When CSI: NY star Gary Sinise was a teenager in a Chicago suburb, his primary interests were badminton, playing bass guitar and goofing off. A world away, boys a few years older were fighting and dying in Vietnam. "I remember going to a protest at my high school, but I wasn't really paying attention. I was just getting out of class," Sinise tells SUCCESS.
As time passed, he started paying attention. He was moved by stories his brothers-in-law told about their service in Vietnam. Later, he got involved with the Disabled American Veterans organization while playing the role of the wounded Vietnam vet Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump.
"I thought what happened to vets after Vietnam was terrible," says Sinise, 54, "so when we started deploying soldiers to Iraq and Afghanistan after Sept. 11, I just thought, I have to do something to make sure that we take care of these people who are going over to fight these wars."
His Forrest Gump role earned Sinise an Academy Award nomination and also gave him an idea. Picking up his bass guitar again, he formed the Lt. Dan Band, which entertains troops at USOs in 30 to 40 concerts a year. During one of those trips, he got to watch servicemen and women interacting with Iraqi schoolchildren. "I saw the great goodwill between the troops and the kids. The kids were all over these troops who got rid of their dictator and rebuilt and refurbished their school. I wanted to support that good feeling, and I started to think of what I could do from home."
Having seen the squalor of Iraqi schools, "I thought, What if I started sending some simple things over like pens, pencils, papers and Beanie Babies?" Married 28 years to actress Moira Harris with three children, he even got his family involved. Meanwhile, he met Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand, who also was working on ways to support the troops. So, together, they founded Operation Iraqi Children to furnish school-supply kits to be distributed by the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also signed on American Airlines to transport the supplies. This year alone, troops have distributed 25 tons of supplies donated by Operation Iraqi Children.
"Nobody ever talks about all the good the soldiers are doing," he says. "We need to learn from the past and take care of people, especially our soldiers."
Volunteers for Vets You might not realize the many skills you have that can help a returning veteran. VeteransResourceCentral.org helps returning vets by providing job support, counseling and business startup advice. Whether you have an hour or days to donate, your time is valued. Event staffers, marketing supporters, mentors, vet-friendly businesses, career coaches and Web experts are among those with needed skill sets and resources. For additional ways you can support the troops overseas or back home, visit AmericaSupportsYou.org.