HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- Lt. Dan, as Forrest Gump film actor Gary Sinise is affectionately known, may not actually be a member of the military, but he treats each servicemember he meets with the deep-seated respect that should be given to a brother-in-arms.
For Hurlburt Field's Tech. Sgt. Christofer Curtis, a CV-22 flight engineer of 8th Special Operations Squadron, Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band's February visit was more than a good time to at a concert. It was a full circle moment in Curtis' journey towards recovery after suffering injuries, including 17 broken bones, in an aircraft crash in Afghanistan during a 2010 deployment.
"We met in the hospital when he had been injured and we ran into each other again when I did another visit three or four months later," Sinise said in describing meeting Curtis at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. "Now he's here [at Hurlburt] and we're really happy he's back." With a daunting recovery ahead of him and the need to relearn how to walk, Curtis latched onto any support he could receive. "I was in for the long haul, not just being reconstructed physically but also mentally," Curtis said. "I believe the first time [Sinise] was there I was still waiting to bury my aircraft commander and there were a lot of emotions at the time. I can remember back then I was just a mess, but the thing that really kept [me together] was the support from Air Force Special Operations Command, my family of course, my close friends and folks like Gary Sinise."
While a short visit to the hospital room of a wounded warrior may seem like a minor contribution in comparison to the sacrifice of an Airman injured in combat, for Curtis, the visits reminded him that his sacrifice was honored. "[Sinise] truly cares for those that defend this nation, and continues to do so," Curtis said. "It's one thing to talk about support but to act and do something continually is the true mark of a patriot. That constant time and presence he volunteers to our servicemembers and their families is amazing." Though Sinise began his work with veterans years before his role as Lt. Dan, once he portrayed an amputee veteran he began to gain insight into the struggles of wounded warriors. "Then I started interacting with people like [the character] Lt. Dan and Chris, and getting to know people who have been hurt and are trying to come back," Sinise said. "The spirit of someone like Chris, people who just come back from injuries, they're all over the place. You probably go through those days like Lt. Dan did in the movie where he's really dark for a while and just can't get his mind right. Then things happen that put them all in perspective and get you going."
After coming to the hospital to start the long road to recovery, Curtis found himself experiencing many of the same emotions that Lt. Dan worked through in Forrest Gump. "Now I didn't lose my legs and get out of the military, but I certainly could have chosen to get out and learning how to walk again was no picnic," Curtis said. "My destiny was to be 6 feet tall and an AFSOC-sharpened weapon or 6 feet under with my fallen crew members. I felt as if I had been stuck in the middle and it took me a long time to finally figure out that there's always something to live for and never give up on a purpose to live." Bolstering the morale of servicemembers, whether they are deployed overseas or recovering after being wounded in combat, is a key goal of Sinise's Lt. Dan Band. For Sinise, honoring the troops is a natural place to direct his attention and talents. "I just have a lot of respect for people that decide to do this, to take this course with their life, public service," Sinise said. "What would we do as a country if we had nobody who wanted to raise their hand and join our service? Well, then we'd have to have a mandatory service so we're grateful for those who choose this." Curtis's recovery experience altered his outlook on such service and on those who serve alongside him. With the needed support and encouragement, wounded warriors such as Curtis are able to return to duty. "I look at those who served completely different," Curtis said. "It's no longer something that's just a word to me. I always remember that today is probably someone's day one being a wounded veteran and the impact that has on their families and friends can be frightening. I told myself that if there is any chance that I could continue to serve I would do so. As with many other wounded warriors, I had quite a bit of fight left in me. So I used that sense of continued duty and focused it on a new mission at the time, to get better. Now with that objective cleared, it's back to flying." Curtis is currently working to regain his flight qualification status so he can return to flying special operations missions.