SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY --
Everywhere he goes, Gary Sinise is recognized as Lieutenant Dan from the movie "Forrest Gump." It was this recognition that gave him the inspiration for his band name: The Lt. Dan Band; a tool that Mr. Sinise uses to support the men and women in the Armed Forces by playing overseas tours and stateside through the United Service Organization.
The Lt. Dan Band performed at Spangdahlem Air Base Tuesday wrapping up the band's 2007 European tour. They played five shows throughout Belgium and Germany.
"The show was great and Gary Sinise said he had a great time as he always does when he comes to Spangdahlem," said Cravin Ham, 52nd Services Squadron, who was in charge of putting the show together. "The crowd was really into it. We estimated around 650-700 people, even though there was an exercise going on."
In 2003 Mr. Sinise went on his first USO tour to Iraq, as an actor which has since turned into a passion for entertaining American servicemembers.
"It was a big tour with a lot of people," Mr. Sinise said. "Then I did another tour and another, shaking hands, taking pictures and signing autographs, but I played music on the side with a group of friends from Chicago. So, I asked the USO if they'd let me take a band and they said yes. It's a fun way to go out and support the troops as an actor. It's fun for me because I'm a musician as well and I like to play. It's also good for the troops because they get a show and not just me taking pictures. We can entertain them and have a good time doing it."
Filming "CSI: NY" keeps Mr. Sinise busy limiting his opportunity to go on a tour and visit with troops.
"Sometimes, I wish I could do more because I'm on "CSI: NY" six months out of the year and I can't make overseas tours during the season. But I'll get out on a plane Saturday morning and fly out to a base and play a concert Saturday night then fly home on Sunday," he said. "It's just a way that I can continue to participate in trying to help support the troops while I'm still trying to do my job, working and be a dad."
The Lt. Dan Band puts on high energy shows designed to the get crowd moving and boost morale.
"We play a lot of songs people recognize," Mr. Sinise said. "I take a lot of pride in putting together the collection of tunes and genres to play a little something for everyone. By the end of the show, the audience is worked up pretty well and having a great time and that's our objective to make sure that everybody walks out feeling good and having their morale boosted up."
Mr. Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band also take the time to visit with disabled veterans.
"Military servicemembers seem to connect to the Lt. Dan character a lot, especially when I go to the hospital," he said. "They've seen the movie and they know I've played someone with a severe injury. It's connected me with a lot of disable veterans. I feel like if I can walk into the hospital and talk to a wounded Soldier and they have some sort of connection that's meaningful to them, I might be able to make a little difference in their day. I try to visit the hospital as often as I can and do something positive."
Mr. Sinise's work with disabled veterans does not end with his hospital visits.
"I am involved with the disabled Americans Veterans Organization," he said. "We're trying to build a memorial to honor all our disabled vets in (Washington) D.C. We are hoping to get that built by 2010."
Not only does Mr. Sinise dedicate his time to entertaining and meeting with troops, he is the co-founder of a program designed to send school supplies to Iraqi children.
"I have a program called Operation Iraqi Children and we send a lot of school supplies," he said. "I'm in touch with a lot of people who are distributing supplies and I try to get those stories out there because all we ever hear about are bombing and more bombings, but you don't hear about the kids going to school or different things that are happening that are positive for them. I try to get that out as much as I can.
"We've sent (more than) 300,000 school supply kits over to the troops so they can get them to the kids, and knowing that the supplies are with our troops helping to extend the hand to Iraqi kids that don't have access to these simple school supplies that we take for granted is a positive thing," Mr. Sinise said. "It makes me feel good that we've helped out in that way."
The message Mr. Sinise wanted to share with those serving in the military is thank you for all what you do.
"Thank you," he said. "I know everyone in the service is a volunteer. People don't have to do it and we continue to have people sign up to serve their country knowing it's a dangerous business. What would we do without them? In our country, I think we take for granted everything we have because we've lived with it for so long that it just seems natural to have the things we have and freedom we have and the prosperity we have, but that's all been fought for and sacrificed for. A lot of people have paid a heavy price so that you and I can do what we do. It could be taken away in the blink of an eye. We just have to enjoy it and be thankful that we have people to defend it."
More than anything, Gary Sinise is just a regular guy using his gifts to do what he can for the people who help keep the country free.
"I really enjoy spending time with folks in the military because I meet so many people. People that care about their country and care about setting a good example for young folks and I've met a lot of generals that have impressed me a lot. There are certainly a lot of people I look up to in the industry, but I don't feel comfortable around a lot of celebrities so I prefer hanging out with other folks."
To view video of the event, visit www.af.mil/tv/index.asp?showid=3333