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NEW YORK — Ever since the Sept. 11 attacks moved him to appreciate members of the military more than ever, “CSI: NY” star Gary Sinise has been on a mission to increase awareness and appreciation of their contributions to this country.
It’s a mission that has taken him to Iraq four times since 2003 and Afghanistan as well as military bases in Europe, Asia and the U.S. And it’s one that is chronicled in an hourlong documentary narrated by Sinise and airing at 9 p.m. Saturday on the Fox News Channel.
Sinise is well known for his Oscar-nominated role as wounded Vietnam War vet Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump.” He worries that the contributions of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans will be ignored or forgotten, much like it was for Vietnam veterans.
“We have volunteer defenders who are out there in dangerous places, and their families worry about them,” Sinise told The Hollywood Reporter. “Whether you support the war, the mission is to make sure our troops and service members who don’t ask all that much get some sort of appreciation and gratitude.”
“On the Road in Iraq With Our Troops and Gary Sinise” is the product of a seven-day trip Sinise took to Iraq in July. He visited Kuwait and the Iraqi cities of Baghdad, Al Qaim, Al Asad and Ramadi as well as several former palaces of Saddam Hussein. As always, he spent lots of time with the troops, talking and shaking hands and taking pictures and signing autographs.
But this time around, his friend and filmmaker Jonathan Flora asked if he could accompany him on the trip with a handheld camera. Flora came away with 26 hours of video that originally had been considered as the source material for another project. But Flora and Sinise wondered if an hour of the footage could be carved out for a special.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we make this into its own thing and let people see what I do on these trips to Iraq and the people I met on these trips,’ ” Sinise said. His agents, CAA’s Matthew Delpiano and Alan Berger, offered the project to Fox News Channel, which jumped at the chance to air it.
“They’ve done a lot of these types of pieces on the Iraq War before, and we thought they’d be interested,” Sinise said.
The special is billed as 2,000 miles and 5,000 handshakes in a seven-day trip, presented as a video diary. Sinise offers a brief introduction, and Flora and Fox News producer Pamela Browne have interspersed other segments about the war. There are also a few clips of Sinise’s home movies from his previous trips to Iraq, which were shot by his brother-in-law Jack Treese, a Vietnam War vet.
Sinise said things have changed for the better in Iraq.
“They have made a lot of progress between my 2007 and 2008 trips,” he said. “I did see a big change in what was going on and in the attitudes of the service members. People were telling me that they had been under fire several times a day for four months, and now they haven’t had a rocket attack in a while.”
He also hopes that the documentary helps fight misconceptions about the military. After the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in 2004 — which Sinise calls a “travesty” but shouldn’t overshadow all the good that the military had done — he wanted to show what the average service member’s experience is. That was being pushed out of the headlines by Abu Ghraib.
“I was frustrated at that time, so I was trying to get on television with some of the footage I had from my trips, where I show service members handing out Beanie Babies to the (Iraqi) kids, giving them school supplies and rebuilding schools,” Sinise said. “The majority of the military folks were not having their story told because of the dopey people” involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal.
Unlike some actors who have tried to run away from the roles that helped make them famous, Sinise doesn’t mind being associated with Lt. Dan. He said that a lot of the service members today were young when they first saw the 1994 movie. It’s also a big presence on TV and DVD. His cover band, the Lt. Dan Band, plays military bases in the U.S. and abroad on weekends and in breaks in filming from “CSI: NY.”
“I admire these people, and I respect them,” Sinise said. “I did not serve in the military myself, and I want to do what I can to support them.”
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