You may know him as Lieutenant Dan from Forest Gump, or recognize his stone-cold stare from movies like The Green Mile and Apollo 13. In his newest film, I Still Believe, hitting theaters March 20th, Gary Sinise plays Tom Camp, father of beloved Christian artist, Jeremy Camp.
Gary Sinise has built his career on movie screens, but he’s built a life of serving others.
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On Saturday, November 2, Gary Sinise became the first civilian to receive the Sijan Service Award given to an individual whose actions of service and sacrifice demonstrate the same spirit and character as that of United States Air Force Captain and Medal of Honor recipient, Lance Sijan. In the latest blog post, find out why Lance Sijan is revered by United States Airmen past and present, whose courageous actions after ejecting from his F4-Phantom over the skies of Laos in November 1967 exemplifies the highest qualities of a leader devoted to serving others and the ideals of a nation. This is a story of how two men, born decades apart and whose path in life appears to have gone in opposite directions, ultimately crossed the same threshold, which connects their life’s work of serving their nation for a cause much greater than themselves. Tap on the link in bio to read the story about the 2019 Sijan Service Award. 👆
In 2011, he founded the Gary Sinise Foundation, which exists to honor and serve U.S. military veterans and their families. According to the foundation’s website, they do this “by creating and supporting unique programs designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen, and build communities.”
One of those programs is called Snowball Express.
The initiative was officially adopted by the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2017, and honors fallen U.S. soldiers by offering community-driven events for their families all year long.
“All year long, Gary Sinise Foundation Snowball Express serves the families of fallen military heroes with monthly community events and gatherings that forge essential bonds and lasting friendship. From the Georgia Aquarium, Six Flags Magic Mountain, and the North Carolina Zoo to Frontier Days in Cheyenne, Wyoming, your donations are directly touching the lives of our nation’s youth who have lost a mother or father while in service to the defense and freedom of the United States.”
Then every December, the foundation hosts a five-day retreat for children of the fallen and their surviving parent or guardian.
In 2018, the Gary Sinise Foundation brought Snowball Express to the happiest place on earth: Walt Disney World! This year, they’re doing it again.
In partnership with American Airlines, the foundation was able to get 1,722 children and their surviving parent or guardian to Orlando for a week of stress-free, guilt-free, and financially free fun.
“Close to 1,000 American Airlines team members volunteered their time to make this year’s Snowball Express a meaningful event for Gold Star families,” Sinise wrote on Instagram. “At Snowball, participants were able not only to visit Walt Disney World but were also provided with free counseling services, mentoring, education, and entertainment.”
“Being around the others that I know have been through the same thing, it made me open up, and kind of come out of my shell a little,” one mother said.
“It has been almost seven years since my husband passed away, and this is the first friends and people we’ve met that are like us,” another mom said. “This is like beyond amazing.”
Over 600 families took part in Snowball Express 2018. Each child wore a pin that said “we remember,” and more than 600 flags were lined up in the part—each one representing a fallen loved one who died in combat.
“The most important thing about [Snowball Express] is that these children don’t feel alone. There’s a lot of healing and a lot of bonding and a lot of friendship that goes on that helps them through the rest of the year,” Sinise said.
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Gary Sinise Foundation’s Snowball Express 2018 at Walt Disney World in Orlando this year! A chance to heal, connect with other Gold Star families, and celebrate! 1,722 family members of our fallen heroes at the happiest place on earth. A special thank you to American Airlines our official airline partner and the presenting sponsor of Snowball Express! #GarySiniseFoundation #SnowballExpress2018 #LtDanBand #GarySinise #AAHeroes #AATeam
Since 2018, a growing 3,455 children of fallen military heroes & their surviving parent or guardian have joined Snowball Express for community events.
“No matter where these families are in the grieving process, we hope to inspire them to believe anything is possible,” the website says. “By providing guilt-free fun and beneficial resources in a stress-free environment, we’re creating a community to learn, grow, and make lasting memories with new friends.”