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House Of Blues Concerts Wrap Up Conference Supporting U.S. Troops

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

ORLANDO, Fla., Dec. 12, 2004 – The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes First Annual Road to Recovery Tribute and Conference ended with a bang at the House of Blues here on Dec. 11. Roughly 130 veterans and their families were treated to two concerts by individuals known for their strong support of U.S. troops.

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Country Singer Chely Wright got the night started at the House of Blues. The Dec. 11 event was the unofficial end to the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes: 1st Annual Road to Recovery Tribute and Conference in Orlando, Fla. Wright's single "Bumper of My SUV" has been made popular by servicemembers overseas. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
  

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The main event was a lively concert of cover songs of varying genres performed by actor Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.

Sinise said he's been supporting the troops for years. His first trip to visit troops in Iraq came in June of 2003 with the United Services Organization.

Sinise's respect for American servicemembers inspired his band's name. Sinise portrayed an Army officer, "Lt. Dan," in the 1994 hit movie "Forrest Gump." The character struggles to deal with losing both legs in Vietnam.

Most of the Lt. Dan Band's performances are for servicemembers, who "always call me Lt. Dan. They just can't help it," Sinise said.

"I think the story of Lt. Dan is a wonderful story because he overcomes his disability and triumphs and succeeds beyond anybody's wildest dreams," he said.

During the band's performance, veterans and family members sporadically darted on stage to have their picture taken with Sinise while he played. They were also occasionally invited onstage to dance and sing with band members.

Army Pfc. Samuel Chacon Jr. had a fantastic time listening to the band and dancing with singer Mari Anne Jayme.

"I love that (Sinise) took his own personal time to come here (for the troops)," Chacon said. "This is what we fight for, to know that people support us."

The outpouring of support and goodwill from both the coalition and the entertainers overwhelmed Army Staff Sgt. Mike Sutherland, a soldier for 18 years.

"It's phenomenal," he said about the evening.

Sutherland, a member of the 25th Field Artillery Battalion in Fort Sill, Okla., was injured by an improvised explosive device outside of Baghdad, Iraq. He still suffers from crushed nerves in his lower back, partial paralysis on his left side, and short-term memory loss.

"Out of all the physical therapy I've been through, ... of all the pain management I've been through, ... of all the (psychological help), ... I now feel better than I have in the last 12 months," he said.

Country singer Chely Wright had gotten the night started. She sang and joked with the troops as they finished dinner. She closed her set with her song "The Bumper Of My S.U.V." This song has been wildly popular with U.S. troops overseas.

Wright's grandfather was a soldier in World War II; her dad was a sailor in Vietnam; and her brother is currently a Marine gunnery sergeant. The song was inspired by a Marine Corps bumper sticker.

One day in traffic, "a lady flipped me the bird because of my Marine Corps sticker," she said. When they stopped at a red light, the woman told Wright "how wrong my war was."

When Wright saw the stickers the woman's car was sporting -- a religious school and anti-Bush stickers -- she realized the woman took for granted the freedom that gave her the right to display the stickers.

Wright said she has been supporting troops since she was a kid. "One Wednesday a month I would take my keyboard and go the (Veterans Administration) hospital and play for the troops," she said. Her family "said, 'OK, you want to be famous? If you ever do you get your butt over there and you support your troops.'"

Both Sinise and Wright signed autographs after each concert. The lines were long, but the troops found it worth their wait.

"It hits home," Army Reserve Sgt. Robert Williamson, with the 706th Transport Company from Mansfield, Ohio, said of Wright's The Bumper OF My S.U.V.

The night was topped off by a chorus of "Happy Birthday to You" sung to one of the military wives there. The troops also presented shirts, signed by all the veterans that turned out, to Roger Chapin and Doug Plank, co-founders of the Coalition to Support America's Veterans, and Roger's wife, Elizabeth.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Pfc. Samuel Chacon Jr. dances with Lt. Dan Band singer Mary Anne Jayme. The band headlined the concert at the House of Blues event that unofficially ended the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes 1st Annual Road to Recovery Tribute and Conference here Dec. 11. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageGary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band headlined the concert that was part of the unofficial end to the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes: 1st Annual Road to Recovery Tribute and Conference in Orlando, Fla. The veterans and their families thoroughly enjoyed dancing on stage with Sinise and the band members. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley  
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