On Oct. 16, 2006, Senior Airman Brandon Byers’ life was changed forever. At that time, he was a member of the United States Air Force. His journey has taken him from American hero to new homeowner, thanks to Helping A Hero and Smiles Charity right here in McKinney.
In the midst of the Iraq War, Byers was stationed at Camp Bucca, working alongside the Army and Marines maintaining security. As the next relief team settled in, Byers volunteered to stay in the field and help train the incoming soldiers.
During a routine patrol, Byers and his fellow soldiers were heading back to Camp when tragedy struck.
“I was the rear gunner vehicle of the convoy that day, and normally I was the first,” Byers said. “The rear vehicle was struck with a roadside bomb,and this particular bomb was called EFP, or explosively formed projectile, that hit the rear end where I was located. When it went off, I remember a large bloom of dirt and small orange flash and I put my hands up.”
When Byers awoke from the blast, he was lying inside the armored vehicle instead of standing up.
“I looked up, and the tip of my finger had been blow off and was hanging on by a thin piece of skin,” Byers said. “I look at my leg and it was like someone had taken a shotgun close range and fired. My uniform was torn and blood everywhere, blood was running into my eyes. I look at my wrist and there was a hole in my glove and blood gushing as a piece of scrap metal had gone through my palm and severed a major artery.”
Realizing he was bleeding out, Byers did the first thing that came to his mind. He prayed. “ I said The Lord’s Prayer really loud and then said a personal prayer. I told God ‘I don’t want to die here, I want to die on American soil.’ ”
With help from a nearby Army convoy and Byers’ truck commander, they were able to get him on a Black Hawk chopper and to safety. Although he survived the attack, after several surgeries, Byers eventually had to have his leg amputated and as a result his military career was over.
Through a mutual acquaintance, Byers and his family were put in contact with Dave Roever, a wounded Vietnam veteran who owns ranches throughout the United States. Roever that offers wounded vets and their families an opportunity to go and speak about their experiences with fellow wounded vets. Upon meeting Roever, Brandon and his wife Megan were inspired by his philosophy. They made the choice to not let Brandon’s experience define their family or their lives. Instead they would share their journey of survival and struggle through public speaking and offering support through their website www.iwillwalkbesideyou.com.
After a former recipient of Helping A Hero, a non-profit, non-partisan organization in Houston, told Byers of what the organization did for him, Byers decided to contact them — but not to be a recipient himself.
“At the time I was really hesitant because, like a lot of wounded vets, I didn’t feel worthy because I didn’t really do anything to deserve this,” he said. At first, Byers contacted Meredith Iler, chairwoman and founder of Helping A Hero, offering his help for other projects. But after others heard of Byers’ story, he and his wife Megan soon found themselves receiving help.
At a gala in October of 2012, it was announced, along with 30 other families, that the Byers family would be getting a new home. Megan Byers recalls that “was kind of a surreal week because at the time we were so far removed from Brandon’s injury, more so than some of the other recipients. At that point it had been six years since his injury, and just knowing that someone still cared and still wanted to help you (was meaningful).”
Along with Helping A Hero, Smiles Charity, founded by Dr. Jennifer Buchanan, put the plans in motion to start building a new home for the Byers family. But first, they needed a location.
The Byers family had lived in McKinney once before and they knew this was where they wanted their new home to be. The sense of community and the church they attend were just a few things that drew them back here. On July 22, 2013, Helping A Hero and Smiles Charity held a ceremonial groundbreaking event to begin building the veteran and his family a new home.
Their new home will be ready to occupy in March. Megan Byers said,“With the community partnering … it has reaffirmed with us, that people deep down are so appreciative of what my husband did and what others have done [for this country].”
If you would like to know more, follow Brandon at www.iwillwalkbesideyou.com