Friday, November 15, 2013

For injured vets, a chance to travel

Hailey man builds specialized Jeeps to help comrades

Express Staff Writer

Veteran J.D. Lineberger sits in his specially built Jeep. His vehicle includes a custom-made seat designed to comfort those with spinal injuries. Photo by Roland Lane

    Following an eight-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps, Hailey resident Jonathan Lineberger has made it his life’s work to build specialized Jeeps for fellow veterans wounded in combat.
    Lineberger, who goes by J.D., has worked on cars since he was 8 years old. He said his desire to build Jeeps designed for wounded soldiers started with the one he first retro-fitted for himself. After realizing how much more comfortable his vehicle was after making changes, he sought to bring fellow veterans the same experience.
    “Our mission is to take veterans that have issues and other disabled people and make it so they can take their Jeep out into the woods and enjoy themselves, while making it home without any issues,” Lineberger said. “We test all of our products and beat the crap out of them. I don’t want to have a veteran who’s in a wheelchair have to get out of his Jeep to fix it in the middle of nowhere.”
    Since Lineberger does not charge any money for his work, he relies almost entirely upon the help of sponsors for supplies and volunteers to assist with labor. His sponsors include Rugged Ridge, a company that sells after-market products for Jeeps, along with Yukon Gear and Axle. His most important local sponsors are River Run Auto Parts and The Wirth Co., which provides him with the shop he uses to work on Jeeps.
    When Lineberger builds a Jeep for paraplegic soldiers, he builds in specialized seats made for those who have suffered spinal injuries. In addition, he puts in a handicap lift to effectively seat those who cannot move their legs. He also often puts in an electric supercharge, which he said provides the Jeep with improved gas mileage, acceleration and horsepower.
    Lineberger said he does occasionally work on sport-utility vehicles, but he prefers to work on Jeeps.
    “Jeeps are the most reliable four-wheel drive in the world,” he said. “They’ve been around for a very long time, and they’ve been adapted to many battle fronts. A lot of guys like me used Jeeps in the Marine Corps, so it runs in our blood.”
    Lineberger said he is grateful for all of the help he has received from sponsors and volunteers over the past six years. He said he would have spent the rest of his career in the military had he not been injured in combat and in a training exercise. Lineberger was dealt with yet another blow when he suffered a brain aneurism six years ago. Since his recovery, he has become solely dedicated to making specialized Jeeps his life’s work.
    “This mission will continue with or without anyone’s support,” he said. “This is what I’m going to do until I can’t move anymore. … My mission is to help injured brothers coming home.”
    In order to continue his work and maximize his capabilities, Lineberger said he needs financial assistance to continue his work, but more importantly a bigger shop to do his work.
    “I need a 30-by-30-foot area with a roll up door and preferably a concrete floor,” he said.
    Recently, Lineberger went to Las Vegas to help build a Jeep in which he said the crew did eight weeks’ worth of work in three days. He has five scheduled upcoming projects. Next week, he will begin a remodel for a veteran named Aaron Jewbitz.
    As Lineberger continues his work on Jeep after Jeep, he said he his work will always be fueled by the gratification he gets from seeing every veteran’s exuberance of experiencing their improved vehicle.
    “After I’m done doing this work, it’s so gratifying to see these vets go wheeling,” he said. “Seeing the end result and these veterans’ faces, watching their eyes and faces when they open their car up and see all these parts they didn’t expect, is what’s most gratifying.”

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