Sentinels of Freedom serve as support system for veterans
By CRAIG SMITH | The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | Published: January 7, 2013
PITTSBURGH — Marine Corps Cpl. Brandon Rumbaugh lost his legs two years ago while rushing to aid a fellow Marine who had stepped on a roadside bomb in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
When Rumbaugh grabbed a stretcher and ran toward Lance Cpl. Richie Chavis, he stepped on another bomb.
The blast blew off his left foot. Surgeons amputated his mangled right leg.
After 18 months of treatment in military hospitals, “a couple of angels” from Butler County contacted Rumbaugh, offering financial support, housing, a computer for school, furniture and appliances through a group they started in 2007.
“I was kind of nervous about coming home. ... I didn‘t have anything,” said Rumbaugh, 23, a Uniontown native who also served in Iraq.
“That took a load off my mind, big time.”
Rumbaugh does not regret trying to help Chavis, who lost both legs.
“Both of us lived. If I had hesitated, my friend may have died,” Rumbaugh said.
The help came from Sentinels of Freedom of Western Pennsylvania, founded by Bea and Doug Miller of Valencia.
The Millers learned about the national Sentinels of Freedom Foundation in 2004 at a real estate convention in Denver. Mike Conklin of San Ramon, Calif., founded the nonprofit when one of his three Army Ranger sons was wounded in Iraq.
The grass-roots program helps veterans with severe service-related injuries “who have the aptitude, attitude and drive to become independent and successful members of society.”
Recipients of its four-year scholarships are called “sentinels” in honor of their sacrifice and commitment to guarding America‘s freedoms.
Rumbaugh is a freshman business major at Penn State University‘s Fayette campus and plans to start a nonprofit to aid children with disabilities.
It costs about $100,000 to support a veteran for the four years, Bea Miller said. Her group is working to raise money for another sentinel it hopes to support.
“We have to make certain that we have the money available,” she said.
World War II veterans such as Warren Goss, 87, of Sewickley want to make sure that happens. A one-man publicity machine, Goss talks up the program at gatherings of veterans groups, schools and clubs around the region.
“Everywhere I go,” said Goss, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. “They need help. ... That‘s what we want to do.”
Through another organization, Help Our Military Heroes, Rumbaugh received an adaptive vehicle. He hopes to move into a house that Homes for Our Troops would build this year.
“It‘s a real team effort,” said Mark Bozek, a Marine Corps veteran who took over team leader responsibilities at Sentinels of Freedom with his wife, Elaine.
Starting the program took a lot of work by the Millers.
“It‘s for a good cause. ... We owe them everything,” said Bea Miller, 67. “These young fellows are giving up so much for us.”
Members of the organization met with Rumbaugh while he was hospitalized in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
“Brandon is amazing. (For) a guy who lost both his legs, he‘s self-motivated, so energized,” Bozek said.
The group will interview potential scholarship candidates soon.
“If they‘re interested in us, we‘re pretty much interested in them. It‘s really a mutual decision,” Bea Miller said.