Throughout my lifetime, I have had many different jobs, but the most rewarding job was being a firefighter and retiring from the Raleigh Fire Department in North Carolina after 28 years. Prior to 9-11, I was the project director on the building of the North Carolina Fallen Fire Fighters Memorial. It was during this time that the 9-11 attack occurred and I was sent to New York to assist the families of the 343 firefighters who lost their lives on that day. I became the liaison for the state of NC to NY, traveling to NY 220 times since that tragic day.
In December 2001, myself and many of the NY City Fire Fighters gathered and traveled to Walter Reed Hospital to provide a Christmas party to the wounded veterans and their families. This tradition has continued, and this year will be our 21st year of not only the Christmas celebration, but we also celebrate with a large Super Bowl Party.
On December 17, 2004, I was severely injured in a backdraft fire explosion. I underwent multiple surgeries and spent a year in respiratory rehabilitation.
17 years ago, I met Gary in Brooklyn, NY at the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance. Since then, we have worked on many projects together. For about 7 years, I worked with Gary and the Lieutenant Dan Band, and the Independence Fund in South Carolina. In early spring we had a weeklong event in Palm Key where wounded veterans would come and participate in activities such as crafts and fishing. During this time, I taught art classes. But the highlight of each day was the nightly bonfire. It was during this time when veterans would open and share with other veterans their stories, their struggles, and their victories. I witnessed so much healing during this weeklong event, that I knew that something like this should always be available to our veterans and first responders and just like that, the vision for Camp4Heroes was born.
Today, I am the founder and director of Camp4Heroes located in rural Robeson County in the city of Fairmont, North Carolina. We have 300 acres, a 10-acre lake full of catfish and largemouth bass, cabins, a bunkhouse, horses, a non-denomination chapel, and of course two large firepits for gathering around a bonfire. I attribute this dream to one yearly event by one man, Gary Sinise.
With my upmost respect for Gary and his mission, I did a painting of Gary and the Lieutenant Dan Band which was sold at a fund-raising event at the Hard Rock Café in New York City for 100 thousand dollars. In addition, prints of this painting have brought in over 85 thousand dollars, with all the proceeds going towards the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Independence Fund to aid in their missions to support our wounded veterans.
For the past 3 years, I have been in the role of the Fire Chief for the city of Fairmont, North Carolina. Because the city is in the rural part of Robeson County, the city needed a fire pumper, and a piece of equipment called the “jaws of life”. With the commitment of the Gary Sinise Foundation and its’ support for first responders, a mini-pumper and the needed equipment was donated to the Fairmont City Fire Department. Currently the fire truck has been used to fight many fires, and the “jaws of life” was instrumental in extracting a Fairmont City police officer in less than 10 minutes, saving his life.
In 2016, The Gary Sinise Foundation again donated two fire boats and a trailer to other rural departments in North Carolina, the Cotton Fire Department, and the Gray’s Creek Fire Department. When Hurricane Matthew hit eastern NC and devastated the area in October 2016, these two boats were instrumental in rescuing over 200 people from the flood waters.
“Being an ambassador for the Gary Sinise Foundation over these many years has meant a lot to me. I have the utmost respect for him and what he does, not only for our country, but our veterans and their families and our first responders. May God continue to bless Gary and watch over him as he furthers his mission.”
— John Woodall