Marine Sgt. Nick Kimmel walked through the front door of his new home in Fallbrook on prosthetic legs, with his service dog — an English cream golden retriever named Rush — right behind him.
Surveying the wide hallways, lowered countertops and blinds that open and close at the touch of an iPad, Kimmel smiled and set out to explore.
"This is cool," said the 26-year-old, who four years ago lost both of his legs and an arm to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan.
The custom smart home, built by the Gary Sinise Foundation and its partners, was presented to Kimmel last week. He struggled to take it all in.
"It's almost one of those speechless moments," he said to more than 100 supporters and members of the media. "I don't know what to say but thank you."
Everything inside the 2,300-square-foot home is new. Next door is a 40-by-60-foot workshop where Kimmel said he plans on restoring classic cars and trucks with his father. A '71 Stingray Corvette, in need of a lot of work, already sits in a corner.
On Dec. 1, 2011, Kimmel was helping build a patrol base just south of the Kajaki Dam in southern Afghanistan when he jumped off the forks of a tram loader and landed on a 40-pound IED.
Four days later, he woke up at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. His left arm had been amputated, as well as both legs above the knee.
Kimmel said he does not like to dwell on the past and believes pushing forward is the way to live.
"If someone had told me when I signed up that on this day you're going to lose your legs, I would have still signed up with the Marine Corps," he said.
Kimmel's new home, on 2 1/2 acres, is one of 40 being built for wounded veterans by the Sinise Foundation — a charity founded by the actor known to many for his portrayal of double amputee Lt. Dan in "Forrest Gump."
Kimmel found out that he had been chosen for the program about a year ago. He said the house will help him be independent.
"It's fantastic," he said. "When you have to rely on someone else all the time, it's cumbersome. I almost feel like I'm burdening them. So now I have a home where I can be by myself, where I don't have to rely on anyone else. It allows my life to get back to more normality."
J. Harry Jones writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.