Retired U.S. Army staff sergeant Chris Walker and his family are settling into their new Alexandria house in the city’s West End, courtesy of the Gary Sinise Foundation.
The mortgage-free home is one of 59 the Sinise Foundation, a nonprofit founded by the namesake actor, has built or is in the process of building for injured veterans across the U.S. as part of its R.I.S.E program. The home is designed to be accessible for Walker, a triple amputee who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Walker, who is from Virginia, enlisted in the Army in October 2003 and was deployed to Iraq in 2006. He was injured while serving as an explosive ordinance disposal team leader during his second tour in the Khost province of Afghanistan. He was responsible for identifying and disposing of improvised explosive devices, also known as IEDs.
Walker sustained significant injuries in 2012 when an IED exploded, throwing him 30 feet. He lost his left leg and both of his arms in the explosion. His facial bones were also shattered in the explosion, and his eye muscles had to be reattached.
In the aftermath, Walker spent more than two years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Walker’s new home, which he will share with his daughter, Kali, and girlfriend, Caitlin, has a number of features designed to maximize accessibility, including all counters and kitchen appliances being at a level that he can use and “smart” lighting that he can dim or turn off with an iPad. The home also includes an expansive walk-in shower that is wheelchair accessible.
A number of officials from the foundation were on hand at the event, including Executive Director Judith Otter, though Sinise himself was unable to attend.
“Special individuals like Chris willingly put themselves in harm and they deserve to be supported before, during and after the battle,” Otter said, calling the home a “small symbol of Chris’ service.”
Karen Hetherington, a senior case manager at the Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit that works with wounded veterans, was also present at the event. Hetherington, who has worked with Walker since he arrived at Walter Reed in 2012, described him as being “sunshine and light” through the recovery process.
“It’s been a long journey, but you’ve come a long way,” Hetherington said.
She said Walker, of all people, was deserving of ending up in his “forever home.” “We were so excited to come together to build this home for Chris,” Hetherington said.
Foundation board member Bob Pence also attended the event, saying that Walker was among the U.S.’s “ultimate protectors.” “We have to honor those who take up the call – the ones who fight wars, deal with the consequences and then take up the next one,” Pence said.
Walker toured the house after the press conference’s main program concluded and expressed thanks to the foundation for making his new home possible.
“Feeling so overwhelmed with gratitude. What an incredible day,” Walker said in a Facebook post. “Thank you so much to everyone who supported us, and especially those who put in so much hard work and dedication to the project.”
The home was completed with a number of partners, including The Home Depot, the Semper Fi Fund, Shoot Out for Soldiers, PenFed Credit Union, The National Wood Flooring Association, The National Tile Contractors Association, GE, Sunbelt Rentals, Kohler, American Van Lines, American Airlines and Windmill Hill Design Build, among others.
Despite being unable to attend, Sinise wrote a letter that was read during the dedication.
“Christopher, it was my honor to meet you at Walter Reed. It was a great privilege to play a small part in your journey,” Sinise wrote in the letter. “I hope this home serves as a daily reminder of our thanks for your service.”