Army Staff Sergeant Gregory Foster gives his new Rocket Mobility All-Terrain Tracked Wheelchair, a gift from Freedom Alliance, a trial run on the parking lot at Woodcraft in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. (Except where noted, this photo and others in this blog were provided by Freedom Alliance.)
Woodcraft of Pittsburgh is now part of retired Army Staff Sergeant Gregory Foster’s life story – the story of a Houston, Pennsylvania, man who enlisted in the Army after 9/11, has survived serious combat injuries and more recently a serious training accident, and has defied the medical odds that he would ever do many routine daily activities again.
Freedom Alliance (FA), an organization whose purpose includes honoring and supporting the military and meeting the rehabilitation needs of wounded service members, combat veterans and military families, had been helping Foster arrange for rehab opportunities. Apparently Foster was interested in woodturning, which led FA representatives to bring Foster and his wife Colleen to the Woodcraft store in Canonsburg.
“After talking with them, I set up an assessment class to learn Greg’s abilities so I could make sure I could accommodate them,” Woodcraft Assistant Manager Leslie Struthers explained. She is also a woodturning instructor. “After they left, Ryan Behm from Freedom Alliance came back and asked us if we would be willing to host the presentation of an all-terrain wheelchair FA was planning to give Foster. He also said FA would like to donate a collection of woodworking/turning tools to get Foster started.”
Staff Sergeant Gregory Foster’s Story
According to Colleen Foster, her husband joined the Army following 9/11, enlisting in 2005 at age 32. After completing basic training, infantry school, jump school and language school, he was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas, the beginning of a military career spanning four tours of duty.
When he was 36, Foster was awarded a Green Beret, one of the oldest soldiers to receive that honor.
A year later, in 2012, while stationed in North Carolina and preparing for another Afghanistan deployment, Greg was participating in a training exercise that ended in a tragic accident. Doctors think that after Greg jumped from the airplane but before he could pull the parachute cord a blood clot caused by his previous injury broke free and caused a stroke. Greg was then unable to control the parachute, so he overshot the drop zone and crashed into a tree. It took rescuers more than an hour to climb 60 feet and free Foster from the tree.
He suffered traumatic brain injury and nerve damage to his legs from the fall. After recovering at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a year, he had additional speech and vision rehab. He is blind in one eye and uses an assistive reading device. His speech has improved so he can speak six- or seven-word sentences.
The accident happened two months before Greg and Colleen had planned their wedding. She had gone to observe the training and watched helplessly as he fell.
Since the accident, Greg has attended the National Wheelchair Games twice and captured silver medals in archery, air rifle and nine-ball (a form of pool). For the archery competition, he taught himself to use his mouth to draw the bow while holding it with his left hand, because use of his right hand is severely limited.
Colleen Foster pushes her husband, Army Staff Sergeant Gregory Foster (eyes covered), through the Woodcraft of Pittsburgh store as Freedom Alliance President Tom Kilgannon waits to present Foster with a special gift.
Special Vehicle for an Extraordinary Veteran
On Friday, May 24, Greg, Colleen and other members of Greg’s family gathered at Woodcraft for a celebration to recognize Greg’s military and personal achievements and to provide him with gifts to make his life easier.
Greg had no idea what Freedom Alliance and Woodcraft had planned for him when his wife wheeled him into the Woodcraft store.
Tom Kilgannon, president of the Freedom Alliance, then presented Greg with the keys to an $18,000 Rocket Mobility All-Terrain Tracked Wheelchair that is outfitted with treads like tank tracks. It will make it possible for Greg to maneuver on sand, through the woods and on uneven surfaces.
“We want to say thank you, thank you for your service, thank you for your courage.”
“When you’re in the presence of a Green Beret, you’re in the presence of somebody who gives their all, who is the best of the best. You’re with somebody who cares about their country, their fellow Americans, their fellow Special Forces members. These are people that Hollywood makes movies about, and we have one of them here today.”
In addition to the wheelchair, Freedom Alliance gave Greg a lathe, a dust collector, 3 Easy Wood Turning tools, a face shield, a pen mandrel, a live center for pen turning, a pen mill set, a pen press and pen turning supplies.
Thank-You from Woodcraft
Dan Habjanetz, Woodcraft Regional Field Consultant, presents tools and other gifts to Greg as Tom Kilgannon watches.
Woodcraft also presented gifts to Greg – gifts to help him set up a woodshop and continue his interest in working wood as therapy and as a hobby. Dan Habjanetz, who is the former manager of Woodcraft of Pittsburgh and now a Woodcraft Regional Field Consultant, gave Greg a drill press from Woodcraft, along with pen kits, pen blanks and free classes.
“Woodcraft is honored to be able to introduce Greg to the world of woodworking, and we are ready to assist him in any way we can as he develops his skills,” Dan said. “We, too, are thankful for his service and his sacrifice and we are amazed by his determination!”
Turning Wood – Therapy at the Lathe
Greg uses a woodturning tool to shape the body of a pen he is turning on a wood lathe in the Woodcraft shop. (Photo by Leslie Struthers)
I am working with Greg privately,” Leslie said. “He has had two lessons with me so far and will most likely have more.”
So far, Greg has learned to turn; however, Leslie said he and Colleen have also expressed an interest in pyrography (woodburning), but they have not set a date for a class yet.
“While Greg is the first wounded veteran I have worked with in the store, woodturning is increasingly being used in occupational therapies all over the country,” Leslie said.
Leslie told the media at the wheelchair event: “It is incredibly humbling because you take your able body for granted and when you are able to gift someone something like that, it’s all about what they are able to accomplish and, yeah, it was pretty cool.”
Dan Habjanetz, Tom Kilgannon and Leslie Struthers pose with Greg after the wheelchair presentation event.
Ready for a Return to the Great Outdoors!
Greg takes his new vehicle for a test drive on the Woodcraft parking lot with friends and family watching.
According to Colleen, Greg’s new all-terrain vehicle will allow the family to resume its former outdoor lifestyle, which included camping, mountain biking and hiking.
“Now, we can fish on his sister’s farm and get outdoors. It will be great therapy. All of the gifts he received will be tremendous,” Colleen shared. “Guys in Special Forces are used to being so active – that was probably the hardest thing to adjust to, from being gone all the time to just sitting.”
Dan also gave Greg a Woodcraft T-shirt with uniquely Pittsburgh wording.
A big thank-you to Woodcraft of Pittsburgh and Freedom Alliance for reaching out to Greg and making his life a little easier and hopefully more enjoyable.
Pens for the Military
Although Greg is the first disabled veteran the Woodcraft of Pittsburgh staff has met and introduced to woodworking, the store does reach out to military personnel once a year through the corporate Turn for Troops program. Around Veterans Day, Woodcraft of Pittsburgh joins other Woodcraft stores in hosting pen turn-a-thons. In 2018, volunteers at the Pittsburgh store turned 249 pens for military men and women on active duty and recovering in rehabilitation centers.