Although Carroll County High School held its Homecoming festivities nearly three weeks ago, that ceremony paled in comparison to the reception 2009 graduate Eric Sabath received Wednesday.
Back at the school for the first time since returning home from injuries suffered while serving his country in Afghanistan, U.S. Army PFC Sabath was showered with love and hugs from well-wishers. Students, teachers, administrators and citizens from the community poured into the school for a BBQ fundraiser put on by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and the SkillsUSA organization at CCHS for Sabath’s family and the Wounded Warrior Project.
This summer, Sabath, 21, was clearing a path of improvised explosive devices when one exploded on him August 6, severely injuring his feet. After four surgeries and a month in a Seattle, Washington hospital, Sabath returned home three weeks ago, where he has been recovering.
“The doctors have just been amazed by him. When they showed us the first x-rays, you couldn’t even identify them as feet,” said DeeDee Sabath, Eric’s mother. “The first time we talked to them they thought he would lose his feet.”
But Eric has impressed everyone with his amazing attitude throughout the ordeal. In fact, if it weren’t for his wheelchair Wednesday, you would have no idea anything was wrong from the way he carried himself and joked with students and friends at the school. Many at the school remarked about how impressed they were with Sabath’s demeanor.
Perhaps it was that attitude that helped him throughout his surgeries as both his feet were completely rebuilt. Both feet are made up of metal at this point, said DeeDee. Eric was set to return to Fort Lewis, Washington on Saturday where he will enter a Warrior Transition Barracks as he recovers.
“He’s improved so much. The surgeries were difficult and he was in a lot of pain,” his mother said. “There will be no major surgeries when he returns, they are just checking to see if they need to move any bone fragments or things like that.”
Both DeeDee and Wayne Sabath, Eric’s father, have been amazed by the amount of love people throughout the community have shown their son since returning home.
“Oh my gosh, it’s wonderful. People have been so supportive,” DeeDee said. “The people here are so supportive of the military. It’s not that way in Washington.”
Eric Sabath said a man also put on a Poker Run for him since he’s been back, and the Carroll County Recreation Department will hold a benefit softball tournament for both Eric and the Virginia Wounded Warrior Project on Nov. 10.
“The support here has been awesome,” Eric said. “They have no support for the military in Washington. People were outside the base protesting. And in Olympia, they have signs to stop the war, so it’s been great to be back home.”
Carroll County Sheriff J.B. Gardner said his department always tries to help a couple of charities. The department had already decided the Wounded Warrior Project would be a great charity to support even before Sabath’s injuries.
“Then we found out one of our own had been wounded and we wanted to see if there were any needs we could help the family meet,” Gardner said. “I knew Eric from school and we wanted to do that. And Eric was a member of SkillsUSA at the high school. We decided to do this for the Wounded Warrior Project and for Eric, and you can see the results here today.”
In fact, all the Career and Technical programs at the high school chipped in Wednesday. Gardner said the home economics department fixed beans and cole slaw for the fundraiser, while the building trades, automotive, electrical, drafting and cosmetology departments processed the hams and helped cook barbecue. He said five smokers were used to cook 1,600 pounds of pork that were dressed in 80 gallons of barbecue sauce for the event.
“It’s a production line, just a massive effort. They started at noon the day before and finished up around noon today,” Gardner said. “Everybody wants to help Eric. If there is something the family needs, we will buy it. What’s leftover will go to the Wounded Warrior Project.”
The Sabaths have been amazed by the level of support they have received from the Wounded Warrior Project. DeeDee said the group gave her a bag with a blanket, shampoo and other essentials she would need while basically living out of the hospital with Eric in Washington. The group helped in many other ways as well, she said.
“Wounded Warrior is such a wonderful organization. As soon as he got there they had him clothing, because he had none at that point,” she said. “They are so supportive. We were crazy when we first got there. They showed us around and told us what to expect. I can’t say enough good things about them.”
“It’s not a foundation that just says things,” added Wayne Sabath. “They really do it and they mean it.”