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America Supports You: Gary Sinise, Lt. Dan Band Rock Pentagon

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 5, 2006 – Actor and director Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band rocked the Pentagon today, kicking off the second annual "America Supports You" salute concert commemorating Military Appreciation Month.

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Audience members join Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band during an "America Supports You" concert performance at the Pentagon May 5. Photo by Helene C. Stikkel
  

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"You probably think of Gary Sinise as 'Lieutenant Dan' in 'Forest Gump,' or on 'CSI: New York," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told hundreds of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilian employees who gathered here in the Pentagon's outdoor courtyard for the concert.

But at the Defense Department, Rumsfeld said, Sinise is better known as cofounder of the Iraqi Children Fund that sends school supplies to Iraqi children, and as a tireless supporter of the troops who travels the with his band to entertain them. Just before today's concert, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England presented Sinise the Superior Public Service Award in honor of these contributions. "He's a superstar!" Rumsfeld told today's audience.

Rumsfeld also praised 27 America Supports You team members gathered for today's concert, representatives of more than 200 grassroots organizations supporting the men and women in uniform.

The secretary reserved his highest accolades for U.S. troops being honored today. Today's audience included wounded troops from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in nearby Bethesda, Md., servicemembers assigned to the Pentagon, and those who watched from around the world through a Pentagon Channel broadcast.

"We want to say thank you to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, and all those folks who are doing such a wonderfully professional, dedicated job for our country," Rumsfeld said. "God bless you all!"

Sinise, who returned with his band just yesterday from a whirlwind concert tour through Afghanistan, said he found high troop morale wherever he went and a solid belief in the mission.

"Everywhere I went - and we covered a lot of territory there, we talked to literally thousand of people, I shook thousands of hands, took thousands of pictures, signed thousands of autographs - and everywhere I went... I didn't meet anybody who was down," he told today's audience.

"Everybody was dedicated, everybody felt that the mission was important, and everybody was happy to be there doing their job," Sinise said.

The actor and musician said he talks about America Support You everywhere he goes and directs people to the program's Web site to learn about it. "It's very, very important that we have this Web site out there so our troops, if they are ever in doubt that people are supporting them, can easily go to (the) America Supports You (site) and see just how many wonderful people are out there supporting the troops," he said.

While it's difficult to break away from the "CSI: New York" set during the TV season to visit troops overseas, Sinise said he and his band make every effort to do weekend trips to U.S. bases.

"It's important that we go to these U.S. bases as well, because as we all know, a lot of the troops are deployed overseas and their families are at home on these bases: the kids and wives, moms and dads, brothers and sisters," he said. "And it's important for us to get out and...entertain them a bit and let them know that we care about them. We appreciate their sacrifice that they are making for us."

The Lt. Dan Band got the Pentagon rocking today, serenading them with a medley of hits that included Lynard Skynard's "Sweet Home Alabama," Patti LaBelle's "Lady Marmalade," and Charlie Daniel's "The Devil Went Down to Georgia."

Band members pulled people from the audience to the stage to dance to several of the numbers, and Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce, joined the group in cheering them on. The play list hit a high spot when Kimo Williams, a band member who's also a Vietnam veteran, heated things up with a rendition of Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze."

"That's got to be the first time Purple Haze has been played at the Pentagon," Sinise joked.

But all joking turned serious when the Lt. Dan Band performed Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American." Those in seats jumped to their feet and many in the audience joined in singing the lyrics. A group of wounded troops and family members in the front section of seats locked arms, swaying back and forth in unison to the music.

"This is one of the best days I've had since I've been here," said Army Sgt. Leroy Scott, a Walter Reed Army Medical Center patient who lost his right leg in Iraq in July. Scott said he remembers when Sinise visited his unit in Germany before his unit deployed. "He's a great guy," Scott said. "He's always there for us."

"It's awesome," Army Staff Sgt. Joe Bowser said of the band's performance. Bowser, an Army Reservist being treated at Walter Reed after a Chinese rocket sheared off his lower right leg in Iraq, said the concert demonstrates support for the troops. "And it shows they're proud of their country too," he said.

Army Staff Sgt. Brian Donarski, also a Walter Reed patient, said he's overwhelmed by the support he and his fellow troops are receiving from the American people.

"It's good to have backing,' he said. "When you look at the things people are doing and all the volunteers who are offering support, I think these people are the superstars," he said. "It's awesome what they're doing, and they're doing it out of the goodness of their heart."

Troops stationed at the Pentagon said the Lt. Dan Band concert made them feel that they too are doing something important and supporting the war on terror.

"It makes you feel good inside and makes it all worthwhile coming to work every day to hear someone tell you you're doing a good job," said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Arnold, who works for the deputy chief of naval operations. "It makes me feel proud."

"It's a really nice feeling, and it's nice to know that people want to come and do this," agreed Army Sgt. Karen Walker of the Secretary of Defense's Office of Military Personnel. "And the performance is awesome!"

"This means a lot" and sends a message "that we matter," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Nancy Holloway from the Defense Information Systems Agency's Joint Staff Support Center. Holloway said she felt touched "by the fact that people care" and she "got goosebumps" during the performance.

"This shows public support for the military" and a sense of appreciation that isn't always evident to the people who serve, said Marine Col. Gregory Ryan from the Joint Staff's Force Restructure, Resources and Assessment Directorate. "It shows support, not just for the mission here, but for the greater mission, particularly for those who are in harm's way carrying it out."

After today's show, Sinise told American Forces Press Service he considers it a privilege to entertainment and personally thank the troops. "We've got a lot of people working very hard for their country. They're all volunteers, and this is my way of doing what I can do to support them," he said.

The America Supports You program showcases America's support for the men and women in uniform and communicates that support to military members and their families. Since its launch in November 2004, the program has welcomed more than 200 grassroots organizations and more than 20 corporate sponsors to the team.

"It takes all of us working together to demonstrate our support," said Judy Seales, founder of Stars and Stripes, that just returned from a concert tour in Iraq that featured the Charlie Daniels Band.

The troops deployed overseas "are very focused" on their mission and every token of support helps boost their spirits, Seales said. "It's important to them," and acts of support "mean the world to them," she said.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDeputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England presents the Superior Public Service Award to Gary Sinise for his support of U.S. servicemembers. Photo by Helene C. Stikkel  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his wife, Joyce, applaud the performance of the Lt. Dan Band featuring Hollywood actor Gary Sinise in the courtyard of the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., May 5, 2006. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageLt. Dan Band vocalist Gina Gonzalez performs in the courtyard of the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., May 5, 2006, in support of the Department of Defense's America Supports You Program. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley, USN  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDefense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld autographs the T-shirt of an America Supports You volunteer after a performance by the Lt. Dan Band in the courtyard of the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., May 5, 2006. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageThe Lt. Dan Band performs in the courtyard of the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., May 5, 2006. The concert kicked off Military Appreciation Month. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageGary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band perform at the Pentagon on May 5 as part of an "America Supports You" tribute commemorating Military Appreciation Month. Photo by Helene C. Stikkel  
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