Army Ranger Nathan Rimpf stood and dug a shovel into the dirt for a ceremonial groundbreaking at his new home on Thursday, 13 months to the day of a blast in Afghanistan that claimed both his legs.
Flanked by his parents, 1st Lt. Rimpf smiled for the crowd of neighbors and dignitaries who had come to offer their gratitude and well-wishes to the soon-to-be homeowner.
Rimpf is the sixth recipient of a home built by Operation: Coming Home, a local volunteer project that builds and donates houses to disabled combat veterans who served in the Middle East.
“It’s hard to describe, being 25 and having your community hand you a house. I still don’t feel like I did that much, but everyone keeps saying that I did,” he said. “So, I’m starting to believe them, I guess.”
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Rimpf, who is quick to look on the bright side and to crack a joke, likes to say that the bonus of losing two legs is that he gained three inches in height because of his prosthetic limbs.
But when he caught the first glimpse of the under-construction house that will be his when he returns to Raleigh from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he decided there’s something even better than standing 6-foot-2.
“I thought getting three inches taller was the silver lining, but I think this kind of trumps it,” he told the crowd while thanking them for their help.
Rimpf will receive the keys to his new home in South Raleigh’s Renaissance Park this fall and move in a few months later.
Rimpf was leading his platoon through an area of Anbar Province in July 2012 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device and suffered extensive injuries when it exploded. Doctors had to amputate his legs, one through the knee and one just above the knee.
Since then, he’s been recuperating at Walter Reed, learning how to walk and run on his new prosthetic legs. Last week, he finished his last official physical therapy session.
Rimpf, who graduated from Leesville Road High School in 2006 and East Carolina University in 2010, also has been on the road, traveling and speaking at fundraisers for organizations that help Wounded Warriors.
Rimpf’s mother, Cindy Rimpf, said she isn’t surprised by how her son has responded to his injuries. He’s always been focused and held high standards for himself, she said.
“I knew that he would attack this to the best of his ability,” she said.
The Rimpf family also started an online fundraising campaign last year – “Where in the World are Nathan’s Wristbands?” – that asks supporters to snap a picture of a rubber bracelet with Rimpf’s name on it in unusual locations or with famous faces.
Rimpf will officially retire from the Army in late 2013 or early 2014. He then hopes to attend business school. After years of planning for a career in the Army, he wants some training in what the civilian world has to offer, he said.
Rimpf also always had anticipated that he would move every few years because of his Army career, but now he’s glad to be headed back to Raleigh.
“I didn’t realize how awesome this place was until I left,” he said.