Supporters Sign Off on 'Smart House' for Wounded Vet

Gary Sinise Plays Next to Wounded Warrior
Hollywood actor and part-time rocker Gary Sinise plays next to wounded warrior Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremy Stengel during the 4th Annual America Supports You Military Tribute Concert at the Pentagon.

The call came late on a weeknight in June from a number retired Marine Cpl. Garrett Jones did not recognize.

"This is Gary," the voice on the line said.

Jones, who'd lost his left leg in a bomb blast in Iraq nine years earlier and had gone on to deploy in Afghanistan as an amputee, didn't know a person named Gary. He asked for the caller's last name.

"Gary Sinise," he answered, and in an instant it became clear.

This was the man who, after portraying double leg amputee Lt. Dan in "Forrest Gump," had formed the Gary Sinise (R.I.S.E.) Foundation, which provides specially adapted "smart" homes to wounded veterans.

By year's end, the foundation will have 51 such houses underway or completed.

Jones, Sinise told him, would be getting one of them.

The news meant not only a mortgage-free home, but one adapted to his unique set of needs. More than that, Jones said at the construction site Wednesday morning, it meant a sanctuary to come home to at the end long and often painful workdays as a civilian in the Marine Corps.

Dozens of companies and organizations have helped make possible the house underway in a wooded cul-de-sac on Stonewall Drive in Stafford County, set to be completed in early 2017. They have provided discounted and donated services and products and monetary contributions.

But at a ceremony Wednesday, Jones asked the sponsors gathered to think about their gifts as more than donations.

"It's really an investment," he said. "This home is the reason why I'll be able to have a career. It's not just about quality of life in the short-term, but how I feel about myself as a man and someone who wants to be productive."

Nearby was Jones' wife, Allison, and their three small children: Hudson, 5, Halle, 2, and Kate, 1, who sprinted and toddled through the bones of the house, which will encompass about 3,500 square feet of living space.

At least two dozen had come to write well-wishes on the framing that will soon be covered by drywall. The spirit of the messages will remain, an invisible layer of love and support, said Chris Kuban of the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Jones grew up in a small town in Oregon. Inspired by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he enlisted in the Marines, according to a news release from the foundation. In July 2007, two weeks before the end of a deployment to Iraq, he stepped on an improvised explosive device. He lost his left leg and both eardrums and suffered a concussion and severe shrapnel wounds. He underwent 20 surgeries over the next 30 days.

Jones still fought to deploy with his battalion when they next headed to Afghanistan. His commander and doctors signed off.

In April 2008, he returned to the Middle East. He went on to serve as an intelligence analyst and hospital liaison and might have re-enlisted, if not for the physical pain of his injuries and the less visible scars from the loss of friends in war.

Jones settled in Stafford with his family and got a civilian job in intelligence in the Marines. A year ago, he began the process of building a new, adaptable home about a 10-minute drive from where he now lives.

He picked out a lot and settled on a floor plan and met with builder Hank Osleger of Aaronal Homes. Lots of groups stepped forward to help with the costs of construction. But it was the call from Sinise in June that changed everything.

"You've deployed as an amputee," Jones remembers him saying. "You're not building this house by yourself."

He is at least the second local veteran the foundation has assisted. In November 2012, retired Marine Sgt. John Peck, a quadruple amputee currently awaiting a double-arm transplant, moved into a smart house in Spotsylvania County.

One by one Wednesday, sponsors thanked Jones for his service and sacrifice. Then they put their words in writing, in door frames and on stairs and two-by-fours.

"May this kitchen be the heart of many, many special gatherings of your family and friends for years to come," read one.

"Good luck on a wonderful life," read another.

"May these walls embody the strength you exhibit to provide a safe harbor for you and your love ones."

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