FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska -- Soldiers and Family members of the Warrior Transition Battalion gathered under a warm summer sun on June 29 to celebrate each other and welcome actor-musician-USO supporter Gary Sinise, and Medal of Honor recipient Drew Dix to Fort Wainwright. Sinise and Dix stopped by the Family barbeque Saturday to talk with Soldiers who have been injured and their loved ones before Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band performed a free concert in the Thunderdome at Eielson Air Force Base.
Sinise is known for his roles in CSI: NY, Apollo 13 and Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump. As Sinise posed for pictures and signed autographs at the WTB facility, Dix said, "We're here to recognize the troops but a lot of it is also for the Families and the sacrifices they make as well."
The performance and the "visiting" with the Soldiers and Families are a personal thank you Sinise said. Many concert goers agreed the band's performance in the percussion and vocals echoed brilliantly providing the true concert feel. During the first notes of their entrance song, fathers put their sons and daughters on their shoulders and the crowd erupted into applause.
"The concert is geared to bring Families together for an evening of fun." Sinise said. He personally invited everyone he spoke with to come to the show.
"You see the looks on the faces of the troops and their Families and kids and people that are having a good time and you just can't replace that, it's a great reward to be able to entertain folks," Sinise said. The show is set up so that all the songs are familiar.
"We do a little something for everybody," Sinise said. "The purpose of that is to make sure everybody has a good time, feels positive and uplifts their spirits. It's a good feeling to know we can help do something like that."
"It was great," said Lt. Col. Carl Casey, commander, United States Army-Alaska Aviation Mission Control Element, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade. "Gary Sinise is an awesome guy" Casey continued, the USO group are "very talented performers."
Rachel Oldfield, program coordinator for Alaska Armed Forces YMCA said, "It was the best cover band I have ever seen. I don't think I've ever seen that amount of talent on one stage before."
"They closed with 'Proud to be an American'," she said, "which is one of my favorite songs and has so much meaning being surrounded by the very people who protect our freedoms."
The band also brought the kids on stage for the "Life is a Highway" and at the end, Gold Star Family-McCain took center stage.
Their Soldier, husband and father, Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan B. McCain, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Division, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, was killed in November 2011 while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Michelle Benjamin, Survivor Outreach Service coordinator escorted a group of survivors to the concert. She said, "It was amazing. They really had a lot of fun and enjoyed themselves. The best part for them was at the end when they got the chance to actually meet with him. They are still talking about the concert."
"Our message to the Soldiers is clear and simple," Sinise said. "It's thank you for serving our country. We try to leave everyone with an understanding that we came especially to see them and their Families and we're grateful. We can't forget our defenders. It's a dangerous world out there and we just have to do everything we can to show our appreciation and keep them strong."