Celebrity philanthropists bring invincible spirit to Fort Belvoir


Chef Robert Irvine (l.) chats with his friend and fellow military supporter Gary Sinise (r.).

Gary Sinise has a busy Memorial Day weekend ahead of him. The 68-year-old actor, musician, military supporter and philanthropist is in town for several events, including a sold-out “Welcome Home Celebration of Service” for Vietnam Veterans May 26 at Constitution Hall where he’s performing with his Lt. Dan Band, and the National Memorial Day Concert on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, which he’s co-hosting May 28 with actor Joe Mantegna.

First, however, Sinise came to Fort Belvoir May 25 to perform with his band in the Gary Sinise Foundation’s Invincible Spirit Festival, hosted by the USO at Long Parade Field. The festival, founded in 2012, is designed to celebrate and honor the efforts of recovering service members, veterans from conflicts past and present, and the medical staff and family members who care for them. Accompanying Sinise was his good friend of more than 10 years, Robert Irvine, the chef, author and entrepreneur who’s also a military supporter and philanthropist. Irvine prepares meals for festival attendees while Sinise entertains them, playing bass with his cover band.

Stage all set up for the Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band concert

“We met on social media,” explained Irvine, host of the Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible.” “[Sinise] was going up to do a show in Alaska; I was going to do something in Honduras. We met on social media — hence Invincible Spirit was made … and here we are years later.”

Sinise, who’s in his 20th year of playing music for the troops, said they started holding the festival at military hospitals and first came to Fort Belvoir about 10 years ago. They’ve returned nearly every two years, except during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s good to be back,” said Sinise, who admitted he hasn’t had free time to visit the area around the garrison due to the sheer amount of work involved in preparing for the festival.

As service members and their families started to fill up the lawn in front of the stage, Sinise explained that part of his foundation focuses on Gold Star Families — those with a loved one who died in service to the nation. The Gary Sinise Foundation Snowball Express provides year-round programming and support for them. Fifteen Gold Star families were brought as special guests to the festival, and some will attend the Memorial Day concert on the National Mall as well.

Crowd starting to assemble at Long Parade Field several hours before the Lt. Dan Band concert

Irvine was full of effusive praise for his friend and partner in philanthropy.

“This is his life,” said Irvine. “This is what he does for other people … This is the modern-day Bob Hope.”

Like Hope, Sinise has participated in many USO tours in support of the troops and described his performances with the Lt. Dan Band as a “variety show” covering a range of hits. His favorite song? “Shut up and Dance.”

And that’s exactly what the crowds did for the next several hours at Fort Belvoir.

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