The Gary Sinise Foundation closed out 2019 on a remarkable note beyond established metrics of a nonprofit. Not only did we exceed fundraising goals while keeping overhead costs low to ensure that every dollar donated went to support our four programmatic pillars, but by evolving to the present and future needs of those defined by our mission, the Foundation broke ground on supporting many more lives in need.
In one word, 2019 was a year defined by impact.
From Yuma, Arizona, where a United States Marine was contemplating suicide to New Orleans, Louisiana, where veterans of World War II imparted their legacy of service and valor upon high school students from Austin, Texas, while at the National World War II Museum to Atlanta, Georgia, where children and spouses of fallen military heroes shared an eventful day exploring the Georgia Aquarium, these stories, among many others, define the meaning and currency behind impact.
It is why donations made to the Foundation are considered greater than their established value.
With the commencement of a new year, we look back at the most defining stories of 2019, and the lives of those who were touched along the way. The ten stories that follow define impact in a very unique way.
A Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, Andrew Bozeman, had spent nearly a decade in the Marines with two deployments under his belt since 2004. He enlisted in the military after graduating high school in 2001 and, over the years, suffered multiple concussions while training and during overseas deployments. His first two marriages fell apart, and he was denied reenlistment after being passed on promotion to Staff Sergeant.
He planned to commit suicide on March 30, 2013, the same day Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band were to perform at MCAS Yuma where Bozeman was based. The fortuitous circumstance that then unfolded for Sgt. Bozeman changed his life with the shake of a hand and a powerful message from Gary.
Notable Quote: “It was the simple fact that here is this celebrity who is giving up his time, his money, his everything to help serve us. It helps you realize that there are people out there who are willing to help you.” Andrew Bozeman about Gary Sinise
Serving those who have served our nation and communities on behalf of the Gary Sinise Foundation is a mission that hits close to home for retired Army Ranger Mike Schlitz. When an IED struck his Humvee, Mike lost his entire crew and suffered burns to 85% of his body while also losing both arms.
He joined the Gary Sinise Foundation when it was in its infancy and serves our nation’s heroes and their families with the memory of his fallen comrades forever in his heart and on his mind.
Notable Quote: “When I try to explain Gary to other people I say ‘take whatever you’ve read about him and it’s an understatement.’ The guy is just the most humble, giving and passionate man you’ll ever meet.” Mike Schlitz
New Jersey paramedic Joshua Fish was in need of serious help. The rigors of the job were taking an unhealthy toll on him. Alcohol became his saving grace to quell the pain and mental fatigue he felt after years of responding to scenes of carnage and loss of life. Post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression dogged him. When he quit his job in early 2019 to seek treatment and rehabilitation, Josh saw his life steadily improve.
At the same time, bills began to pile up to the point where he was struggling to put food on the table. Josh was in dire financial need and unemployed by the time he reached out to the Gary Sinise Foundation for help.
Notable Quote: “We would drink the bad feelings away. If it wasn’t drinking, I’d go out and gamble. If it wasn’t gambling I’d work another shift just to be distracted and not thinking about what had happened.” Josh Fish
During the final week of September, the 17th trip of Soaring Valor brought together 34 veterans from the Greatest Generation and 41 upperclassmen from Del Valle High School in Travis County, Texas. Paired together during the three-day trip, they embarked on a shared journey at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans that was a deeply personal retrospective into the experience of each veteran during the Second World War.
Notable Quote: “Hearing what they went through it’s very heartbreaking. It inspires me that, for somebody to go through something like that that I can accomplish anything in life.” Jayda Price, a junior at Del Valle High School
For volunteer first responder departments across the nation, receiving a First Responder Grant can make the difference in being able to save someone's life.
In November 2019 in Pike County, Ohio, the all-volunteer Jackson Township Fire and Rescue Department used life-saving equipment purchased through a First Responder Grant to extract and rescue a 16-year-old girl who was trapped in her vehicle after it had collided head-on with a truck along a rural, backcountry road.
Notable Quote: “Without you [Gary Sinise Foundation] none of this would have ever happened. We wouldn’t have been able to do what we did.” Don Cuckler, Fire Chief of Jackson Township Fire and Rescue Department
Company after company of soldiers paraded onto a soggy Wetherby Field at Fort Benning, Georgia in the lead up to the evening’s Gary Sinise & The Lt. Dan Band concert on Saturday, August 3. An hour before showtime, a downpour of rain had engulfed the area with intermittent flashes of lightning which threatened to postpone or even canceled the concert.
With Goldstar families in attendance along with soldiers, their families, and those from the surrounding community, everyone waited in anticipation for a night of honor, gratitude and rock and roll. When the band finally came on stage, a sea of civilians and battle dress uniformed troops greeted them with a thunder of applause.
Notable Quote: “This is awesome. The band is great and it’s what we’ve been looking forward to.” U.S. Army Private Damien Welker
Gary Sinise Foundation Snowball Express (GSF SBE) spent a fun-filled, educational day in August at the world-renowned Georgia Aquarium, one of the largest aquariums in the world. More than 70 children of fallen military heroes and their guardian enjoyed an up-close and interactive experience at Sea Lion encounter where trained sea lions demonstrated their repertoire of tricks and commands by performing them in front of and next to the kids and their guardian.
Complimented by classroom learning for the younger aged kids, and a live dolphin acrobatic show, lasting memories were made, new friendships developed, and stronger bonds formed for those enduring the pain of having lost a loved one in service to the country. “
Notable Quote: “I love the Snowball community, it’s a great program.” Candi Singley, Gold Star spouse, and Gary Sinise Foundation Snowball Express participant
Lisa Ramsey has been a police officer in the state of Texas since 1988. When she joined the Fort Worth Police Department in 1995 she was swiftly recruited into the Tactical Investigations Division to be apart of the vice and narcotics units.
She loved the excitement and adrenaline of the work she was doing. But when a drug bust went south on January 2, 2003, her life was permanently changed.
Notable Quote: “I knew that I had been given a special gift to take up for those who are weaker than myself.” Police Officer Lisa Ramsey
Members from Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, reunited in November after nearly a 10-year hiatus. Deployments to Afghanistan had taken a deadly toll on their unit, in combat and on the homefront to suicide.
The bonds of brotherhood Charlie Company had formed years ago at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and that was tested and proven resilient while under enemy fire from Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Afghanistan needed to be rekindled.
Notable Quote: “It was something they needed that they didn’t realize they needed until they were actually there.” Retired Army Staff Sergeant George Serrano
Providing the voice of Ernie Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent killed in the Pacific Theater during WWII, was a moving experience for Gary Sinise. The immersive film, Beyond All Boundaries, debuted at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans in 2009 which covers the wartime experience on the American homeland to major battles carried out in the air, on land, and at sea in both the Pacific and European Theaters of war.
Gary’s visit to the museum in 2009 impacted him so much so that it eventually led to the establishment of the Foundation’s Community Outreach and Education program called Soaring Valor.
Notable Quote: “If we have any hope of preserving our own country, we have to look at our history constantly so that we don’t repeat that again and that we stand up for this country with everything we have to make sure that tyranny never wins out, that freedom always prevails.” Gary Sinise