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Welcoming home Ryan: Navy Petty Officer Ryan Sykes receives his Homes For Our Troops residence

Members of the community congratulate Navy Petty Officer Ryan Sykes, center, on his new Homes For Our Troops home while others show off the adaptive features built to help him overcome his disabilities. Sykes sustained a traumatic brain injury while deployed to Afghanistan in 2008.
Photo: Elias Funez

Navy Petty Officer First Class Ryan Sykes doesn’t sit idle for long.

During his senior year at Bear River High School, Sykes signed up for the military and enlisted in the Navy six months after graduation.

When the attack on the World Trade Center took place Sept. 11, 2001, Sykes was serving stateside in Miami.



“All right, I’m not getting paid to sit on South Beach,” Sykes said. “I need to do a little more.”

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders display the American flag as Ryan Sykes receives his Homes For Our Troops home Saturday in Grass Valley.
Photo: Elias Funez

So Sykes volunteered to a special warfare unit and got accepted, marking the start of eight tours of Iraq and Afghanistan.



It was during his fifth deployment in Afghanistan in 2008 when Sykes was involved in a motorcycle accident on base, sustaining a traumatic brain injury as well as a collapsed lung, facial fractures, soft tissue damage on his bicep, and pneumonia.

Sykes was discovered five hours later and doctors said the cold conditions he was found in likely saved him from further brain injury by keeping the swelling of his brain down.

Family, friends, community members and fellow service members cheer on the arrival of Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Ryan Sykes as he arrives at the adaptive home built and given to him by the Homes for Our Troops organization.
Photo: Elias Funez

KEY CEREMONY

Sykes told his story Saturday to a crowd of people gathered to witness him walk into his new specially adaptive home gifted to him by the nationwide organization Home For Our Troops.

“This house is going to give me a huge peace of mind,” Sykes said to the crowd. “This one is specifically designed for me. It will free a lot of head space above me.”

Aside from head space, surfaces have been lowered, and hallways widened. An emergency back up generator, a safe room, and a special chair that can carry him throughout rooms in the house have been installed.

Ryan Sykes addresses the crowd in attendance of Saturday’s welcome home and key ceremony in front of his new Grass Valley home.
Photo: Elias Funez

The house is the 325th home built by the HFOT organization, the 40th built in California, and the second built in Nevada County. Local builders Freschi Construction built the two Nevada County HFOT homes. The other was gifted in 2020 to Army Staff Sgt. Cody Rice in Penn Valley.

“I know this doesn’t sound significant. Even in my house I have to wear shoes because I propel myself with my feet,” Sykes said.

“The simple freedom that people take for granted. The little things that people don’t think about in how we have to change our lives to operate.”

Members of the Patriot Guard Riders, as well as local law enforcement, escorted Navy Petty Officer Ryan Sykes to his new Grass Valley home Saturday morning.
Photo: Elias Funez

PARALYMPICS AND BEYOND

“He’s still looking to serve,” Homes For Our Troops Executive Director Bill Ivey said to the crowd, describing how Sykes has volunteered his time with the San Ramon Police Department and has helped them to crack some cold cases.

“I’ve been devoted to (training for) the Paralympics, but now that I’m back, I kind of want to volunteer with the police department,” Sykes said. “I can use my special skills to help out with the county or city and where I can take that.”

Sykes takes his gym training seriously as well.

Those in attendance of Saturday’s key ceremony write notes on a poster board.
Photo: Elias Funez

“’I’ve got to keep going to the gym, because one day my brain is going to wake up,’” Ivey described Sykes saying to him.

Representatives of the Rotary clubs of Grass Valley and San Ramon were on hand to welcome Sykes home, along with U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, Grass Valley Vice Mayor Jan Arbuckle, Nevada County District Attorney Jesse Wilson, and the Patriot Guard Riders, among many others.

Members of the Grass Valley Moose Lodge welcomed Sykes into the neighborhood with an honorary membership.

“There are three things that can be done for Homes For Our Troops,” Ivey said. “One, welcome our vets into your community. Two, tell people we exist. And three, fundraise or donate.”

Ryan Sykes was all smiles as he walked to the front door of his new Grass Valley home donated to him by Homes For Our Troops.
Photo: Elias Funez

Prior to moving into their adaptive homes, roughly 15% of veterans were able to obtain a college degree. That number jumps to 70% after moving in. Roughly 95% of veterans and spouses say that they have less stress in their lives after moving in, and veteran employment almost doubles while spouse employment goes up threefold after moving in.

Operation Lasting Support, a monthly automatic withdrawal from a bank account, was touted by the HFOT organization as well as by Sykes.

“I really encourage anyone to get involved in the Operation Lasting Support to keep the ball rolling,” Sykes said.

To contact Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez, email efunez@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230

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