A Place Not So Far From Home

Actor Gary Sinise hits the stage to perform for troops and military families at U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis

When we think of our troops serving in remote locations, far from the comforts of home, we typically envision them in the desert on the frontlines of war but that isn’t always the case.

Countless troops serve our nation right here on the home front, including the thousands of Guardsmen and military families stationed on the small island of Kodiak in Alaska, home to one of the largest U.S. Coast Guard bases in the world.  I recently visited the island with USO tour veteran Gary Sinise and his band, The Lt. Dan Band, and discovered that you don’t have to live in a foreign land to feel far from home.

“Alaska isn’t another country, but sometimes it feels like it is”

From our first stop in Anchorage to our last stop in Kodiak we heard over and over how much troops and their families appreciated Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band’s USO visit and how much it meant to them.  “We never get any famous people here, it’s just too far,” said one military spouse, who explained how much she missed just being able to attend a concert.  The men and women stationed in Alaska may not be serving overseas or in combat zones, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t missing some of the same comforts of home as those who are.   When a celebrity volunteer like Gary Sinise drops by to say thank you and deliver a high-energy, family-friendly USO show, it lets them know that America recognizes their service comes at a price and appreciates their sacrifice.

(L-R) Medal of Honor recipient Drew Dix, actor Gary Sinise and Capt. Bill Deal, commanding officer of Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, pose for a photo with the crews of the air station. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest differences.  Petty Officer 3rd Class David Call, who escorted our group for most of our time in Kodiak, pointed out,  “What I miss the most is being able to get in my car and drive.”Kodiak hosts less than 100 miles of drivable road, and when you’re used to hopping in your car to relax or clear your mind the open highway can become as welcome a sight as a good friend.  That’s why, no matter what it is our troops are missing or wherever they serve the USO and partners like Gary Sinise and TriWest Healthcare Alliance – who help to fund many of the Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band tours – are there for them. While the USO may not be able to bring the open road to our men and women in uniform, like Petty Officer Call, we can bring them a good time and some memories to last a lifetime.

Petty Officer 3rd Class David Call, who can be seen as part of the Weather Channel Series “Coast Guard Alaska,” provides medical support to a 5-month-old baby girl. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Charly Hengen

To see a glimpse of the action tune into The Weather Channel’s hit series “Coast Guard Alaska,” which airs Wednesdays at 9/8c and follow the men and women serving at Kodiak as they train, work, and tackle the harsh environment of rugged Alaska.  USO and Gary Sinise fans can also look forward to a special USO themed episode in season three.  To learn more about the USO and how you can support our forward deployed troops, military families and our ill, injured and wounded warriors please visit us online at www.uso.org.  – Sharee Posey, USO Senior Communications Specialist

Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band Performs in USO shows in Alaska

Empty Stage in Hanger 20 at Elmendorf AFB. Sound check over. Show in 2 hours. (Photo courtesy of Gary Sinise's Facebook page)

Actor – and USO favorite – Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band are performing three free, private USO concerts for troops and their families as part of a USO tour sponsored by TriWest Healthcare Alliance.

Last night they rocked the house at Elmendorf AFB.  It’s the first trip to Alaska for Sinise, who told KTUU.com, “We’re always thrilled to be able to you know, come and help — help support the troops, and entertain them and their families, and see places like this.  I mean, we’ve been in some not-so-great places too, but this is one of the more beautiful spots we’ve been in.”

Check out rehearsal footage from Elmendorf in the video below!  Tonight the 12-piece band will be at Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak and Saturday they travel to Eielson Air Force Base outside Fairbanks.

Lt. Dan Band Says “Ciao” to Naples

Gary Sinise and his 12-member band, the Lt. Dan Band, celebrated Independence Day with over 4,000 military families at an exclusive USO concert, sponsored by TriWest Health Care Alliance, at U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr in Germany, July 4, 2010. (U.S. Army Photo by Gertrud Zach/released)

You know him, you love him, and his band regaled Troops and families with their favorite songs over the 4th of July holiday.  Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band traveled through Germany and Italy for a special pair of concerts earlier this month, entertaining thousands of military families along the way.  Visit their website for the latest updates; they have public concerts coming up in Oshkosh, WI; Airway Heights, WA; and Staten Island, just to name a few.

And be sure to check out our photo essay from the stops in Germany – with USO’s very own CEO and President Sloan Gibson – and enjoy the videos below from Italy!

Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band Rock the Fourth with a USO Concert in Germany!

Gary Sinise and The Lt. Dan Band hit the stage to celebrate troops and their families at USAG Grafenwoher, Germany, July 4, 2010. (USO Photo by Jaimie Goloyugo)

“I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Independence Day than being with the men and women of our armed forces. The band and I are always happy to hit the road with the USO.  We love performing for troops, because their sacrifices make it possible for the rest of us to live our lives.  They deserve so much more, and this is just one way for us to let them know we appreciate what they do.” – Gary Sinise

Emmy Award-winning actor Gary Sinise and his 12-member band, the Lt. Dan Band, celebrated Independence Day with over 4,000 military families at an exclusive USO concert, sponsored by TriWest Health Care Alliance, at U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr in Germany, July 4, 2010.  Over the past seven years, Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band have entertained nearly 150,000 troops and military families in the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Afghanistan.

On Saturday, July 10, Sinise and band will travel to Italy to put on another USO show, also sponsored by TriWest, for troops and military families serving at NSA Naples.  Can’t make it to Italy?  Then check out the Jonathan Flora documentary “Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good,” which chronicled the band’s journey around the globe in support of U.S. troops.  It’s almost like being on the front row.

As always, we love having Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band on tour in support of our Troops.  If you were there, let us know what you thought of the concert!  And be sure to check out more pictures below…

More than 4,000 military families gathered at USAG Grafenwoehr, Germany to celebrate Independence Day with a USO concert featuring Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band, July 4, 2010. (USO Photo by Jamie Goloyugo)

Gary Sinise and his bandmates get up close and personal with Troops and their families at USAG Grafenwoher for their USO concert celebrating Independence Day. (USO Photo by Jamie Goloyugo)

USO President and CEO Sloan Gibson accompanied Sinise and bandmates to Germany, and also took time out to visit with Troops along the way. (USO photo by Jamie Goloyugo)

Vocalist Jeff Vezain (l) and Gary Sinise lead the band in a crowd favorite. Sinise formed The Lt. Dan Band with Chicago composer/Vietnam veteran Kimo Williams (not shown) in 2003, and they continue to perform 30 to 40 shows annually. (USO Photo by Jamie Goloyugo)

C-SPAN to Air USO Forum from the Bush Library on Memorial Day Weekend

MG Jeff Hammond, film maker Jonathan Flora, actor Gary Sinise, George H. W. Bush, singer Mayra Veronica and USO President and CEO Sloan Gibson gathered for the Bush Library's USO Forum on April 26, 2010. (Photo by Chandler Arden)

This Memorial Day weekend, we hope you’ll join us in watching the Bush Library-USO Forum on C-SPAN.  Gary Sinise and Mayra Veronica joined President George H.W. Bush, Army Major General Jeff Hammond and USO President Sloan Gibson for a special forum on the USO.

The program will air this Sunday, May 30 on  C-SPAN 3’s History Block and Monday May 31 on C-SPAN airing several times throughout Memorial Day.  Be sure to check local listings for exact times.

George Bush, 41st president of the United States, and Mrs. Barbara Bush hosted a special event celebrating the USO and its role in lifting the spirits of America’s men and women in uniform and their families on Monday, April 26 at the George Bush Presidential Library Center.  The event included remarks from the panelists about the ongoing mission of the USO and an audience question-and-answer session.

President Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, served President Franklin Roosevelt as the second chairman of the USO, and as a young Navy pilot, President Bush spent time at USOs during World War II.  The USO also played a significant role in maintaining the morale of American Forces during Operation Desert Storm when President Bush was commander-in-chief. The USO continues to carry out that mission with a particular focus on wounded warriors, military families, and the families of the fallen through Operation Enduring Care.

We thank President and Mrs. Bush for taking the time to host this impressive panel and invite you to take a moment to view the message below.  And don’t forget to tune in to C-SPAN this weekend!

Announcing This Year’s GI Film Festival!

USO CEO & President Sloan Gibson greets actor Faizon Love at the ON PATROL launch party screening of Taking Chance at 2009's GI Film Festival.

The GI Film Festival (GIFF) is back in DC for this fourth annual event designed specifically to “celebrate the successes and sacrifices of the American military through the medium of film.”

Last year saw the premiere of Taking Chance, a film starring Kevin Bacon that is inspired by the true events surrounding one Marine’s death and the military escort officer who returns him home.  That screening kicked off the official launch of ON PATROL – The Magazine of the USO.  The film Valkyrie also received a special screening just for wounded warriors courtesy of USO of Metropolitan Washington.

This year’s festival includes an equally fantastic lineup, including USO favorite Gary Sinise’s “Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good,” which chronicles his band’s journey around the globe in support of our Troops.  The documentary screens on Thursday, May 15th and is part of an entire evening dedicated to honoring wounded warriors.  Tickets are still available.

The entire festival runs from Tuesday, May 11 through Sunday, May 16 and includes feature films, documentaries, shorts’ series, and discussion panels from actors, directors, and producers.  There’s even a bootcamp for aspiring filmmakers.

Can’t make it to DC for the festivities?  Be sure to check out the website for film trailers, the GIFF blog, and much more!  And be sure to enjoy the official GIFF trailer below…