Community turns out to support Fort Hall hero
FORT HALL — About 150 people came out Saturday to recognize and celebrate the service of a Fort Hall veteran.
Cpl. Phillip Baldwin, a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and a former U.S. Marine, is the recipient of a mortgage-free adaptive home that’s being built for him by Homes for Our Troops, a national nonprofit organization.
Baldwin was on a security patrol in Kajaki, Afghanistan, with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. The blast resulted in the loss of both his legs and injury to his left hand and right hip.
The community celebration Saturday marked the fifth anniversary of the day Baldwin was injured and included a barbecue and a meet and greet with Baldwin. Members of the community, veterans and local dignitaries lined up to shake hands with the local hero.
Craig Clement with the Combat Vets Association of Ogden presented Baldwin with a commemorative watch during the ceremony, which was held at the Shoshone Bannock Hotel and Events Center.
Clement said he served with Baldwin’s mother, Vickie Baldwin, and when he heard about the event, he knew that the group had to be there.
“We knew that we needed to be here to support the family,” Clement said.
About 25 members of the club attended the community celebration along with members of the Fort Hall Police Department, who escorted Baldwin to the gala, and Fort Hall firefighters.
Larry Echo Hawk, U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs and former Idaho Attorney General, said when he learned that Baldwin had been transferred to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, he cleared his schedule and immediately paid a visit to the Marine.
“I told him that I represented President Barack Obama,” Echo Hawk said.
Echo Hawk said he wasn’t sure if he could even see the injured Marine, but he felt compelled to try.
“I didn’t really think about what I was going to say, what was appropriate — I just wanted to be there for him,” Echo Hawk said.
Speakers during Saturday’s event included Travis Bell, Baldwin’s former wrestling coach, and Ross Hugoes, president of the Tyhee Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Hugoes said the Tyhee Stake plans to donate $5,000 to build a gazeebo at Baldwin’s new home and the LDS stake is also donating $3,000 for additional furnishings and amenities.
“We asked (Baldwin) what he needed, what he wanted,” Hugoes said. “He said he would like a little sanctuary where he and other veterans can get together.”
The donation comes from the church’s humanitarian program.
Baldwin said he was humbled by the community recognition Saturday.
“I’m grateful, and I’m honored,” Baldwin said. “I appreciate what they’re doing for me and my family.”
The four-bedroom, two-bath home is being built near Sheepskin and Bannock roads, and the family hopes to move in in August.
The house will be more than 3,000-square-feet and will include major special adaptations such as widened doorways for wheelchair access, a roll-in shower and kitchen amenities such as pull-down shelving and lowered countertops.
Brianne McNamara with Homes for Our Troops in Boston said she has the best job in the world.
McNamara said the community events are aimed at getting the word out about the program and honoring veterans. The group doesn’t advertise, and it doesn’t solicit celebrity endorsements, so 90 cents of every $1 goes to support veterans.
HFOT Marketing Director Patty Catalano said the group has built 216 homes, 28 new residences are under construction, and about 116 veterans are in the pipeline to get a new home.
“It’s an honor to give back to Baldwin,” Catalano said. “This is not charity. We are fulfilling our promise and our obligation to veterans.
Sgt. Justin Bond from California lost his leg in the Battle for Fallujah on April 4, 2004. He was also the recipient of a new, mortgage-free, adaptive home.
“They train you to fight, to protect and to defend, but they don’t train you how to act when something like this happens,” Bond said. “That takes the kind of courage displayed by Baldwin. Accept this house in honor of all those who didn’t return.”
Baldwin’s brothers, Bruce Baldwin Jr. and Alan Baldwin, also served in the U.S. Marine Corps and their mother, Vickie Baldwin, retired from the U.S. Air Force.
For more information about Homes for Our Troops, go to www.hfotusa.org.
This article was originally published in the Idaho State Journal. It is used here with permission.