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Weeki Wachee veteran gets playground, fence at new house

WEEKI WACHEE — The girls were tumbling on the playground before it was finished.

Around them, volunteers set up a plastic slide and nailed wood frames together. The girls' father, Anthony Smith, 30, moved among his children and the workers, kissing a crying daughter on the cheek before hurrying to help a man carry a swing seat.

"This is his best shot at maybe getting better," said Anthony's wife, Heather Smith, also 30.

Anthony, Heather and the girls — ages 1, 2 and 4 — moved into the house in March. Four years earlier, Anthony, an Army medic, had nearly lost his life when a roadside bomb exploded in Iraq.

Some of the 20-odd volunteers helping to add the playground and a tall fence around the yard Thursday had been part of the effort when Chase Bank and the Military Warriors Support Foundation gave the three-bedroom home to the Smiths on March 29. It was one of a number of refurbished foreclosure homes that the Warriors group and the bank have turned over to wounded veterans.

On Thursday, the Abilities Foundation and the Home Depot Foundation teamed up to renovate the mortgage-free home.

Frank Essex, manager of the Home Depot store in Spring Hill and a member of the board of Abilities, helped build the playground with his teenage daughters. He listened to music with Anthony on Anthony's smartphone.

"I think that was his way of opening up," Essex said. "I didn't expect that."

Anthony still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, which includes depression, mood swings and wrenching nightmares. He walks with a cane.

He was recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C., when Heather, then his good friend, flew to see him. The two fell in love, and two weeks after they returned to Florida in 2009, Heather gave birth to their first daughter.

The Smiths moved to Hernando County from Lakeland, where they had been living in the garage of Anthony's father, the entire family sleeping on a borrowed king-size bed.

Though Anthony said he loves family life in his new home — "It's mind-blowing," he said Thursday — he admitted that he still could not talk with his wife about what happened when the bomb exploded.

"In my daily life, I can go from being completely fine to walking in the back of the house or smelling a certain smell, and it's like someone flipped a switch," he said. "It's not something that gets better. You just learn how to manage."

Alison Barnwell can be reached at (352) 754-6114 or abarnwell@tampabay.com.

Weeki Wachee veteran gets playground, fence at new house 07/18/13 [Last modified: Thursday, July 18, 2013 9:58pm]
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