Gary Sinise: An American Hero

I'd like to tell you about an American hero I know: Gary Sinise.

Gary, as you know (unless you live under a rock), played Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump and currently stars in CSI New York.  He boasts too many other award-winning roles on stage and screen to list.  What you probably don't know is how much time, energy, and money Gary spends to serve our troops, both active-duty and veterans, and their families. 

I first saw Gary perform in the basement of a Catholic church in Highland Park, IL about a million years ago.  The lighting was rotten and the seats were uncomfortable, but the acting was like nothing I'd witnessed -- ever.  To watch this man on stage was to step into the mind and life of the character he played.  With all that in mind, though, I had no idea at fourteen that I would idolize Gary one day for something having absolutely nothing to do with his acting chops.

Cut to present: while still acting in a long-running hit show on broadcast television, Gary has dedicated his life to our troops.  This man is driven like no one I have ever seen to make sure that our active-duty and veteran military men and women are cared for.

Gary is one of my heroes -- he has realized a calling that takes him from one corner of the world to another in support of our troops and their families.  He does it all: he raises funds for his and other foundations, builds houses, plays music, and visits war zones.  He manages all this at great personal cost, including loss of time with family, grave danger to life and limb when he goes to combat zones, and monetary expenditure from his own pockets.

Recently, he formed The Gary Sinise Foundation.  Though in its infancy, it is an amazing organization, dedicated to supporting those who protect us.  Traveling with "The Lt. Dan Band," he plays music for our troops, most recently making another trip to Afghanistan to bring a little bit of home to our brave fighters "in-country."  No combat zone is too dangerous for Gary and the band to play.  No soldier, airman, seaman, or Marine is too far away for Gary to see and thank personally.

In addition to the band, Gary is currently building homes for multiple-amputee veterans.  At present, there are at least ten homes on the drawing board, with more on the way, for more than forty triple- and quadruple-amputees, with some homes already occupied by their new owners.  The cost to build these smart houses is immense -- between $500K and $1M -- and Gary has spent a great deal of his own money to launch this endeavor.

The list of organizations Gary is helping is too long to mention, but it also includes organizations that aid the children of our fallen.  Gary works with The USO, whose current goal is to raise roughly $100 million to complete and financially support two new USO centers (Operation Enduring Care) -- one at Ft. Belvoir, MD, and one at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda, MD.  These centers help get our troops ready to ship out to places far away and help them reintegrate into society when they return from combat zones and from bases located around the world.

The fight to raise funds, even for such a worthy cause, during a down economy is daunting.  While Gary and skeleton staff  reach out to potential benefactors, the money isn't rushing in.  Businesses large and small, which used to seek out worthy beneficiaries, are now operating too close to the bone to make donations.  Sluggish economic conditions have a dire effect on charities.

There are many families with primary bread-winners in combat.  There are thousands of families who have lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, who now have zero income, many of them too proud to ask for help, and often waiting six months or more for VA benefits to kick in.  There are disabled veterans -- scores of them -- waiting for the VA to get them into the system and give them aid.  Simply put, we owe these people everything.  Help honor our heroes by supporting their endeavors, their families, and our nation.  Donating is easy.

Check out the GSF website for some info on Gary's schedule  and where you might catch the Lt. Dan Band.  Read about GSF's partnership with The Steven Stiller Foundation (a 9/11 hero first responder) and the ten smart homes being built for severely wounded warriors.  You can also follow links  to some of the partner organizations near and dear to Gary, like USO, and  Semper Fi Fund, who have seven recently bereaved families after the Marine training accident yesterday, and many, many others.  Also, you can check out some of Gary's amazing speeches by clicking through his YouTube channel.  I'm particularly fond of his speech to the National Press Club, where he received a standing ovation.  (He is one of a handful who have ever been bestowed the honor of a standing ovation at NPC.)

George Patton said it best:  "Always do everything you ask of those you command."  Our military men and women do everything we ask of them without protest, and with great conviction.  We can do the same for them.  God bless you, and God bless America.