His long-running hit TV series "CSI: NY" ended last year after nine seasons, but Gary Sinise is still one of the hardest-working names in Hollywood.
The Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning actor and producer has spent most of 2013 bouncing around the world, entertaining American troops and giving concerts to raise money for the most severely wounded men and women of the U.S. armed forces.
Sinise almost never calls them "soldiers." He uses the term "warriors," with a respect that's palpable.
"It really makes you think about your freedom, where it comes from, and how it has to be fought for and how it has to be protected, and that means, unfortunately people are going to die and people are going to lose their limbs," Sinise told TheBlaze. "If there's something that can be done...we should do it."
The Lt. Dan Band
Armed with his celebrity status and a lifelong love of rock and roll, Sinise started playing fundraising concerts with his group, The Lt. Dan Band, more than a decade ago. The band is named for Sinise's iconic character from "Forest Gump" -- a Vietnam War veteran who lost his legs.
The band has about a dozen members, and plays everything from the Beatles to Zeppelin. Since they started making music and raising money to support the military, the Lt. Dan Band has played for soldiers and civilians both on bases and in arenas. Sinise recently estimated they have played hundreds of shows for thousands of people all around the world.
When TheBlaze caught up with Sinise last week he was in California, preparing to travel across the country to play a special concert in New York City. The Lt. Dan Band was the headliner, playing for a crowd of more than 30,000 runners who participated in the 12th annual Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Run. The event is named for New York City firefighter Stephen Siller, who ran from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Train Center in full firefighter gear the day of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The band and Sinise have been participating in the Tunnel to Towers run since 2010, but Sinise's connection to New York and the heroes of 9/11 goes back to the earliest days following the attacks, when he was an early supporter of several projects to help the families who lost loved ones.
In 2010, the Lt. Dan Band's involvement became something different and much bigger. Sinise received a request from NYFD Commissioner Sal Cassano asking if the band could help raise funds for a homebuilding project to assist a seriously wounded war veteran, the first quadruple amputee to survive.
Sinise didn't hesitate, and even knew who the commissioner was talking about: It was Brandon Morocco, who lost his arms and legs when a roadside bomb exploded under his vehicle in 2009.
"I happened to know who the soldier was, because I happened to have been to the hospitals and I was very much aware of Brandon because he was the first soldier to get blown up and survive losing both his arms and both his legs," Sinise said. "I had been raising money doing concerts for a lot of different things and I was on board. That began our partnership to build these homes."
Building 'Smart Homes' for Severely Wounded Vets
The 2010 Staten Island concert was just the beginning. That first homebuilding concert evolved into an ongoing operation called the Gary Sinise Foundation.
"When we were getting ready to do that concert, another Marine came in with the same injury...(losing) both arms and both legs," Sinise said. The Marine's name was Todd Nicely. "When I found out we had another one, I said to the guys...'Look, we just found out we got another guy with the same injury - we should do a house for him."
The homes aren't just any kind of custom job: they have the ramps and lowered countertops one might expect, but also have cupboards that appear to be a normal height -- and then lower at the touch of a button. Most of the electrical appliances can be controlled by just one device.
"We've put this smart technology into the homes and designed the homes specifically to make the warrior's life and the life of his or her family independent and give them as much support and freedom as possible," Sinise said.
The band held a concert in St. Louise to raise funds to get one built for Nicely. But unfortunately, the need for such "smart homes" wasn't slowing down.
"While we were getting ready to do that, we had another come in...we had three quadruple amputees and we said we were going to build houses for all of them," Sinise said. "That led to a partnership to address the needs of very very severely wounded - quadruple and triple amputees."
Take a tour of the home built for Tyler Huffman of Jefferson City, Mo.
In the three years that the Gary Sinise Foundation has existed, the organization has grown beyond the concert and homebuilding efforts and is working to help vets in many different areas. One is the new "Get Skills To Work" program, which takes the skills veterans learned in the military and teaches how they can be applied to the workforce.
The homebuilding effort remain the main focus of Sinise's foundation. He estimates that by the end of the year, they'll have built, funded or broken ground on 26 "smart homes" around the country.
Sinise says all of the money raised from the Lt. Dan Band's concerts goes directly into the programs to build homes and help wounded veterans and their families and caregivers.
"It's all nonprofit, it's all for a cause," he said. "It's for our military men and women."
The next Lt. Dan Band concert is to benefit a homebuilding project for Travis Green, who lost his legs two years ago in Afghanistan. The show is in San Antonio, Friday, Oct. 4. After the San Antonio show, Sinise and the band will be back on the road to finish out the remainder of this year's fundraising performances.
"We've had a dozen years of war and we've got a lot of residual effects from those wars," Sinise said. "We've got way too many Gold Star Families [who lost a loved one], we've got so many severely wounded warriors that need help."
"I'm just out there trying to do what I can."
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