Fort Campbell troop tribute
Vocalist Jeff Vezain belts out a song while actor Gary Sinise accompanies on bass guitar Saturday night at Fort Campbell's Division Parade Field. Sinise and Vezain are part of the Lt. Dan Band, a cover group which travels to USO venues and performs for Soldiers and Families. (Photo by Heather Clark)

FORT CAMPBELL, KY, Sept. 1, 2011--Every now and again, Hollywood puts out a movie that can collectively capture millions in a big way. Within these movies, there are always characters which become beloved, scenes that burn into the memory and quotes that are spouted regularly amid the denizens of pop culture. Forrest Gump, 1994s Academy Award winner for best picture, is one of these movies.

One of the movie's most notable characters was Lt. Dan Taylor; Gump's hard-nosed and dedicated platoon commander in Vietnam. Lieutenant Dan was portrayed by actor Gary Sinise, an avid supporter of the country's military and first responders.

Sinise gave a good deal of his time making trips overseas with the USO to visit the men and women serving the nation. It was after one of these ventures that he asked the USO about taking his Chicago-based band with him on tour.

Once they got the go-ahead, the band began rehearsing cover songs to play at military installations. The only thing remaining was to pick out a name.

"When I'd visit troops at bases around the world, they were always calling me Lt. Dan," said Sinise. "I just said 'Why don't we just go with it?,' so we named the band after the character, and people seemed to like it."

August 27, Soldiers and Families gathered at Fort Campbell's Division Parade Field for a free performance, courtesy of Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.

It was truly an evening of giving back.

Near the stage was a VIP section, where 50 winners of Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation's Text Club were treated to perks like prime seating and free food.

"It's a VIP environment for Joe Soldier," explained Melissa Schaffner, marketing director for MWR. "We have a VIP tent for events like this, where mayors, command group, etc. receive special treatment. What we've done is create a way for people to win the opportunity to be in the same environment."

Elsewhere in the crowd, participants enjoyed free Girl Scout cookies. This was the result of a collaborative effort between Girl Scouts of America and Operation MOMS Cookies (Men & Women Of Military Service), an Illinois-based charity organization that works to send care packages to deployed Soldiers.

Debbie Trippiedi, founder of Operation MOMS Cookies was thrilled to be part of the event.

"What a fantastic opportunity to be on the base of Fort Campbell," said Trippiedi.

To honor Sinise, a fellow Illinois native, Trippiedi and the rest of her group presented him with a specialized gift basket.

"We told Gary thank you for all that you do for the troops," said Trippiedi. "He's giving up his time to come out and do these USO concerts. We have a deep and profound respect for him."

For Sinise, however, the Lt. Dan Band is just a small way of giving back to those who risk their lives for the safety of the nation.

"This is a dangerous world," said Sinise. "If you pay attention to what's happening in the world each day, you're going to have to come to the realization that it's probably not going to get less dangerous as time goes on."

Because of this danger, the need for strong defense will continue to be ever-present, Sinise said, citing Sept. 11 as a prime example.

"Since then, we've had a lot of brave people going out there to try and prevent that from happening again," said Sinise. "We'll have to do a lot of dangerous things and it will take a lot of support. So I go out there and serve those who are serving by patting them on the back, playing them some music or visiting them in the hospital."

Through his music, his time and his supporting organizations, Sinise feels that he is doing his part to show support to Soldiers, veterans and military Families.

"This is a way I can serve, and there certainly doesn't appear to be a lack of need there," said Sinise. "There is a great need. I meet people every single day who could use some help. It's a good feeling, knowing there's something you can do."

Page last updated Thu September 1st, 2011 at 00:00