Welcome home! Veteran, family ‘beyond grateful’ for mortgage-free house

Operation FINALLY HOME executive director Rusty Carroll (left) along with Josh Dungan of JM Dungan Custom Homes (far right) welcome the Zurn family (L-R Brittany, Aaron, daughter Tatum, Sons Porter and Keegan) Through community donations, the Zurn family also received new furniture for their home. CONTRIBUTED
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Operation FINALLY HOME executive director Rusty Carroll (left) along with Josh Dungan of JM Dungan Custom Homes (far right) welcome the Zurn family (L-R Brittany, Aaron, daughter Tatum, Sons Porter and Keegan) Through community donations, the Zurn family also received new furniture for their home. CONTRIBUTED

Vandalia Marine injured in 2014 after falling from helicopter

Choosing to join the military is never an easy choice. It’s risky and often dangerous, especially in times of war. For some, severe injury will forever change their lives.

Aaron Zurn grew up in a typical neighborhood in Vandalia and met his future wife, Brittany, when they were both children. They started dating when she was in middle school and Aaron was in high school. Then in 2004, a few years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Aaron joined the Marine Corps.

“We went our separate ways at that point,” Brittany said. “But after I graduated, Aaron contacted me again and said he wanted me to join him in North Carolina.”

Aaron served as part of the Infantry for five years, but Brittany said he was always interested in doing something more intense. He loved swimming and diving and wanted to join the special forces as a paratrooper.

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“If it was dangerous, Aaron wanted to be part of it,” Brittany said.

Aaron was determined to join the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) and soon began training. The couple had their first son, Keegan in 2009 and their daughter, Taytum, followed.

In 2012, Aaron was deployed to Afghanistan and by then the couple had second son, Porter. Then in 2014, while on his second deployment to Afghanistan, an accident would forever change the trajectory of Aaron’s life and career.

Aaron Zurn and his family are presented with a photo of a new home that will be built for them in Vandalia. (David Jablonski, daytondailynews.com)
Caption
Aaron Zurn and his family are presented with a photo of a new home that will be built for them in Vandalia. (David Jablonski, daytondailynews.com)

Credit: David Jablonski, daytondailynews.com

Credit: David Jablonski, daytondailynews.com

“During an operative mission, Aaron fell out of the back of a helicopter,” Brittany said. “He was about 14 feet in the air.”

The helicopter was landing in a remote area and bounced off the ground with the doors open. Aaron fell out with all his equipment on his back. He landed on his head and shoulder.

“They were in the middle of nowhere and he couldn’t get any treatment,” Brittany said. “He knew he was hurt, but it was too dangerous for someone to come back and get him. So, he just kept doing his job.”

Aaron had taken over the communications responsibilities for his unit and Brittany said she would hear from him nearly every night. After four days with no communication, she was concerned.

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“He finally called me early one morning and I could tell by the way he was talking that something was wrong with him,” Brittany said. “I have known him my whole life!”

When Aaron finally got medical treatment, it was determined he had a concussion and his brain had been injured in the fall. He was sent home to his family.

But Aaron’s journey was far from over. He suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and felt extreme guilt about leaving his unit, especially after two men were shot and one of them died. This, coupled with his brain injury, “tipped him over the scale,” Brittany said.

The Zurn family home in Vandalia. The home was built for the family and donated by "Operation Finally Home" a nonprofit organization that provides mortgage free homes for injured military veterans. CONTRIBUTED
Caption
The Zurn family home in Vandalia. The home was built for the family and donated by "Operation Finally Home" a nonprofit organization that provides mortgage free homes for injured military veterans. CONTRIBUTED

“During that time PTSD was not well known,” Brittany said. “There was still a lot of stigma around it. It was hard for Aaron to come to terms with it, especially ending his military career.”

Brittany was hoping to get Aaron involved with the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to helping soldiers injured during their time of service. But at that time, the organization was mostly helping soldiers who had loss of limb or mobility issues.

“They had never put a special forces Marine in the program for something that was mental,” Brittany said. “We fought for six months to get him in.”

This was vital for the couple because once Aaron had processed out of the military, they would have no income and no way to support their three children. After Aaron’s acceptance into the program, the couple decided they wanted to move back home to Vandalia to figure out their next steps.

By June of 2017, the family was back in Ohio and Aaron was “medically retired,” from the military. But he needed care so Brittany, who is a teacher, was not able to work full time. They moved in with Brittany’s parents.

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Being back home was a blessing in many ways, but the biggest was that former teachers contacted the family and told Brittany about “Operation Finally Home,” a nonprofit organization that provides mortgage-free homes to wounded, ill and injured military veterans. Brittany sent in an application and got a surprising phone call just two weeks later.

“They said they wanted to build a house for us!” Brittany said.

Josh Dungan of JM Dungan Custom Homes happened to be the builder and he had been another school mate of Aaron and Brittany’s. They worked together to design a fully accessible one-story home and the family received the keys at the end of April 2021.

And not only did the family receive the home, but thanks to the generous support of the community they call home, they received a full house of furniture.

“There is no way we would have ever been able to do something this big for our kids,” Brittany said. “Aaron has had a huge weight lifted off his shoulders as he has always been a wonderful provider. We are beyond grateful to everyone involved!”

Contact this contributing writer at banspach@ymail.com.

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