During Friday’s celebration of the 24th Month of the Military Child, Fort Riley’s Marshall Army Air Field was filled with children and their families, along with the music of Gary Sinise’s Lt. Dan Band.
The Month of the Military Child, started by former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, is set aside to highlight the importance of children in every military family and to recognize the sacrifices they make.
There were plenty of activities for the children during the festival, including tours of a military vehicle, a safety house put on by the Riley County Fire Department, inflatable bouncers and games. Fort Riley also sponsored several other activities during the month, including a Month of the Military Child proclamation signing, a pancake breakfast, a community garden groundbreaking ceremony and a family bowling tournament.
Rena Miller, director of the Normandy Child Development Center, said she thinks it is great that people have set aside some time to recognize the important role children play in their military families.
“It’s extremely important to have some relief from everyday life,” she said.
There to entertain Friday was the Lt. Dan Band, started by Sinise, who is an actor. The band, in which Sinise plays the bass, got its name from the character he played in “Forrest Gump.” He is also well-known for his roles of Mac Taylor on “CSI” and Ken Mattingly in “Apollo 13.”
Sinise, who joined the United Service Organizations after Sept. 11, 2001, to support the troops in any way he could, and his band started touring with the organization in early 2004. It has traveled all around the world to support U.S. troops serving overseas. Sinise said the group does about 40 shows a year, 30 of which are for the military. It covers music from many generations, ranging from classic rock to contemporary and pop music.
“We have a mission and that is to keep coming back,” Sinise said. “I know it’s important when there is some consistency with the entertainers, because I know that means something to the troops.”
This is the second year in a row the band has come to entertain at Fort Riley.
Sgt. Jeremy Dieter, who had the opportunity to spend some time with Sinise and the band during a show in Iraq, said Sinise is one of the most down-to-earth people he has ever met.
“He’s a big morale builder,” Dieter said. “He cares about the soldiers and shows it.”
Six years ago, Sinise also co-founded an organization with author Laura Hillenbrand to give children supplies for their schools. Operation International Children, originally Operation Iraqi Children, is a not-for-profit organization that gives anyone a chance to be involved in providing essential materials to children. The supply kits are sent all over the world where U.S. troops are stationed.
Sinise said it is a positive program and that it is a good way for people to support the troops from home. People can send money to the organization, or they can put together their own kits to send overseas.
Sinise said he is grateful that he is able to entertain and support the troops. He said since he gets to see and do things the average American does not, part of what he can do is help people understand what the military is, what it does and how good it is at doing it.
“I work in a business that plays acting,” he said. “We play military people and play heroes, but I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time with some real ones.”