A call to duty and beyond
Gary Sinise Foundation offers independence for wounded veterans
The first life-changing call Jared Bullock answered was the call of his nation following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It was then that he and his twin brother decided to enlist in the Army, a plan they fulfilled just two years later. This path would lead to other callings.
He answered another life-changing call during one of two tours of duty in Iraq when he felt capable of bigger challenges. Applying for special forces training in 2008, he began 18 months of highly technical, specialized and secret training to earn his green beret. As a member of one of the U.S. Army’s most elite corps, Sgt. 1st Class Jared Bullock was deployed twice to South America and then to Afghanistan, where his life would forever change—and ultimately lead to one more call.
On Nov. 13, 2013, just one month into his fifth deployment, Bullock was on a routine patrol, riding an all-terrain vehicle. His ATV ran over an improvised explosive device. The blast from the IED killed a team mate – Bullock’s best friend – and severely injured two soldiers, including Bullock. After being airlifted to Germany and following five days of medically-induced coma, Bullock learned that he had lost his right arm above the elbow and right leg above the knee. He knew he would be facing multiple surgeries, extensive rehabilitation and a life much different than the one he had planned with his wife Jessica and young son Aden.
Once he was stable, Bullock was transferred to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio where he underwent 30 surgeries.
“I knew that my life wasn’t over and this was just another challenge,” Bullock says. “Challenges have always motivated me to push harder in life. For me, this was all part of the job. I had a couple of days in the hospital where I was pretty depressed because this was my job – it was my livelihood. But then I realized I still had a family and I still had friends. I sat down and figured out ways to work out and keep going. All you can do is keep on and live life.”
Still, life was not easy. He had to learn to walk with a prosthetic leg, function with just one arm and even the simplest things like showering, for example, can prove difficult.
Bullock’s story, along with tales of his never-give-up attitude and positive demeanor inspired many that met him or heard his story. It was this story that led to the third life-changing call.
When Bullock’s phone rang in September of last year, he answered another call; one featuring the very familiar voice of actor Gary Sinise.
“I wanted just to yell, ‘Lt. Dan!’” Bullock recalls, “but we talked for a little bit. Then he simply said, ‘I want to build you a house,’ It was the most amazing thing I ever heard. I cannot put into words, the way I felt.”
Since 2011, a foundation established by the actor, who is perhaps best-known for his portrayal of Lt. Dan in “Forest Gump,” has focused on the construction of custom-built smart homes for disabled American veterans. The R.I.S.E. program (Restoring Independence, Supporting Empowerment) of the Gary Sinise Foundation partners with donors and sponsors to build brand-new adaptive homes for wounded service members. To date, the foundation has a combination of 51 smart homes completed or underway.
As the Bullocks began working with representatives of the Gary Sinise Foundation on the design of their house, they settled on a location in rural Carbondale, making the home the Foundation’s first construction in Illinois.
“It’s kind of middle ground,” Bullock says, explaining that he is originally from Metropolis and his wife is from West Frankfort. “To have five acres here with 2,000 acres of the Shawnee National Forest, basically in our backyard is perfect.”
A formal groundbreaking ceremony was held on a wet May morning. The Bullocks were escorted to the home site by other veterans, ROTC members from nearby Southern Illinois University were on hand, as was Miss Illinois and a variety of Gary Sinise Foundation sponsors, partners and many of the Bullock’s new neighbors. During the ceremony, the family saw for the first time renderings of their new home.
“We are pleased to build you a custom-built smart technology home that will help restore your independence and freedom – the very things you fought so hard to protect for all of us,” Sinise shared in a letter read at the ceremony. “It is our hope that this home represents in some small way the sincere gratitude we feel for all of your service to our great country.”
The home will be complete, including flooring and even furniture. It will also boast some very special features, designed especially for Bullock.
“I think we take for granted being able to turn on light switches, knowing who is at the front door and being able to easily make dinner in the kitchen,” says Chris Cuban of the Gary Sinise Foundation. “What we do by building these specially adapted smart houses is to try to make life a little easier for Jared and his family. We make it so you will have one button on your iPad that will turn off all of the lights in your house. We make it so that if you are in a wheelchair, you can easily cook dinner or use the microwave. We make it so if you’re watching TV, you don’t have to get up to put the shades down. We even put security cameras in so that when Aden gets old enough you can know when he’s coming in and out of the house. It’s not just that it’s energy efficient; it’s also smart and will help Jared live a more independent life. That’s our goal with this house.”
While the goal was for the Bullocks to move into the home by the couple’s anniversary in December, the wettest summer on record in southern Illinois has pushed completion into 2017. Bullock says he was going to count the home as an anniversary present, “Happy anniversary! I got you a new house; of course, it cost me an arm and a leg,” he jokes.
He says that he and his family will forever be grateful for their home.
“This will give me more freedom and allow me to do things myself,” he says. “This will allow me to live a normal life, 1000 times better than it would be. I am so thankful.”
Photos by Sarah O’Dell