Lt. Dan Band strikes up morale at Keesler

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Stephan Coleman
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
Although some may not know Gary Sinise by name, Lt. Dan is an iconic pop culture character. Using this to their advantage, the Lt. Dan Band performed for Team Keesler on April 4 during their morale-boosting 2014 USO tour of U.S military bases.

Sinise, a philanthropist and renowned actor, accepts his fame as a wounded veteran in the film "Forrest Gump" for the opportunity to show support for national defenders and military personnel.

"That was 20 years ago now that I played the character in Forrest Gump and that led to an association with our wounded through the Disabled American Veterans," said Sinise." And after the attacks on Sept. 11, it was clear to me that there was a role for me to play."

Sinise contacted the USO and began solo handshake tours in 2003 to show support for the military in overseas locations. The Lt. Dan Band, started by Sinise and Vietnam War veteran Kimo Williams, began tours a year later.

Although this was Sinise's first time at Keesler, there were more than 670 military personnel and families in attendance, said Tanja Schloegel, Keesler commercial sponsorship coordinator.

Some attendees were glad for the free concert even if they hadn't heard of Sinise.

"We arrived an hour early to try and make sure we got seats," said Erik Taylor, 81st Medical Support Squadron technician. "I ended up standing the whole time, but it was a blast. I actually knew a lot of the songs."

There were many others, however, who have been long-time fans.

"I was really excited when I heard he was coming," said Barbara Deblasi, 81st Training Wing television production supervisor. "Forrest Gump is still my favorite movie, even after 20 years."

The band played an eclectic range of rock music for the crowd, from classic to contemporary, Lonestar to Stevie Wonder. Sinise and his band of 11 musicians have done more than a hundred shows over the past decade, and it never gets old, he said.

"Quite often we'll go to bases where a lot of service members are deployed, but the families are there," Sinise added. "Seeing them have a good time is the most important thing."

The band also eventually became a program of the Gary Sinise Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports and honors national defenders, veterans and first responders. Sinise began the foundation in 2011.

"After having been involved with our military for a long time and supporting a lot of different charities, it became clear that this was something I was going to continue doing," said Sinise.

The foundation co-sponsors Lt. Dan Band shows and hosts other programs that provide a variety of support, including special home-building for wounded military veterans, resiliency programs and festivals.

Sinise had been involved with veteran groups in the Chicago area in the '80s and got more involved after playing the famous wounded veteran in the '90s. Being recognized for his role was helpful in the beginning, allowing him to break the ice with wounded veterans, he said.

"Before I was on television every week for nine years, on CSI: New York, I wasn't that recognizable except for the character in Forrest Gump," said Sinise.

"When I tried to get the USO's attention in 2003 I left a few messages," he added." I said,
'This is Gary Sinise and I'd like to volunteer for the USO. Can you call me back?' And I didn't hear anything. I called them again, and didn't hear anything back so I called them and said 'This is the guy who played Lt. Dan! Would you call me back? I'd like to go on a tour.' Then I got a call back."

Sinise said his military appreciation stems from a history of veterans in his and his wife's family, and although playing in the Lt. Dan Band isn't his "real" job, it is a passion.

"We have a lot of residual effects after over a dozen years of war," he said. "I think it's helpful for the military to know that there are people who aren't in the service who are right there with them and have been for over a decade.

"Their families have gone through a lot. I've met a lot of great people and they inspire me every day."