Joey said, not for doing his job, and not for deciding he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life lying on a couch.
Joey and Jayme were married on New Year’s Eve 2004, while he was still in the hospital. After he got out, they moved to California on a program for injured vets.
“We had to learn how to live with his disability,” Jayme said. “And we had to learn how to live as a couple.”
When they were dating, he made most of the decisions. After he was injured, she took the dominant role. Now, they’re learning to be partners.
They decided together to apply for a home that a group of veterans involved in the construction business around the Triangle wanted to build for an injured vet.
Joey’s wheelchair was chewing up the bed frame and the door jambs in their 800-square-foot apartment in California, and they knew they couldn’t afford to buy a house there where he would have enough room to maneuver.
Since his injury, Joey has come to appreciate friends and family, too, and wanted to be back in North Carolina where they are.
The Triangle Real Estate and Construction Veterans, the Armed Forces Foundation and the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County were looking for a vet to be the first recipient of a “Hero’s Home,” their name for the service project. They chose Joey.
It took dozens of groups and hundreds of individuals to build the house, customized to meet Joey’s abilities and interests. Narrow halls were eliminated, along with carpets and rugs. Joey, who does most of the cooking, can pull his wheelchair under the stove top. A microwave and refrigerators pull out as drawers he can reach sitting down.
The heat runs under the floor. When the couple’s first child, due this month and already named Violet, gets big enough, her daddy can get down on the floor with her and play.
It will be a simple, wonderful thing.