A $10,000 thank-you from state residents
A citizens group established to aid state military families awarded its first big grant to a young Marine injured in Iraq.

Mark Brunswick, Star Tribune

Kyle Anderson was a former state high school wrestling champion with scholarship offers from a plethora of colleges. Instead, he chose to join the Marines out of high school.

Before leaving boot camp as a lance corporal, he set a record in the obstacle course and was named the No. 1 marksman in his platoon.

Today, Anderson's days are made up of trying to master more simple things.

In October of 2004, shrapnel from an explosive device penetrated his helmet while he was on duty in Iraq, crushing the back of his skull and penetrating the left side of his brain. His commanding officer picked up portions of his brain and stuffed it back into his skull.

On Tuesday, Kyle Anderson became the first recipient of a $10,000 grant from a citizens group whose fundraising efforts have been designed to show appreciation for members of the Minnesota military and their families. Anderson's grant will be used for reading materials and other resources for him to continue his recovery.

The organization, Minnesotans' Military Appreciation Fund (MMAF), has given out 2,000 grants since its inception. Another 500 grants are expected to be handed out in the coming months. Approximately 100 applications come in each week.

Anderson, now 20, lives with his father, Tim, and his older brother, Matt, in a one-bedroom apartment in South St. Paul. He can help with the cooking and with some day-to-day activities. He has the full use of his left arm and can make facial expressions. He does not speak but can write a few words. He can best express his thoughts by drawing.

Understanding what Anderson wants is an often tortuous and frustrating procedure for him and his father. A normal 20-minute communication can take an hour or more, Tim Anderson said.

"Our life right now? We're still trying to adjust to it. This injury is bigger than anything that's ever happened in this family. We've slowed down. We appreciate things," he said. Tim Anderson, 46, sold a small trucking company he owned to another son, and he is devoting full time to working with Kyle on his recuperation.

The Appreciation Fund was started last summer as a way to express appreciation for Minnesota soldiers who have served since September 2001. The fund has grown to nearly $4 million. Leaders say they believe it is the nation's largest-ever nonpartisan statewide fundraiser for members of the military and their families.

"We don't realize how great our fellow Americans are. The sacrifices they are making on our behalf. For us it's business as usual," said Eugene Sit, chief executive officer of Sit Investment and co-chairman of the fund.

The grants provide $250 for all Minnesota military personnel who have served in a combat zone. There are additional grants from $2,000 to $10,000 for those wounded in a combat zone, with the amount based on the severity of injury. There is a $5,000 grant to the families of those killed in combat.

Sit said the fund will continue to be important, particularly with 2,600 Minnesota National Guard troops deployed in Iraq this year.

"It is somewhat distant, unrelated, but they are basically our friends and neighbors," Sit said.

As for Kyle Anderson's future, Tim Anderson said the portion of his son's brain for speaking is gone and what's left needs to find new ways to connect. The struggle is in stimulating the vocal chords to work, which is often more difficult than getting an injured arm or leg to work.

"The brain is a funny organ. Communication is such a big part of the mental state. Kyle's brain has not forgot; it just doesn't have the pathway to it," Tim Anderson said.

A good attitude seems to help, much of it harvested from his wrestling days.

"It's like 'Kick me when I'm down,' " Tim Anderson said. "I'll get back up.' "

Kyle Anderson's medical expenses are being paid by the military. He has been retired from the Marines and will get a pension based on the extent of his injuries. An amount has not been determined yet.

Sit gave the $10,000 check from the Appreciation Fund to the Andersons on Tuesday at the Bloomington home of a friend.

"We're patriots, we did the right thing." Tim Anderson said.

Kyle gave a thumbs-up.

Mark Brunswick • 651-222-1636