June 2015 Hero of the Month: Gary Sinise

In my tribute to Team Rubicon (July, 2014), I promised to pay tribute to others who are making a difference in helping our Iraq/Afghan Veterans, who often have difficult transitions to civilian life.

This month will be the first of a multi-part series devoted to that issue.

Gary Sinise Foundation Helps Injured VeteransGary Sinise is an award-winning actor, director and musician (bass guitarist in the Lt. Dan Band) perhaps best known for his roles in Forrest Gump (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor) in addition to receiving Emmys and a Golden Globe, for such movies as Truman and Apollo 13, as well as a 9 year run on CSI: New York and as a co-founder of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

What is perhaps not as well known is Gary’s support of our military and veterans. He has received numerous commendations for his USO tours, has since 2006 served as co-host with Joe Mantegna of the National Memorial Day Concert on the Mall, which highlights the stories of heroic vets, has been made an honorary Marine by the Commandant of the Marine Corps and an honorary Chief Petty Officer by the U.S. Navy, and holds an honorary Doctorate from Amherst College.

In this segment, I am highlighting the work of the Gary Sinise Foundation, which Gary started more recently to provide homes for wounded warriors.

The following article appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune regarding one such home and one great vet in nearby Fallbrook. This is the 23rd home for the Sinise Foundation:

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HOME FOR INJURED VETERAN
Foundation helps ex-Marine who lost legs in Afghan Blast
By Pat Maio / August 22, 2015

Gary Senise Foundation Donates Home to Injured Marine
Jason Ross, a USMC staff sergeant who lost both his legs in 2011,
gets a big hug from his daughter Jackie just before the
Gary Sinise Foundation donated a home to them (by Eduardo Contreras)

Fallbrook -- Former Marine Sgt. Jason Ross was all smiles Friday at a ceremony where the Gary Sinise Foundation handed him the keys to a new home in Fallbrook that a wheelchair-using double amputee could want.

“I’m so happy,” said the 32-year-old veteran. “I don’t count my blessings, I just chalk it up as stubbornness,” said Ross, who was given a less than 2 percent chance of survival after he stepped on an improvised explosive device March 7, 2011, in Afghanistan.

Ross lost both legs and most of his lower torso in the blast, which occurred when his team was clearing a path for the U.S. troops in Sangin, a town of 30,000 inhabitants in the Helmand Province. Ross spent three years recuperating from his injuries at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and later at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.

This past year, Ross and his daughters Stacy, 6, and Jackie, 5, have been living with his parents, George and Linda, in military housing in Point Loma. They will all share the new Fallbrook home.

“We are staying here,” he said of the 4,000-square foot, four-bedroom, three bathroom home. “There is no more moving around. There is no way to describe it. Wow!”

The “smart home” was donated by the Sinise Foundation and other philanthropic groups that raised $800,000 to buy the land and materials to build the adapted “smart house”.

The house has extra-wide hallways and doorways and a kitchen with pull-down shelves for pots and pans, food and other items. It has an adapted bathroom with a shower bench he can pull himself on to with a hanging trapeze-shaped metal bar. And there’s an electronic system controlled by an iPad or iPhone that can open and close blinds in the house, turn on a TV or music and control the air-conditioning.

This is the 23rd home the foundation has donated to a veteran. Seventeen others are in various stages of completion, said Judith Otter, executive director of the organization founded by actor Gary Sinise, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing a Vietnam War veteran who lost both his legs in “Forrest Gump.” Sinise couldn’t attend Friday’s event because he was in L.A. filming.

At the ceremony, foundation staff and 200 other guests sat mostly under two big tents in 80-degree heat on the front lawn of the sprawling house to hear about Ross’ heroic recovery.

Ross’ father, George, said that he had just started a new job when he heard about his son’s injuries in 2011. He’d been unemployed three of the previous four years and was suffering his own financial hardships. As the American and Marine Corps flags were hoisted up a pole in the front of the new home on Ramona Drive on Friday, George closed his eyes and said he felt a huge weight lifting off his shoulders.

“Taking the next step will be so much smoother for us,” George said. “I was thinking that this was a dream come true. It has been an amazingly difficult journey over the past 4 ˝ years. I never slept at night because I didn’t know how we would ever survive.”

One of the most emotional moments at the ceremony came when Ross’ daughter, Stacy, asked to speak.

“Jason Ross is my daddy. My daddy is strong and brave,” she said.

Everyone cried.

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To Gary Sinise, Jason Ross and his family:  
Thank you for inspiring us. --- Jim

 

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