southtownstar
COPACETIC 
Weather Updates

Tim McGraw meets with military families in Orland Park

Country star Tim McGraw right shakes hands with JustKimble while surprising military veterans during lunch Outback Steakhouse as part Military

Country star Tim McGraw, right, shakes hands with Justin Kimble while surprising military veterans during lunch at Outback Steakhouse as part of the Military Mates program in Orland Park, Ill., on Friday May 24, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

storyidforme: 49683494
tmspicid: 18543559
fileheaderid: 8337439
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: June 27, 2013 6:32AM



Sitting down and chatting with country music superstar Tim McGraw has become something of a regular happening for Linda Brashears.

The retired Army staff sergeant from Romeoville met with McGraw in July when he presented her with a mortgage-free townhouse through his HomeFront program, a collaboration with Operation Homefront and Chase Bank.

“He spent like 20 minutes with me and my friend” that day, Brashears said.

On Friday, McGraw sat next to her for a bit in a booth at Outback Steakhouse in Orland Park, with McGraw the surprise guest at a luncheon that Outback held in conjunction with Operation Homefront for military veterans and active personnel and their families.

Some, including Brashears, were seriously wounded in the line of duty. While she was at a forward operating base in Iraq in 2006, the compound “took a lot of mortar fire,” with one shell hitting an ammunition holding area, she said.

“There were explosions for seven hours,” said Brashears, who was close to the blasts and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Brashears, who lived for 20 years in Palos Heights and whose son lives in Tinley Park, said her townhouse was completely renovated — with new appliances, granite countertops and children’s bedroom furniture for her 21/2-year-old granddaughter.

Since launching last year, the HomeFront program has awarded nearly 30 houses to deserving military families, a number that’s expected to double this year.

McGraw has been presenting the home awards during his current tour to promote his “Two Lanes of Freedom” CD, autographed copies of which were included in a goodie bag handed out to families at Friday’s lunch.

McGraw, who played at First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park on Friday, was scheduled to present a home in Oswego to Marine Sgt. Carlos Cruz, originally from Chicago’s South Side and now living in California.

McGraw’s appearance in Orland Park was organized by Operation Homefront and Outback’s Military Mates program. Some of the families invited have had several generations in military service.

Scott Williams, from Channahon, is a sergeant in the Army National Guard, and his dad, Richard, and uncle, Tom Gibson, also served in the Army.

Williams, deployed to Kuwait for two years, said his mom, through Operation Homefront, counseled families of soldiers deployed overseas and that the organization supplied his family with phone cards to keep in touch with him during his deployment.

McGraw, who’s had family members, including his sister and grandfather, serve in the military, told the group Friday that “I’m free, and I’m free to go about my business every day ... because of the outstanding families that are in this place.”

After his remarks, he sat at a table with two Marines on either side of him. He tucked into the chain’s bloomin’ onion appetizer but barely touched the steak that was placed in front of him.

Instead, McGraw spent the bulk of his time posing for photos and going from table to table to talk with families.

“It was awesome that he came by, taking the time” to go to each table, Williams said.

Coordinating McGraw’s visit and keeping it a secret was no easy task, Outback officials said. The Orland Park restaurant isn’t normally open for lunch on weekdays, so keeping the general public out wasn’t an issue, and employees were asked to keep quiet.

“We did not talk about it to anybody,” said Sara Cease, a server from Oak Forest who’s worked there six years.

While McGraw posed for group photos with restaurant employees, a couple couldn’t resist pulling out cellphones to snap a few shots while McGraw moved around the restaurant.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.