In 2003, Deborah Rickert set out to make a difference.
Her goal was simple: to support members of the military and their families by any means possible.
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If you goIf you go
What: Rockin' for the Troops
When: Gates open at noon Saturday, July 16; music begins at 2 p.m., with the Lt. Dan Band scheduled for 8:45 p.m.
Where: Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton
Info: rockinforthetroops.org or osotamerica.org
"I started the organization after my son decided, as a result of Sept. 11, to go into the military," said Rickert, founder and president of Operation Support Our Troops-America, or OSOT-America.
At first, the group held small fundraisers to subsidize the $25 postage on care packages being sent overseas to members of the military.
Eight years later, Rickert has the success of Rockin' for the Troops, a one-day concert held this year on Saturday, July 16, in Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, in Wheaton, to show for her dedication.
"One of the biggest benefits of the day is that it serves as an outward show of support," Rickert said.
She believes that local military families often feel isolated or alone in their experiences, as "there is no military base nearby."
"It's a way for people to really come together as the years and years of war and the deployment cycles have gone on," Rickert said.
For the first time, the event will be broadcast live to troops overseas as a continuing show of OSOT-America's support.
Actor Gary Sinise, well-known for his role as Lt. Dan in the film "Forrest Gump," also will return for this year's event with his Lt. Dan Band.
"I was there the first year and we've been coming back ever since," Sinise said. "It's a concert that I look forward to each year. They do such great things to support our troops."
Tickets, $25 each, can be purchased online or at a number of Jewel-Osco locations. The day of the event, gates open at noon and musical performances begin at 2 p.m.
With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks approaching, Rickert and her team plan to honor those who died with a commemoration during the sixth annual Rockin' for the Troops.
"While there were certainly lives extinguished that day, there was such an igniting of the American spirit," Rickert said.
This year's theme, "10,000 Points of Light," will visually represent the event's 10,000 attendees, which is both the typical attendance and the capacity of Cantigny Park.
Each person will be given a small LED light to shine during the final moments of the concert in the hopes of reminding the community "that goodness and light really does shine for and mean light for the rest of the world," Rickert said.
"Ten years, it's hard to believe that it was 10 years ago that happened to us," Sinise said. "I think this idea to light a candle at the end of the concert in remembrance and tribute of the people we lost that day is a good thing."
Over the course of the five previous concerts, the organization has raised more than $2 million to shine a light not only on members of the military but also on their families.
"My son will be the first to say that it's easier to be deployed than to be the one at home," Rickert said of the stress placed on many families.
The organization has been able to make the lives of countless families easier with contributions not only to veterans hospitals but also to the Hines Fisher House, a facility that houses families so they can remain close to hospitalized loved ones.
Rockin' for the Troops, the organization's main fundraising event, features a lineup of exemplary musicians, including Rockie Lynn, OMT and The Voices.
As part of Sears' "Heroes at Home" campaign, American Idol runner-up and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Josh Gracin will make a special appearance at the event, Rickert said.
Individuals from across the country submitted stories and pictures about their personal hero to Sears' "Portraits of Heroes" contest. Gracin turned the winning entry into a song and will perform it for the first time at Rockin' for the Troops.
Though, to Rickert, the true heroes of the event have been its many supporters.
"The success of the event has allowed us to do far more for military and military families than we ever envisioned," she said.