By Sharilyn Wells/ParaglideAugust 6, 2010
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. - As the lights dimmed, the sound of a helicopter flying low filled the Crown Coliseum. The familiar, raspy voice of Lt. Dan, played by Gary Sinise from the movie Forrest Gump, echoed in the ears of eager servicemembers and their Families as they watched an assortment of scenes that incorporated the proud lieutenant from the Oscar winning movie. As the Lt. Dan Band stepped on stage, the audience roared with excitement.
On July 31, Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band performed a free concert for an audience of 1,500 to 2,000 servicemembers and their Families at the Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville.
Operation Welcome Home and American Airlines as well as local businesses and military supporters hosted the event for the military-only crowd.
Before the band performed, Maj. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division and Lt. Gen. John Mulholland, commanding general for the U.S. Army Special Opertions Command, thanked the sponsors and the Lt. Dan Band for all their hard work that went into the event.
"It's quite a collection of businesses and supporters who have helped put this together to honor you (servicemembers) who have come home from deployment. This is the Fayetteville community who gives thanks to your services and lets you know that America really does know of the sacrifices you make every day and appreciates what you do," Scaparrotti said to the audience.
"As a CG who has gone down range with these Soldiers, I can't put it into words how much I appreciate you for the support of our Families back home," Scaparrotti said to the many sponsors lined up on the stage behind him.
A big supporter of the military and the USO, Sinise along with the Lt. Dan Band members, has traveled around the world playing for deployed Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, and Marines. The band covers just about every genre of music from Stevie Wonder to Beyonce to Lynyrd Skynyrd to Lonestar to Evanescence.
Sinise set the intimate concert mood with the small crowd by asking everyone to come forward, the second he reached his microphone.
"We are here to have fun," said Sinise. "No crabby faces tonight."
Everyone was smiles when around 30 women were invited onstage to dance with Sinise and the band to "Lady Marmalade." Also, one lucky Soldier, Travis Sander, was brought on stage by singer, Julie Dutchak, as she sang "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" to him.
For Rich and Shannon Elias, the chance to see Sinise and the band was a must-not-miss opportunity. A big fan of Sinise, Rich said he just had to check out the concert.
"(Sinise) is our voice out there," Rich said of Sinise and his support of the troops. "He does a lot for us."
Students from the 82nd Airborne Division Warrior Leaders Course got the chance to take a break from training and enjoy themselves at the concert.
"It's really cool that he puts a lot of effort into this," said Jacob Wilson. "It's great to see America's support."
Michelle Kashiwagi, also a student at WLC, agreed that the event was a great opportunity.
"I'm a big fan of (Sinise)," she said smiling. "I loved him in Forrest Gump."
The Lt. Dan Band began when Sinise met Kimo Williams, an Air Force brat, a prior combat engineer and Vietnam veteran.
Williams explained to the crowd that while he was deployed, he played his guitar to handle the stress and to entertain other Soldiers. When he asked to go to other stations around the country to perform, he was told he had to bring his M16 along with him.
"So I said okay," Williams laughed. "And assumed I'd decide which one to use when needed out there."
Sinise also told the audience that he has a nephew in the 82nd Airborne Division currently serving overseas.
"It's important for guys like me to show you all how we appreciate what you sacrifice for our country," Sinise said. "You guys are amazing."