U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. Josh Hargis received a hero's welcome to Southwest Florida over the weekend as he joined family in Cape Coral for a brief visit before returning to Texas for more rehabilitation from injuries suffered in Afghanistan.
The National Coalition for Patriots, a military veterans service organization created in Cape Coral three years ago, has reached out to Hargis and his family to provide the double amputee necessary transportation. NCFP has raised most of the funds needed to purchase a Toyota Tundra truck from Fort Myers Auto Nation.
"He's here for a couple of weeks and we hope to deliver the truck to him before he leaves," said NCFP board president Dan Ashby. "It's a $40,000 truck and we're down to the last $3,800, which is phenomenal support from this community."
To help provide Hargis with appropriate transportation all one needs to do to donate to the cause is visit the website www.nationalcfp.org and make an online payment of any size.
"Our homegrown organization's goal is to not turn anyone away," said Ashby. "We try to do what we can according to the veteran's needs. Everyone is different. We've helped as many as 50 servicemen and women financially with rent or Christmas presents for kids, fixing vehicles, clothes, or getting their VA benefits. NCFP is all volunteers and 100 percent of donations goes to the veterans."
The hero's welcome began Sunday at Page Field upon Hargis' arrival on a chartered flight. The Patriot Guard Riders and state volunteers greeted the wounded soldier, his wife and her family. A line of motorcycles, cars and police escort accompanied the family to their Cape Coral home.
The reception inside the terminal was a surprise to Hargis. The military formality of welcoming quickly dissolved as people circled the soldier reaching to embrace, salute the hero.
From his wheelchair, "only doing his Army Ranger job" was Hargis' response.
Hargis "deserves this recognition," said Patriot GuardRider Rodney Swinson. "This is his day."
Hargis, 24, was injured on his fourth deployment to Afghanistan last October when several enemy improvised explosive devices (IED) killed four U.S. soldiers and injured several others, including Hargis. The men were part of the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment operating in southern Afghanistan. Hargis lost his right leg above the knee and his left leg below the knee.
Hargis first enlisted in 2010 and served a three-year commitment. When he and his wife, Taylor, who is expecting the couple's first child in May, were unable to financially transition back to civilian life, Hargis re-enlisted and again deployed to Afghanistan.
Taylor and her parents are Cape Coral residents. Her mother and father are both retired Fort Myers Police Officers. When the time comes, Josh and Taylor will make their home here. Josh plans to return to school and achieve an engineering degree, possibly focusing on prosthetics. Depending on the childbirth and Josh's recovery process, Taylor hopes to return to work in the health and beauty field.
"He still has a lot of rehab to do," said Ashby. "The VA will modify the vehicle according to Josh's needs."
Hargis will spend another year in rehab.
"This is amazing," Scott Griffith, Josh's father-in-law, said Sunday. "The greatest people have stepped forward. It helps (America) to not forget."
- Freelance reporter Craig Garrett contributed to this report.