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Soldier attends State of the Union

Northwest Guardian

Published: 01:29PM January 29th, 2015

A Joint Base Lewis-McChord hero and wounded warrior sat in first lady Michelle Obama’s viewing box during President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address to the nation Jan. 20. Retired Army Staff Sgt. Jason Gibson attended the address after receiving an invitation from the president.

“It was a great sense of accomplishment, just like being recognized by your boss,” Gibson said, a Purple Heart recipient and a former member of the 18th Engineer Company, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division here.

Gibson received the invitation after writing a thank you letter to the president for visiting him during his recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., after suffering life-threatening injuries from an improvised explosive device. Although the IED didn’t claim Gibson’s life, it took both of his legs at the hip after he knelt on a hidden pressure plate that triggered the device.

The incident took place while he was on a foot patrol when deployed with the 18th Engineer Company in Afghanistan in 2012. After 21 surgeries and years of recovery, Gibson took time last fall to write the thank you letter to the president to tell him how much his visit impacted him and how his life has changed since the visit.

“That day, when the president came to see me, kind of surprised me,” Gibson said. “He came not as the president but someone who actually cared. He didn’t have to visit, so I wanted to write and thank him.”

The president and first lady found Gibson’s letter inspiring. While humble about his own service and sacrifice to the nation, Gibson served with distinction as a combat engineer for more than eight years in the Army and deployed to Mosul and Baqubah, Iraq and Kandahar, Afghanistan. Though a double-amputee, He hasn’t let the loss of his legs get in the way of fulfilling his dreams. Gibson has achieved his private pilot’s license, completed four, handcycling marathons, enjoys fishing, surfing, golfing, hunting, kayaking, skiing and two months ago, became a father.

Little did Gibson know his letter would lead to an invitation to the State of the Union address. While in Washington, D.C., Gibson, his wife, Kara, and his 2-month old daughter, Quinn, received first-class treatment. That included a reception with the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden.

“I thought the whole visit was so awesome and exciting,” Kara Gibson said. “We all got to go on a tour of the White House and see all of the things in person that we only have seen on TV — like the painting of President (John F.) Kennedy. It was unbelievable that we were all actually there together — it’s the White House. It will be a great story for Quinn when she gets older.”

From the White House, Jason Gibson rode in a motorcade to the Capitol for the State of the Union. Kara had the option to go to the Capitol for the address as well but opted to go back to the hotel with Quinn. Once she got their daughter asleep, Kara turned on the television to see her husband in some pre-address coverage as well as a few camera shots during the president’s speech.

“It was so exciting to see him on the TV,” Kara Gibson said, “but I had to contain my excitement quite a bit as Quinn was asleep.”

Once the address was over, Gibson was permitted to meet with the president for a few minutes in the Capitol. Then he rode in the executive motorcade to the White House for a brief stop. From there, he went back to the hotel to be with his family and share his experience with his wife.

“Our impression of the president is he is very genuine and shows he cares about those people injured in combat,” Kara said. “We heard that he actually came back a few times to the same (Walter Reed Medical Center) ward my husband was in to visit the troops. That matters to them — it mattered to us.”

Senior Airman Jacob Jimenez; jacob.jimenez.2@us.af.mil