Actor, director and musician Gary Sinise will return with his 12-piece Lt. Dan Band on Saturday, July 19, to Cantigny Park in Wheaton for the ninth annual Rockin' for the Troops concert.
The annual concert is designed to thank veterans for their service and raise money for Operation Support Our Troops -- America based in Lisle and Naperville.
If you goWhat: Rockin' for the Troops
When: Activities start at noon Saturday, July 19
Where: Cantigny Park, 1S151 N. Winfield Road, Wheaton
Sinise's band travels across the country and wherever troops serve on foreign soil. The musicians play all genres, but it's their rendition of "God Bless the USA" and "A Hero Comes Along" that will have fans on their feet. Other Rockin' performers include Audio Adrenaline, The Voices, and Keith Semple and the Sempletons.
Sinise long has given unwavering support to veteran organizations.
"Gary champions the causes that benefit veterans at every opportunity," said Deb Rickert, founder and president of Operation Support Our Troops.
Rickert said Sinise, who calls Chicago his hometown, has a family history of military service. An uncle served in World War II and a brother-in-law was in Vietnam. Sinise was profoundly affected by his role as Lt. Dan in the movie "Forrest Gump."
Sinise, who played Matt Taylor on "CSI: New York" for nine seasons, spent his early years in Blue Island, went to school in Glen Ellyn and graduated from Highland Park High School. But he considers the Glen Ellyn area his home, Rickert said.
Rockin' For The Troops began when an OSOT volunteer approached Sinise in 2005 for a car show the group held. Funds went toward postage for the care packages OSOT continues to send to military men and woman on active duty.
Since then the successful family outdoor summer event has raised enough money to send care packages totaling more than 1.5 million pounds.
"We usually send 300 care packages in a packing session and hold those twice a month now," Rickert said. "Each box weighs approximately 25 pounds."
All items in the care packages come from donations the organization receives at its Lisle warehouses. Details are at osotAmerica.org, or you can email questions to info@osotAmerica.org. At the same site, you may add the name of a person serving in the military to receive a care package. There is no cost. Boxes only go when there is a request.
Many organizations and businesses volunteer to help pack boxes or hold collection drives. Individuals may contact OSOT to donate items. The most requested items are vitamins, Advil, beef jerky, cough drops and foot powder. Within the current top 10 of needed items are microwave popcorn, cereal bars, athletic socks without logos and individual cold drink mix packets.
Volunteers work ahead to guarantee servicemen and women are not forgotten. In October, volunteers will fill roughly 5,000 Christmas stockings and pack four to a box so each recipient has a little extra spirit to pass on to others. A pattern for the handmade stocking is on its website.
Proceeds from previous Rockin' For The Troops helped OSOT establish Fisher House for veterans' families at Hines Veterans Hospital in Maywood. Other undertakings include a "Leap of Faith" to help military families who survive the loss of a loved one.
"Leap of Faith started four years ago when several of our members lost their sons in Iraq and Afghanistan," Rickert said. "It hit us hard, all happening within a very short period of time, and we came up with Leap of Faith to try to support those who have lost their military son or daughter."
Leap of Faith tries to encourage families to live beyond grief and sadness in a way that honors the sacrifice of their loved one. The three-day healing seminar was developed by Rickert and Naperville psychologist Doug McKinley, in partnership with the All Veteran Parachute Team led by Mike Elliott. Roughly 400 families across the country have been helped by the program since its inception.
Besides Leap of Faith, OSOT has expanded to include the Allen J. Lynch Medal of Honor Foundation and veteran care.
"We've partnered with different organizations to explore better treatments for post-traumatic stress research and funded programs for alternative treatments for our returning veterans," Rickert said.
"It has been 12 years and it is more important than ever that we show our veterans that we are committed to helping them to come home and rejoin the community."
After a recent yearly audit, Rickert said she is proud to say 90 percent of every dollar that comes in goes to OSOT programs.
"We only have two full-time paid employees and many, many dedicated volunteers," Rickert said. "Some even put in 40 and 50 hours some weeks; it is phenomenal."
The entire cost for putting on Rockin' is completely covered by sponsors, Rickert said, so every $25 ticket goes directly toward OSOT programs to help veterans and families of the fallen.
Rockin' For The Troops festivities begin at noon at Cantigny Park, 1S151 N. Winfield Road.
New this year, four parachutists from The All Veteran Group and Mike Elliott will land at the site. Elliott is the same parachutist who glided down with President George H.W. Bush on the former president's recent 90th birthday jump.