The Oscar-nominated actor took photos of his Middle East travels to an assembly at his children’s school and asked the student body to donate what they could for their brothers and sisters in Iraq. “The kids at the school were totally moved. Most of us don’t realize how good we’ve got it until we see how other people have got it,” Sinise says. Overnight, they packed up 25 boxes of school supplies to send to Iraq. But he didn’t want the goodwill to end there. In 2004, he was introduced to Hillenbrand, who was already involved in supporting the troops, and together, they founded Operation Iraqi Children. They created a website through which people could send donations, and Sinise went on TV and radio shows to promote the organization. Supplies began to pour in, and OIC eventually teamed up with Eisenhower, who shared their common goal of supporting soldiers overseas.

“The war is a hot-button issue, and it will probably remain one,” he says. “But the facts also remain the facts: Our troops are there, in the war zone, with a mission to do, and no one wants them to fail. So, how can I help them succeed? I think we’ve figured out one way to do something positive in a tough situation.”

Earlier this year, OIC -- in partnership with American Airlines -- delivered 25 tons of supplies to Iraq. FedEx continues to regularly support OIC’s overseas shipments. “A bonding and a sense of harmony” between troops and Iraqis has been the result, according to Sinise. Last December, Sinise was awarded the Presidential Citizen Medal by President George W. Bush for the work he’s done supporting the U.S. military.

“Gary wanted to show that in reality, our troops are, first and foremost, humanitarians. People don’t join the military to be bad guys; they do it to be good guys,” says Kimo Williams, Sinise’s longtime friend and the musical director of the Lt. Dan Band. “With Operation Iraqi Children, Gary has given our troops some tools to be the best people they can be and to be seen and appreciated in that light, which is important. It’s demoralizing to lay down your life for your country and be seen in a suspect or disapproving light. These men and women are the best of our country. They should be treated like heroes.”