Beautiful mountain views with endless places to hike, a close-knit, veteran-friendly community and less dense traffic — that’s what Montrose is for Nicholas Morris.
“It’s an outdoor community. I like hunting, fishing, riding my 4-wheeler, hiking and climbing,” said Morris.
The retired Army first lieutenant recently decided to call Montrose home and was welcomed to town during a community kick-off event for his new Homes For Our Troops house. The ceremony was held Saturday at Crossroads Victory Church, 515 Hillcrest Drive.
Morris was amazed there were dozens of residents in attendance at his welcome home ceremony, saying he thought only about 10 people would be there.
He is one of three veterans who will receive an adapted house from Homes For Our Troops. One home, built for retired Army Spc. Steven Baskis, has already been finished.
As previously reported, Morris was injured in Afghanistan in June 2011 while on a resupply mission with 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division. An unexpected pressure plate explosive device blew up under the vehicle in which Morris was traveling, injuring him and four other soldiers and killing their interpreter.
He sustained injuries to both legs, a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), and a broken back and jaw. He was eventually transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. where he underwent 30 surgeries in three months. His right leg had to be amputated and he wears a brace on his left.
Homes For Our Troops is a national nonprofit that builds new, adapted homes for severely injured post-9/11 veterans across the U.S.
“It’s really all about rebuilding their lives,” said Homes For Our Troops Executive Director Bill Ivey. “... The key to being successful is to have a strong community and that’s the beauty of Montrose. It’s a very veteran-friendly, supportive community and that’s what’s going to set these guys up for success going forward.”
Being an amputee hasn’t stopped Morris from enjoying the outdoors and hiking some of Colorado’s highest peaks. Morris’ goal is to hike every 14er mountain in the state, currently, he’s scaled 22 while attempting 26.
But that’s only leading to his ultimate ambition: scaling Denali in Alaska. The 20,310-foot summit, formerly called Mt. McKinley, lays claim to being the third-highest peak in the world and the tallest in North America.
Morris said Denali is also the highest peak which doesn’t require the help of a Sherpa or guide, the main reason why he wants to climb to the top.
“I want to be the first amputee to do Denali,” Morris said. “Because you actually have to carry your own gear. Unlike Everest or the other big ones, you can have a sherpa carry your gear up. In Denali, you have to carry your own gear, you can’t be helped. That’s why you haven’t had any amputees peak Denali.”
Ivey said he believes Morris’ adventure in life is inspiring, saying the man has accomplishments “that people with two legs don’t do.”
“He’s getting out and living life,” Ivey said “... That’s what’s so impressed with the veterans that we are privileged to work with. … They have had to adapt differently to the things that they are used to.
“They are just a great inspiration to everybody who ever sits around and felt sorry for themselves on the couch that day because something didn’t go right at school or work.”
Baskis, who was in attendance Saturday, knows first-hand what the Homes For Our Troops community kick-off event is like.
Baskis received his Homes for Our Troops residence back in September and, like Morris, said he was surprised by the community’s support.
“It was a magnificent feeling because it’s something that you’ve been thinking about and planning in your mind for,” Baskis said. “It’s not normal to receive a home mortgage-free and something that's customized to your liking and more for your functionality.”
For Morris, he’s just taking in seeing so many residents honoring his time in the armed forces.
“It was a humbling experience,” Morris said. “… (I was) treated like a hero and all that - I didn’t any of that.”
Andrew Kiser is the Montrose Daily Press’ sports/business writer. Follow him on Twitter @andrew_kpress.