Kodiak was the final stop on the band’s Alaska tour on behalf of the USO. Over the weekend the band performed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson near Anchorage and at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks.
During his day in Kodiak, Sinise visited the Coast Guard cutter Munro and had lunch with the Coast Guardsmen there.
“They tell me there are about 1,000 Coast Guard folks serving here in the Kodiak area,” Sinise said. “That’s a lot of people. We’re here to show support and say thank you.”
This is the second time Sinise and the band have visited Kodiak. They entertained around 4,000 Coast Guardsmen and family mmbers in 2010.
The Lt. Dan Band, named for Sinise’s role in “Forrest Gump,” plays a variety of covers ranging from Stevie Wonder to contemporary music.
The band formed in 2004 when Sinise and a friend, guitarist Kimo Williams, teamed up. Sinise and the 12-member band have since performed for more than 240,000 troops and their families in the U.S., Belgium, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands and Afghanistan, among others. They have performed in about 50 USO tours and 119 USO concerts.
When Sinise first started visiting U.S. military troops around the world, he found that many didn’t know who he was, but they knew his “Forrest Gump” character. He made his first overseas trip to Iraq in June 2003, and most soldiers just called him Lt. Dan.
“At that time most people didn’t know who I was,” he said. “They just knew my face from ‘Forrest Gump.’ When I went to hospitals, some folks that had lost limbs assumed I knew what they were going through from playing a character that lost limbs. I didn’t really, but I was able to open a door.”
Sinise had worked with various veterans and disabled veterans groups in the 1980s and 1990s, but said it was the Sept. 11, 2001, event that threw him into a new level of service.
“That really drove me to reach out to the USO to see what I could do to help,” Sinise said. “It’s hard to sit back and do nothing.”
In addition to playing shows for military members, Sinise also created the Gary Sinise Foundation, which raises money and runs programs to support disabled veterans and military families.
“It’s really a mission of mine to support the men and women who serve our country,” he said. “I wanted to give back to people who are serving and protecting us.”
The band plays 30 to 40 shows each year, with 75 percent of those shows for charities, benefits or the USO.
Coast Guardsman James Richard, serving his second tour in Kodiak, said the performance shows support from the USO and the sincere appreciation people have for military services.
“It’s nice to see somebody like Gary Sinise,” Richard said. “These people come out and show their appreciation that way. I think at a minimum the shows set aside the different units and it becomes a cohesion of us Coast Guardsmen or other military services enjoying some down time together.”
The United Service Organizations works to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families at military bases in the U.S. and abroad by providing entertainment to give them a touch of home.
“We’ve partnered with Gary since 2004,” USO spokeswoman Sharee Posey said. “He has a big heart for the troops.”
Contact Mirror writer Nicole Klauss at nklauss@kodiak