By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity
ARLINGTON, Va., March 22, 2017 — The USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore and Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, honored military senior enlisted advisors and presented actor Gary Sinise with the Legacy of Hope Award during a gala here last night.
The gala built upon the USO slogan, “The Force Behind the Forces” in presenting awards to the top noncommissioned officers in the joint force and their wives. Comedian Jon Stewart was master of ceremonies for the event, which also recognized former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw for his contributions to the USO.
Sinise was honored for his tireless efforts to meet and entertain troops around the world with his Lt. Dan Band, named for the military character he played in the 1994 movie “Forrest Gump.” In presenting the Legacy of Hope Award to Sinise, who stars in the current TV series “CSI: Beyond Borders,” Dunford spoke about a visit he and his wife made to a military hospital in Balboa, California.
“It was a quiet Saturday morning, and as we were walking through the ward, there was a little bit of a hubbub in front of us,” he said. “As we walked up, there was Gary Sinise. There [weren’t] any cameras rolling, there wasn’t any media covering anything. It was a Saturday, and Gary Sinise was there to entertain troops at Camp Pendleton. But before that, he had a personal interaction with each one of the troops and each of the families, and you could tell when he left the room that they knew this was somebody who, in his heart, actually, genuinely cared.
“For all the things he’s done, I think what I am most appreciative of is that Gary cares for the people that I call my family,” the chairman added.
Sinise was characteristically modest in accepting the award — the first time an individual has received USO-Metro’s highest award, which is named after legendary USO supporter Bob Hope.
“When I first started doing this, no one knew my name, but they had all seen the movie so they called me Lieutenant Dan,” he said. “My first visit to Bethesda-Walter Reed was on Sept. 11, 2003. It was a tough time. … We were losing way too many troops, there were way too many Gold Star families, way too many wounded. I just wanted to do something.”
His iconic “Forrest Gump” role as an Army lieutenant who lost both legs in combat in Vietnam was something far too many American service members could identify with. “After Sept. 11, we had a whole new generation of Lieutenant Dans coming home,” he said. “There was a role for me to play. Who would have thought that playing a role in a movie could actually mean something?”
When he visited the wounded, Sinise said, they would ask about Lieutenant Dan and he would talk about the character’s resilience in moving forward, and overcoming his injuries and succeeding in life. “That story of Lieutenant Dan seemed to mean something to others,” he added. “It was greater than just me playing a part.”
Honoring Enlisted Leaders
Elaine Rogers, the president of USO-Metro, said the organization wanted to honor senior enlisted advisors because of their integral efforts in shaping the organization’s programs. “They were the first people in the military I contacted when I came to the USO, and they have been there for us ever since,” she said.
A battle buddy or shipmate couple introduced each senior enlisted couple:
— Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul F. Zukunft and his wife, Fran, introduced Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven W. Cantrell and his wife, Janet;
— Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein and his wife, Dawn, introduced Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright and his wife, Tonya;
— Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bill Moran and his wife, Patricia, introduced Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven S. Giordano and his wife, Elka;
— Dunford and his wife, Ellyn, introduced Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman, and his wife, Sandra.
Troxell spoke on behalf of all senior enlisted leaders across the joint force and said they accepted the award on behalf of all advisors throughout the military.
“Senior enlisted advisors serve at battalions and squadrons, on ships at sea, at major combatant commands and right here in our nation’s capital,” he said. “They provide the invaluable advice to our chiefs, our chairman and those who are in command — responsible for accomplishing missions and upholding our Constitution and exacting the will of the American people.”
Troxell said enlisted leaders care for the nation’s greatest resource: the men and women of the joint force.
“It’s those men and women who make up our greatest competitive advantage over any adversary who challenges our nation, our partners, our freedom and our way of life,” he said.
USO-Metro operates four airport lounges in the Washington-Baltimore area and has six USO centers on military installations throughout the region. USO-Metro also has the special task of providing support at Walter Reed National Military Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)