Service, Sacrifice, and the Importance of Support

The Gary Sinise Foundation works to uplift defenders, veterans, first responders and their families, along with the families of our fallen heroes.

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Photography provided by Gary Sinise Foundation.

Many people recognize Gary Sinise as the actor who played Lieutenant Dan in the blockbuster film Forrest Gump. In the movie, we watch Lt. Dan change as he goes from a platoon leader to a disabled veteran. He experiences immense loss from an attack that killed many of his fellow soldiers and leaves him without both legs. Wishing to have died with most of his platoon and struggling to live without his legs, Lt. Dan becomes a dark and bitter person. By the end of the film, Lt. Dan’s sacrifice and service is recognized, resources are provided to him, and he has the opportunity to rebuild his life. The movie concludes showing Lt. Dan as a happy man with functional prosthetic legs, hope, and love in his life.

This film brought a story alive that many service members and veterans have experienced in silence.[1] It touched the hearts of many, and it touched the heart of Gary Sinise. After receiving an abundance of gratitude for sharing Lt. Dan’s story, Sinise realized the importance of giving a voice to our heroes. He also realized the importance of providing resources to those who have sacrificed for our country. Sinise has since leveraged his unique opportunity and made it his life’s mission to give back. He spent about 30 years bringing awareness to the needs of service members, veterans and first responders before establishing the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011 to continue his mission.

Gary Sinise, Actor and Founder of Gary Sinise Foundation, Credit: Gary Sinise Foundation

Born from compassion, the Gary Sinise Foundation has attracted a team of caring and committed individuals who work endlessly to help our heroes. I had the pleasure of speaking to Senior Vice President of Programs, Jim Ravella. Ravella shared his own story of service and his involvement with the foundation. Ravella grew up as an “Air Force kid” with his father having served in WWII. He had always wanted to be a pilot and earned his pilot’s license at age 16. He joined the Air Force and by age 24, he completed officer training and began flying an F-15. He was an F-15 pilot for 22 years before retiring from the military.

During his time in the military, Ravella experienced a major personal loss. He lost his first wife after she suffered through a four-year battle with breast cancer. It put him in a position that few could understand. Later, after first connecting online, he met and married Ginger Gilbert. Gilbert could relate to his personal loss as she had lost her first husband, a former F-16 pilot and former escort pilot for Gary Sinise. Their connection led to Ravella’s involvement with the foundation. His first-hand experience with service, loss, and rebuilding fuels his efforts to provide support to the many veterans and families who suffer. His wife, now named Ginger Gilbert Ravella, currently serves as a foundation ambassador and speaks nationally, raising awareness for veterans and their families, as well as speaking for women’s groups and churches. [2]

Air Force veteran and Senior Vice President of Programs, Jim Ravella, Credit: Jim Ravella
Jim Ravella flying an F-15 while serving in the Air Force, Credit: Jim Ravella
Jim Ravella, Gary Sinise, and Ginger Gilbert Ravella,
Credit: Jim Ravella

A sample of Gary Sinise Foundation Programs:

R.I.S.E. [3] Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment

Credit: Gary Sinise Foundation

Through R.I.S.E., the foundation builds specially adapted smart homes for the most severely wounded heroes. These 100% mortgage-free homes are designed to accommodate disabilities and give mobility and independence back to our wounded heroes. The results have been life changing. For example, parents who previously couldn’t get to their children’s bedrooms to say goodnight, can now move throughout their entire home.

Gary Sinise & The Lt. Dan Band [4] concerts to uplift our heroes

Credit: Gary Sinise Foundation

Every Lt. Dan Band concert offers honor, gratitude and a fun time. There’s something for everyone as the 13-member group covers hits from every genre in their live show. Whether boosting morale on military bases at home and abroad or raising awareness at benefit concerts across the country, the band uplifts and celebrates our defenders and their families.

Soaring Valor [5] to bring World War II veterans to the museum built in their honor and to share that knowledge with future generations

Credit: Gary Sinise Foundation

The foundation brings World War II veterans and their guardians to New Orleans to tour The National WWII Museum built in their honor. Their experience includes entertainment, celebratory meals, and community building with their fellow heroes. Students accompany veterans and carry on their stories with a new appreciation for the sacrifices made by an entire generation. Soaring Valor was inspired by Sinise’s personal experience of taking his Uncle Jack, a WWII veteran, to the museum where his oral history was recorded. When Uncle Jack passed away in 2014, that oral history was presented to Sinise and serves as the inspiration for Soaring Valor. Sinise personally witnessed the positive impact it had on his family seeing that Uncle Jack was honored and will always be remembered for his service.

Supporting the families of the fallen through the Foundation’s Snowball Express [6]

Credit: Gary Sinise Foundation

Snowball Express serves the surviving families of fallen heroes. The program provides year-round support for families as well as events that honor their fallen hero. It encourages families to make new memories and provides opportunities to connect with others who know what they’ve been through. One component of the program is an annual five-day experience for 1,750+ children of the fallen and their surviving guardians. The children and families are flown by American Airlines to visit Walt Disney World, where they make new memories, remember their hero, and connect with other families.

And more

These are just a few of the programs offered by the Gary Sinise Foundation. To learn more about how the Gary Sinise Foundation supports our nation’s veterans, first responders, heroes and defenders, please visit www.garysinisefoundation.org.

In Conclusion

As Sinise often says, “We can always do a little more,” to support our heroes and their families. It takes a collective effort of grateful people to make a difference. If you would like to “do a little more” to thank those who have sacrificed to defend and protect our country, please consider donating or volunteering. You can do so by visiting https://www.garysinisefoundation.org/contact.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bxUlnP7UAA, How Lt. Dan Continues to Affect the Veteran and Military Community, American Veterans Center

[2] https://www.garysinisefoundation.org/meet/jim-ravella

[3] https://www.garysinisefoundation.org/rise

[4] https://www.garysinisefoundation.org/lt-dan-band

[5] https://www.garysinisefoundation.org/soaring-valor

[6] https://www.garysinisefoundation.org/snowball-express




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