'Help the next guy up': Bryan Anderson receives national award for work with fellow veterans
On his 38th birthday Tuesday, Bryan Anderson of Rolling Meadows was honored in his hometown with a national award for demonstrating six noble traits -- particularly courage -- in his commitment to helping soldiers in need as he once was.
During a gathering of family and longtime friends at Rep's Place in Rolling Meadows, Anderson received Eagle Rare Bourbon's ninth annual Eagle Rare Life Award in recognition of his work as a spokesman for USA Cares.
The award came with a $50,000 prize, which Anderson donated to the national nonprofit organization devoted to helping post-Sept. 11 veterans in need.
Anderson, who lost both legs and his left hand in an explosion in Iraq in October 2005, began his work with USA Cares a decade ago.
By that time, he already was demonstrating his resilience and fresh embrace of life on a national stage, including acting in such television shows and films as "CSI: New York," "The Wrestler," "All My Children," "American Sniper," "Hawaii Five-0" and a February episode of "Magnum P.I."
Anderson believes there's a strong but simple reason he's been an effective spokesman for USA Cares in its outreach to veterans who need help.
"I think it shows someone in a similar situation thriving," Anderson said.
Among the accolades he received during Tuesday's celebration was a congratulatory video from actor Gary Sinise, who's also worked for the cause of wounded soldiers in the wake of his role as Lt. Dan in 1994's "Forrest Gump."
"Bryan has been an inspirational pal of mine since we met in 2005," Sinise said in the video. "His book, 'No Turning Back,' was beautifully written and something I was proud to do the forward for."
Hank Patton, president of Kentucky-based USA Cares, said Anderson has been extraordinary in demonstrating to other soldiers the quality of life that's possible after a devastating physical or psychological injury.
"The military community is a proud community. They don't necessarily want to reach out for help," Patton said. "That's where Bryan's strength is. He understands what it takes to get back to good, as he calls it."
The organization has four main programs that focus on the combat injured, career transition, housing and emergency assistance.
While not everyone who receives help becomes a national spokesman and actor, Patton said the return of hope is detectable in the smiles on their faces and the relief in their voices.
Since its creation in 2003, USA Cares has provided $15 million in support grants and answered more than 112,000 requests for assistance from veterans of all five branches of the military, Patton said.
Joshua Steely, brand manager for Buffalo Trace -- the distillery where Eagle Rare Bourbon is made -- said Anderson's work for USA Cares exemplifies American virtues and the six pillars the annual award uses as its criteria -- courage, character, leadership, heroism, survival and devotion.
Anderson, while happy the award brings more attention to an organization that doesn't spend much of its budget on advertising, was humble about his role in its mission.
"Today, honestly, I'm just trying to live my life the best that I can and help the next guy up," he said.