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VetFamily: Gary Sinise Plays Winning Role in Veterans Advocacy

Gary Sinise

Gary Sinise's most famous military role may have been Lieutenant Dan Taylor in "Forrest Gump," but these days he continues to play a leading role in veterans' advocacy off screen.

The Emmy and Golden Globe winner is busy with the foundation he created in 2011 to help veterans. One of the foundation’s most well-known events is called "Snowball Express," where Gold Star families are flown to Walt Disney World to celebrate the holidays. And finally, after a two-year layoff because of the pandemic, Snowball Express took place in person once again.

"This year we were able to take them back to Disney World. We upped the number of families that we were able to take. And this year, I think we had 1,151 children and upwards of 1,900 people total there," Sinise told Fox News. Flights to Disney World were handled by its presenting sponsor American Airlines, also a Veterans Advantage exclusive partner since 2019.

In recent years, the Gary Sinise Foundation's R.I.S.E. Program has built specially adapted smart homes for our nation's most severely wounded veterans transitioning to civilian life. The foundation says 81 such homes have been completed, and more are under construction.

And these transition efforts are not just creating homes, but job opportunities. In 2013, he joined the Get Skills to Work (GSTW) organization to announce his home state of Illinois as the first to join the coalition, and he remained a vocal supporter. Since then the coalition has brought together employers, industry leaders, educators, and the public sector to help 100,000 veterans get the skills necessary for careers in advanced manufacturing.

"While playing Lieutenant Dan certainly helped me understand some of the challenges that returning veterans face, my concern for veterans predates 'Forrest Gump' by more than a decade," Sinise wrote in the Chicago Sun Times. He began supporting GSTW because its goals paralleled those of this own project: The Gary Sinise Foundation.

The Gary Sinise Foundation has initiated numerous other veterans relief programs, arts outreach, and community partnerships. His mission is to "serve our Nation by honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need. We do this by creating and supporting unique programs designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen, and build communities." As one of many moves to help, Sinise reached out internationally by sending 358,763 school supply kits to war-torn areas of Iraq through Operation International Children.

"We're trying to keep the veteran community strong and know that they're appreciated," Sinise told CBS News.

The 62-year-old actor comes from a military family: his father served in the Navy in the 1950s, two of his uncles served in World War II, three brother-in-laws served in Vietnam, his sister-in-law served for 10 years, and his nephew served in Afghanistan. Though he never enlisted himself, Sinise was named an Honorary US Marine on August 26, 2013 by Gen. James Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps. The award is given to individuals in the civilian community who have made extraordinary contributions to the Marine Corps.

"I'm always amazed and humbled at the skill and dedication of the men and women who serve... God bless you all for doing what you do in defense of our freedom all around the world," said Sinise.

Other awards for his contributions include including the Bob Hope Award for Excellence in Entertainment from the Medal of Honor Society, the Spirit of the USO Award, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the Doughboy Award, the Sylvanus Thayer Award, and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Award from the National Defense Industrial Association. He also received the Presidential Citizens Medal from President George W. Bush and the Spirit of Hope Award from the U.S. Department of Defense. Not to mention his collection of trophies for his on screen accomplishments.

For "Forest Gump," Sinise was nominated for an Academy Award and won both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actor's Guild Award. Other film credits include, "Apollo 13," "The Green Mile," "Truman," and, "Of Mice and Men." He spent the past nine years portraying Detective Mac Taylor, a former US Marine, on the hit show, "CSI: New York."No stranger to entrepreneurship, he co-founded the reputable Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago in the mid-1970s.

"I am a big fan of your work as an actor, but I am an even bigger fan of the role you play in real life," Navy Fleet Master Chief(AW/NAC) Michael D. Stevens told him as he named the screen star an honorary chief petty officer in 2012.

A multi talent, Sinise also plays bass and has charmed many military audiences with the "Lt. Dan Band," named after his Forest Gump character. The twelve-member troupe covers hits from Stevie Wonder to Kelly Clarkson, Adele to the Zac Brown Band, and everything in between. They have grown to perform up to 50 shows per year and have worked with the USO.

"We must do all we can to extend our hand in times of need to those who willingly sacrifice each day to provide that freedom and security," said Sinise. Speaking of his service, he explained, "While we can never do enough to show our gratitude to our nation's defenders, we can always do a little more."

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