"There's a role I can play to help"

Being stuck in traffic between his charity work and his day job might be a metaphor for life for Gary Sinise. The actor plays Detective Mac Taylor on “CSI: NY,” and is just as well-known in military circles for another character with the same last name, Lt. Dan Taylor of “Forest Gump” fame.

After an event in Temecula, Calif., where his Gary Sinise Foundation helped provide a house for a wounded Marine, the actor was on his way to the Los Angeles studio where he is shooting season nine of  “CSI: NY.”

“I’m trying to get back to work right now, and the traffic is preventing me,” Sinise said.

L.A.’s gridlock worked in my favor, because Sinise used the travel delay to talk to me by phone about his efforts for American troops.

“This morning we presented the keys to Marine Cpl. Juan Dominguez, who lost both legs and an arm and obviously has some special needs, so we built a specially designed home just for him,” Sinise said. “We had a great ceremony right out in front of his house … The Marine band was there. Some Marines from Camp Pendleton came over. It was a great morning and a great thing to be able to do that.”

Sinise’s foundation, alongside the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, is building specially designed homes for veterans returning from war with life-altering injuries. The program, called Building for America’s Bravest, gets fundraising and publicity power from the Lt. Dan Band, named for the disabled Vietnam veteran Sinise portrayed.

The Lt. Dan Band, with Sinise on bass guitar, performs 40 or 50 shows annually all over the world, at military installations, hospitals, USO events or fundraisers, such as those that help fund the homes for veterans.

Sinise lives in California with his family and spends his weekdays at work on the “CSI” set. The band’s schedule keeps him on the road most weekends — 11 months of the year.

“I usually try to take January off,” said Sinise. This year, however, there was a January gig in Kuwait he didn’t want to miss.

“I was on the very first USO tour over there in June of 2003,” he said. “This was going to be the last entertainment tour for troops who have served in Iraq, so I couldn’t pass that up … I took the band over and we played a concert in Kuwait.”

Sinise began touring for the USO at the outset of the war in Afghanistan and formed the Lt. Dan Band in 2003. His objectives soon moved beyond entertainment. Nearly a decade later, the band has become a vehicle for raising money and awareness about veteran and military issues.

Their touring schedule includes many military locations and small communities. Fundraisers for Building for America’s Bravest are usually held in the same towns as the houses being built. Sinise explained that this raises community awareness about the veteran’s contributions and rallies community support -- not only in financial terms.

“We can build houses, but I think it’s important for the community to rally around these wounded warriors who have given so much of themselves,” said Sinise.

“It’s important that those communities know and are aware they have a special person who has given a lot in service for our country and who has sacrificed to provide freedom for all of us. I don’t take that for granted, and I know there’s a role I can play to help.”

On another front, Sinise has created public service announcements for the U.S. Marine Corps suicide prevention resource, called “DStress Line."

“It might help to see that there are Americans out there who didn’t serve, which I didn’t, who just believe in helping and supporting our military,” he said.

He’s not a veteran, but Sinise’s connections to the military are many. He serves on the council of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, for example. He said getting to know Medal of Honor recipients motivates him to do what he does.

“They inspire me … to go out and continue to do what I know I’m capable of doing. I always tell folks, if you can think it, you can do it. If you’re capable of doing something to serve, then I think you should and when you do, you get a lot out of it yourself.”

After learning the schedule he keeps and the scope of his philanthropic work, only partially covered here, I wanted to ask Sinise if he considers himself driven, but there wasn’t time. He had more phone interviews to complete during the traffic jam.

Which pretty much answered my question. Thanks, Lt. Dan.

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