Gary Sinise on Mission to Serve 'America's Bravest'
PORTSMOUTH, Va. -- For more than a decade, thousands of U.S. troops have been injured fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many celebrities work to help America's veterans, and one of the most passionate is actor Gary Sinise.
The film and TV star is best-known by millions as "Lt. Dan Taylor" from the 1994 film "Forrest Gump." His portrayal of the Vietnam veteran earned him a best supporting actor nomination.
On a personal level, the role led to Sinise's involvement with the organization Disabled American Veterans and a deep devotion to the well-being of our troops.
"Then September 11 came along; we deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan; people started getting hurt, and the thought of what happened to our Vietnam veterans happening to our active duty folks today was very difficult for me," Sinise told CBN News. "It wasn't something I could sit back and let happen again."
So Sinise started visiting American military men and women overseas. Eventually the actor, who is also a musician, asked the United Service Organizations if he could take a band on a tour. The USO agreed and the "Lt. Dan Band" was born.
"We're trying to get to every single base around the world before we're done with this journey," Sinise told the audience at a concert in Portsmouth, Va.
"They deserve our attention, our respect, and our gratitude, and whatever we can do for them," he said.
Sinise plays the bass in the Lt. Dan Band, and on average they play about 30 to 40 shows a year, with around 75 percent of those for USO, charities, or benefits.
Filling in the Gaps
"The VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) can only do so much and only does so much," he told CBN News.
"Sometimes the VA can actually make things a little more difficult than it should be for our veterans," he added. "So thankfully, there are some good organizations out there in the non-profit world that are trying to fill those gaps, and that's why I created my foundation."
The mission of the Gary Sinise Foundation is to serve and honor veterans, first responders, their families, and others in need.
In addition to building morale, the Lt. Dan Band is now on its "Building for America's Bravest" 2013 benefit concert tour. The Gary Sinise Foundation is partnering with the Tunnel to Towers Foundation to build "smart" homes for the most severely injured veterans.
"They're run by iPads; they have elevators; they have sensors all around," Sinise explained. "If you're confined to a wheelchair and you can't reach something, the cupboards can come down to your level and that kind of thing. So we want these warriors to come home and have an opportunity in life to at least be independent within their living space."
Sinise emphasized before the crowd at the Lt. Dan Band concert in Portsmouth, "We need to take care of you before the battle; we need to take care of you during the battle, and we need to take care of you after the battle and make sure you know that we're grateful for everything you do for us."
The Need is Great
The band will hold concerts across 10 states to help veterans. The need is great.
According to the Wounded Warrior Project, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan led to physical injuries for more than 50,000 service members. In addition, an estimated 400,000 battle combat-related stress, major depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Marine Staff Sgt. Isaac Zahn is a member of the Wounded Warrior Battalion East.
"I was blown up eight times doing route clearance, and I sustained enough blast injuries where I had to get my right leg amputated below the knee," Zahn told CBN News.
He said he's grateful for the efforts of Sinise and his band.
"Love it, everything about it," Zahn exclaimed. "It's great; my wife is with me, and she also is enjoying it, so it's good."
Marine Gunnery Sgt. David Post also had to get part of a leg amputated -- the victim of an improvised explosive device.
"My limb was just mangled to the point where there was no recovery," Post explained to CBN News. "I tried to save it after a year and a half, and it just, it wasn't working. I had to give it up."
Post said his faith, family, and support groups like the Gary Sinise Foundation are critical in helping him move on with his life.
"God, Corps, country. That's the way it works," he shared. "I do have a family, and I'm Catholic. The support group has been amazing, and that's what it's about. When I feel like I'm down and I can't do anymore, the people around me always bring me back with the help of God."
Motivated by Faith
Sinise said his faith motivates him to reach out to veterans like Post and Zahn.
"I'm Catholic. My wife's a Catholic; we've raised our kids all Catholic," Sinise said. "My daughter goes to Catholic school. They've all gone to Catholic school. Service above self is something that's a part of the faith obviously, and it's something that I've just been privileged to learn over the years."
The Wounded Warrior Project says on its website, "The greatest casualty is being forgotten." Sinise and his foundation agree, wanting to make sure every veteran feels valued.
"There is a heavy cost for freedom and you are our freedom providers," he told military men and women at the Portsmouth concert.
*Original post June 2013.