Lt. Dan Band, local community join to build home
May 07, 2013 | 4155 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In the 1994 movie Forrest Gump, actor Gary Sinise played Lt. Dan Taylor, a Vietnam veteran faced with rebuilding his life after a devastating war injury.

On Sunday, May 19, the actor brings his Lt. Dan Band to JSU Stadium to play a concert benefiting real-life hero Marine Sgt. Ben Tomlinson of Jacksonville, who was paralyzed in combat in Afghanistan in 2010 after being shot through the chest.

The concert, dubbed “Operation Ben,” is a joint project of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, named in honor FDNY 9/11 fallen Firefighter Stephen Siller, and the Gary Sinise Foundation. Through the “Building for America’s Bravest” program, the partners along with Jacksonville State University, AOD Federal Credit Union, other area businesses and the community-at-large intend to build Sgt. Tomlinson a “smart home” that will allow him to live independently. The home, which will be controlled with an iPad and customized for maximum wheelchair accessibility, will be built in Jacksonville.

“It’s our desire that (Ben) get to live and fulfill his dreams as if nothing has happened,” said John Hodge, director of operations for the Stephen Siller Tunnels to Towers Foundation, at the March 20 press conference announcing Operation Ben. “I know that’s not possible but we’re going to do the best that we can.”

“We feel very, very strongly that we want to be there to help these folks, and get them through, and restore their freedom. We have a partner on that road, and I can say quite honestly that we wouldn’t be able to do as much as we’re doing without him. Gary Sinise is a spectacular human being. He is truly a humanitarian and he is the Bob Hope of our time.”

Local first responders and the Patriot Guard escorted Sgt. Tomlinson and his family to the press conference and representatives from the Gary Sinise Foundation, Tunnel to Towers Foundation, Jacksonville State University and the City of Jacksonville assisted in making the announcement. 

Since then, others in the community have stepped up to assist, including AOD Federal Credit Union, which presented the Tunnel to Towers Foundation with a $50,000 corporate sponsorship donation on April 10.

Organizers ask the entire region to support this wounded warrior by purchasing tickets to the May 19 concert at  Tickets are also available for purchase at AOD Federal Credit Union, 1060 JD&L Drive SW, Jacksonville. Tickets are $25 and $35 for grandstand admission and $50 for on-field seats in front of the stage.

“We are looking forward to ticket sales picking up over the next 2 1/2 weeks,” said Chris Kuban, director of media relations for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, “We expect the Jacksonville community, as well as the State of Alabama will show us that they support our home town heroes by purchasing a ticket.”

Individuals who are unable to attend the concert may still make a donation toward Sgt. Tomlinson’s house. To do so, visit and select Sgt. Tomlinson’s profile. There, you may make a general donation for Operation Ben or purchase specific building materials that will be used in the home’s construction.

Companies and community groups interested in becoming sponsors are encouraged to call Kuban at 314-603-2866 for more information. Church and youth groups as well as school and civic groups are also encouraged to attend the concert together to show support for this hometown hero.

About the Gary Sinise Foundation

The Gary Sinise Foundation serves our Nation by supporting and honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need. One of its premiere programs, Building for America’s Bravest, is dedicated to providing customized “Smart Homes” for severely wounded heroes. For more information, visit Donate to Building For America’s Bravest program at

About the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation

The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, best known for its annual Tunnel to Towers Run at Ground Zero in New York City, is committed to building specially-adapted “Smart Homes” for the most seriously wounded U.S. service personnel through its Building for America’s Bravest program. For more information, go

JSU public relations staff contributed to this article.
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