While Gary Sinise is best known for iconic roles including George Milton in Of Mice and Men and Lieutenant Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump, it's his work off the silver screen that has attracted a lot of attention in recent years.
While Sinise has always been supportive of military veterans and their families, it was a meeting with the first post-9/11 quadruple amputee, U.S. Army Specialist Brendan Marrocco, in 2009, that inspired him to do even more.
Later that year, the commissioner of the Fire Department of New York approached Sinise to ask for his help raising money to build Marrocco an adaptive home. Sinise and his band, the Lt Dan Band, played at a fundraiser concert.
A year later, the Gary Sinise Foundation was born. Each year the Foundation raises over $30 million to help military veterans in various ways, but it's Sinise's work with Gold Star families that have made the most headlines.
Gold Star families have paid the ultimate price and lost a loved one in service of the United States. Every holiday season, Sinise honors them with the Gary Sinise Foundation Snowball Express Program.
Since 2017, the program has been hosting a five-day experience for thousands of children of the fallen and their surviving parent or guardian. Last year, Sinise took 1,722 gold star family members on a trip to Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida.
And thanks to sponsors like American Airlines, most of the experience is totally free. The Gary Sinise Foundation website states:
"Airfare, lodging, local transportation, and most meals are all free to our participants thanks to our donors and sponsors."
The trip included a few events, such as a group dinner on the promenade leading to Cinderella's Castle, but for much of the trip, families can do whatever they want.
"You cannot underestimate the power of bringing all these kids together in a happy environment because we're trying to bring joy to them right before the holidays, which is a difficult time for a child who's lost a parent," Sinise told The Hollywood Reporter.
"So bringing all these kids together at the happiest place on earth was very, very special."
'We have counseling, we have all kinds of communal activities that focus on the healing aspect of a gold star family member who's grieving, but we also want to provide hope, happiness and joy."
And every year, the Lt. Dan Band performs at the event.
"It's heartwarming because it makes you feel good to see the kids laughing and having a fun time, but it's also heartbreaking because you know why they're there."
"They're there because of loss and grief, and because they are a military family who's paid the ultimate price."
In 2018, approximately 1,000 American Airlines team members volunteered their time on 14 aircraft from 80 cities across the country to bring everyone to the event.