Story by Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Award-winning actor and part-time rocker Gary Sinise and the “Lt. Dan Band” jammed for a standing-room-only crowd in the courtyard of the Pentagon this month.
“Rocking at the Pentagon,” Sinise exclaimed mid-set for a much-appreciative audience.
The band played for the 4th Annual America Supports You Military Tribute Concert as part of Military Appreciation Month celebrations. The event was televised live to troops overseas via American Forces Network.
“The opportunity to reach out and make a difference, just for a few minutes if for nothing else, in the lives of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen deployed all around the world is something that is very special and a great opportunity,” said Marine Gen. General James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The crowd was packed with soldiers, family members, civilians and veterans. Overcast skies eventually gave way to the sun, and the audience warmed up to the mix of rock, pop, and country music by clapping, waving their arms and tapping their feet on the ground muddied by an overnight rain.
Sinise and his band have toured military bases in Europe, and he has performed in Iraq three times. He heads back for his fourth trip this summer. Stateside, the band tours bases and plays on weekends when Sinise is not filming his hit TV drama, “CSI NY.” Sinise has played at about 75 installations worldwide.
“It’s very, very important that you know you are appreciated and that we’re grateful and that we’re not going to forget the sacrifices that you and your families make for our nation,” he said. “We want everybody who is watching this around the world to know that we’re here supporting you. We believe in you. We are depending on you. You are our volunteer defenders, and we never take that for granted.”
Toward the end of the concert, Sinise broke from the stage and went into the crowd, dancing and playing with members of the audience. He sat next to wounded warrior Marine Lance Cpl. Jeremy Stengel sitting in the front row and, while playing, asked how Stengel was recovering. The Marine said the concert was a good break from his recovery at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here. Stengel was injured in Iraq in Feb. 2007 by a roadside bomb,
“I thought it was awesome. I thought it was amazing,” Stengel said. “It’s a break for us to get away from the hospital scene. We’re at the hospital going through therapy day in and day out. We kind of need a break.”
Sinise also sidled next to Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Rene Rubiella, of the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla. Rubiella joined in with a little “air” guitar of his own.
Rubiella was at the Pentagon following a ceremony in which he received the President’s Volunteer Service Award. “It’s extraordinary. We commit our lives to freedom and supporting the Constitution,” he said. “It’s people like Gary that turn around and make us feel that we are appreciated and that we are loved and that there is a commitment from our nation that we are not forgotten,” Rubiella said.
This was Rubiella’s first time at the Pentagon. He has volunteered for multiple tours to Iraq. “I am so grateful that people take the time to commit, to volunteer their time and put on these events for our entertainment. I had a ball,” he said. “It just means the world to you. It reaches your heart.”
One of the most vocal members of the crowd, delivering several loud, appreciative “whoops” of support at the end of the show as the band played the finale “Proud to be an American,” was Army Lt. Col. Scott Turner.
“I just think it’s great what Gary does. I think he’s a true patriot,” Turner said. “I’m very hopeful that he’s reflective of all the men and women of the nation. And it’s just great that he would take his time to come out and support the troops.”