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A home has the warrior, with help

Cpl. Josh Cooley, a Marine reservist with head injuries from 
a roadside bomb in Iraq in July 2005, and his father, Vietnam 
vet Ed Cooley, at the recent Marine Corps Ball in Tampa.

JULIA KUMARI DRAPKIN | Times

Cpl. Josh Cooley, a Marine reservist with head injuries from a roadside bomb in Iraq in July 2005, and his father, Vietnam vet Ed Cooley, at the recent Marine Corps Ball in Tampa.

The group of Pasco County businessmen don't know Josh Cooley, haven't even met him.

But they've heard about his service as a Pasco sheriff's SWAT deputy and Marine reservist, and they know about the roadside bomb in Iraq that nearly killed him 2½ years ago.

They want to help.

Their offering will be cement and stucco, labor and time — the pieces of a home for the wounded warrior.

Cooley, 31, has spent the last 15 months at a rehabilitation center in California, relearning the skills erased by his grave brain injury. In the coming months, he will be well enough to return to Florida to continue his recovery.

First, he needs a home.

He lived with his wife in a Land O'Lakes rental before his Iraq tour, but they have since divorced. Then came a succession of hospital rooms after his July 2005 injury.

His parents sold their home just before their son got hurt, planning to build on a wooded lot in Brooksville.

Their land is now the site for the 3,600-square-foot block home planned for Cooley.

Prominent businessmen have been meeting weekly at an Italian restaurant to make it happen. The group includes WellBuilt Homes owner Scott Walsingham, who is serving as project contractor, and Port Richey attorney Steve Booth, a longtime booster of the Angelus, a home for developmentally disabled individuals.

New Port Richey Mayor Dan Tipton, Joe Cash, Orville Williamson, Tom Chittum and Gary Joiner also are part of the planning effort.

Booth said group members didn't need convincing to pitch in on Cooley's behalf.

"Josh's situation really struck a chord with all of us," Booth said.

They are hoping to secure a Veterans Administration grant to help defray costs. Otherwise, the men have reached out to their community contacts for donations of material and labor. They've gotten a strong response, they said, though the effort has been hampered somewhat by the housing downturn.

They still need cabinets and drywall, plus someone to install them. They are on the lookout for donations of frame material, baseboards and interior doors.

The goal is to have a handicap-equipped home featuring a therapy room and a shower big enough for a wheelchair ready this summer.

The generosity of strangers is not lost on Cooley's family.

Neither is the importance of getting Cooley back to Florida.

"I firmly believe in my heart, as do his doctors, that the next step in his recovery is to get him home and around his friends," said brother Christopher Cooley, who moved his family from New Jersey to Land O'Lakes to be closer to Josh and is helping with the house.

Josh Cooley has regained his ability to speak, a feat that proved that his memory is intact. He remembers details of his childhood, inside jokes with his deputy buddies and lyrics to Bon Jovi songs.

He feeds himself and helps dress himself. He walks short distances with a walker.

He lives with his parents, Ed and Christine, and participates in daily outpatient care at Casa Colina, a rehab center in Pomona, Calif. They will also live with him in the Brooksville home and provide his daily care.

Supporters raised thousands of dollars for Josh Cooley in the immediate aftermath of his injury. The funds that remain are in a trust account in his name, but the men behind the house effort want to avoid dipping into that account just yet.

"He's going to need every penny of that for his lifelong care," Booth said.

>>fast facts

Want to help?

Checks can be made out to the New Port Richey Rotary Foundation (write Josh Cooley in the memo line). Mail tax-deductible donations to attorney Steve Booth, 7510 Ridge Road, Port Richey 34668, or call Booth at (727) 842-9105.

A home has the warrior, with help 03/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 28, 2008 8:51am]
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