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Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band to perform at Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune

Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band perform during the forth annual Spirit Festival at Naval Medical Center San Diego on Feb. 11, 2017.

MARIE A. MONTEZ/U.S. NAVY

By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: February 28, 2017

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Gary Sinise wears many hats.

As an actor, he's played the part of an astronaut in "Apollo 13,'' veteran law enforcement officials in "Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders'' and "CSI:NY'' and, in his most famous role, Lt. Dan Taylor in "Forrest Gump.''

Off screen, Sinise also fills different roles, with many geared toward a four-decade-old effort to help the nation's military and veterans.

One day, Sinise may help a wounded veteran move into a new, adaptive home. The next, he could be visiting with Gold Star families, or playing bass in a band entertaining troops on their home installations, or abroad in overseas bases.

That band, Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band, has performed more than 100 times for troops and veterans around the world since 2004 - part of Sinise's larger mission to give back to those who sacrifice for their country.

Those efforts will bring Sinise to North Carolina later this week, as he performs with his band at Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune.

Sinise, who spoke to The Fayetteville Observer by phone, said he relishes the opportunity to entertain troops.

"I probably wouldn't have done it as much as I have if it wasn't special," he said.

The band will perform Saturday at Fort Bragg's Ritz-Epps Physical Fitness Center at 6:30 p.m.

The event is free and open to military ID cardholders and their guests, but tickets - available at Leisure Travel Services in the Fort Bragg Mini Mall - are required.

On March 5, Sinise and the band will perform as part of Camp Lejeune's March Meltdown festival at Goettge Memorial Field, starting at 4 p.m. That event is also free and open to authorized military ID cardholders.

Sinise said the North Carolina dates will help round out a small tour that starts in Dallas on Tuesday, includes a trip with World War II veterans to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, a concert at Barksdale Air Force Base in California and ends with a concert for troops at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on March 9.

Sinise doesn't make a living playing music.

While the band has professional musicians, the actor is quick to say that he is there as a volunteer - someone who simply loves to entertain.

Sinise formed the band roughly 15 years ago, after he had undertaken several "handshake tours" with the USO.

The Lt. Dan Band is a cover band, and features an eclectic set list featuring well-known songs.

"We play country, we play classics, we play rock, pop, blues, Motown and swing," he said. "It's just a wide variety of music for all ages."

The band is a way for Sinise to give back, he said, in addition to his other charitable efforts aimed at raising awareness of veterans issues, funding to support veterans and spirits for those serving.

"This has been a long war, and they continue to deploy and they continue to sacrifice," he said of his support to the military. "It's a big part of my life."

Sinise's strong bonds with veterans and the military are rooted in family.

Both he and his wife have a history of military service in their families, the actor said.

But starting in the early 1980s, Sinise said he began to take a more involved role in serving the nation's military.

In Chicago at that time, Sinise began supporting Vietnam veterans groups and a program that offered free dinners and performances to veterans at the Steppenwolf Theatre.

After achieving national fame for his role playing a Vietnam veteran in the Academy Award winning "Forrest Gump'' in 1994, Sinise became closely tied to Disabled American Veterans, an organization he continues to support.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Sinise has expanded his outreach and created the Gary Sinise Foundation to further those efforts.

"I wanted to reach out to them and show my appreciation," he said of his goal in starting the foundation. "This, to me, feels very much like a calling. it's just a big, important part of my life."

Sinise is no stranger to the Fort Bragg area, either.

The installation is the largest in the country and one of the busiest for troops fighting the nation's wars.

Through his foundation, Sinise has donated emergency equipment to local first responders, attended local luncheons supporting families who have lost loved ones in war and donated homes to local wounded warriors.

He also has brought the Lt. Dan Band along for several concerts, including one open to the public at Fayetteville's Festival Park and shows for troops at the Fort Bragg Fairgrounds and Crown Coliseum.

Sinise also has taken the time to record videos welcoming local troops home from deployments or wishing them well while serving overseas.

He said he always looks forward to being at Fort Bragg, visiting friends he has made over the years and making new friends as he meets soldiers and their families.

Sinise said his foundation's efforts continue to grow and will continue to serve those on and off Fort Bragg. He said the efforts are about giving back to those who have given so much.

"There are many who can use a little helping hand," Sinise said. "We want to help them."

Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at brooksd@fayobserver.com

©2017 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)
Visit The Fayetteville Observer at www.fayobserver.com
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