By Kimberly Gearhart, USAG Schweinfurt Public AffairsJuly 14, 2008
SCHWEINFURT, Germany - The Lt. Dan Band played U.S. Army Garrison Schweinfurt July 7 with a blend of rock, funk, soul and pop covering the last 40 years of music, and then some.
Gary Sinise, star of stage and screen both big and small, co-founded the band and lent the name of one of his more famous screen personas - Lt. Dan from the movie "Forrest Gump" - to the group.
Sinise and Kimo Williams, a Vietnam veteran and composer, co-founded the band as a way to entertain troops and veterans, touring overseas with the United Service Organizations and performing stateside on bases and in veterans' hospitals.
Besides his work with the Lt. Dan Band, the bass-playing Sinise travels on his own to visit deployed Soldiers. It was on one such trip in 2003 that Sinise formed the seed of an idea that would grow into another goodwill project known as Operation Iraqi Children.
"When I went to Iraq on my second tour in November of 2003," Sinise explained, "I (visited community) schools. The troops took me out to these schools they had rebuilt and refurbished."
What struck him immediately was how scarce basic material, such as paper and pencils, were. After returning home, Sinise gathered school supplies and shipped them to Soldiers in Iraq with whom he had met for them to distribute.
"They videotaped it all, and sent it to me," he recalled. "I ... thought this would be a great way to help the troops interact with kids around Iraq."
That seed grew into OIC, which in 2004 began shipping school supply kits to U.S. troops for distribution in Iraqi schools.
"The troops can't seem to get enough ... and now we're shipping to Afghanistan," Sinise said.
For example, last fall, 2,048 school supply kits made their way to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Those supply kits were flown by helicopter to Forward Operating Base Naray, where Soldiers from the Schweinfurt-based 1st Squadron, 91st Cavalry Regiment (Airborne) took charge of them.
"The supplies were distributed to the Naray and Nishigam Schools," wrote squadron Chaplain (Capt.) Kelly O'Lear in an e-mail. The chaplain and most of the 1-91 CAV are wrapping up their mission in Afghanistan, but more school supplies for the children are "en route," according to O'Lear.
But whether it's rocking out on Kessler Field here, touring deployed positions or gathering supplies for needy children, Sinise believes that it is his "purpose to help our Soldiers."
With the Lt. Dan Band, that assistance comes in the form of musical entertainment. As for Operation Iraqi Children, Sinise hopes to help "extend the hand of friendship" between Soldiers and children impacted by military operations.
"(OIC) helps the kids to see that Soldiers are not just people that carry guns, but ... can be helpful and beneficial to them as well," Sinise said.
"It is heartwarming to see how the supplies help troops help the kids," Sinise said.