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Tim McGraw aids military families with HomeFront program

Tim McGraw

Tim McGraw

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♦ 7 p.m., May 24

♦ First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, 19100 Ridgeland, Tinley Park

♦ Tickets, $30-$70

♦ (708) 614-1616,

Updated: May 23, 2013 9:20PM

United States Marine Corps Sgt. Carlos Cruz is coming home.

While chances are slim that any of the thousands of people who will descend on First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre this weekend will have ever heard his name or know what he has done for them and their country, Cruz says he is fine with that because one very special person will be waiting backstage, ready to welcome him home with open arms.

“Tim McGraw is an amazing man,” Cruz says from his current home in California. “I have always been familiar with his music, but more so, I know first-hand what he has done for the troops.”

Thanks to the award-winning country music star’s partnership with Operation Homefront and Chase, Cruz and his family have been chosen as the Chicago recipient of a mortgage-free home. Since signing on with the program last year, McGraw and his team have awarded nearly 30 houses to deserving military families so far. This summer, they will double that number.

“I tell these men and women all of the time that they are the ones doing the hard work,” says McGraw, who performs here Friday on his latest leg of his tour.

“I have a cowboy hat and a guitar and a bunch of lights. Those guys have a helmet and a gun and one pointed at them. I have the easy job, most certainly.”

Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Cruz graduated from Bowen High School, uncertain of what to do with the rest of his life. In November 2002, he entered the Marine Corps, and a life of service ensued. Yet so did some struggles.

“While you are deployed, you actually get used to the training and the combat, and people calling you Sgt. Cruz wherever you go,” Cruz said, who takes possession of the Oswego home after some renovations are completed in the next few months. “But then you come home, and the transition mentally and emotionally and physically is tough. I can’t wait to come home to Chicago and now be able to put all of those struggles behind me.”

“When these guys come home, a lot of times they don’t have that same safety and security that they provide to us for their own families,” says McGraw, who comes from a long line of family and friends who have served within the military. “They don’t have a home to come home to and their kids don’t have a room that is theirs. It just breaks your heart. I always tell them to take this home and make it a foundation for the rest of their life.”

Tricia Despres is a locally based free-lance writer.

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