'Lt. Dan' flies high

Airmen from the 9th Physiological Support Squadron operate the altitude chamber at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., June 7, 2011 while Gary Sinise, actor and military supporter, prepares to experience loss of cabin pressure at 70,000 feet elevation in preparation for a high flight in the U-2 Dragon Lady. Mr. Sinise was visiting Beale to document the mission of the U-2 Dragon Lady and meet with Airmen to boost morale.

Airmen from the 9th Physiological Support Squadron operate the altitude chamber at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., June 7, 2011 while Gary Sinise, actor and military supporter, prepares to experience loss of cabin pressure at 70,000 feet elevation in preparation for a high flight in the U-2 Dragon Lady. Mr. Sinise was visiting Beale to document the mission of the U-2 Dragon Lady and meet with Airmen to boost morale.

Gary Sinise looks out the passenger cockpit of a U-2 Dragon Lady after returning from a high flight at 70,000 feet from Beale Air Force Base, Calif., June 8. Mr. Sinise was visiting Beale to document the mission of the U-2 Dragon Lady and meet with Airmen to boost morale.

Gary Sinise looks out the passenger cockpit of a U-2 Dragon Lady after returning from a high flight at 70,000 feet from Beale Air Force Base, Calif., June 8. Mr. Sinise was visiting Beale to document the mission of the U-2 Dragon Lady and meet with Airmen to boost morale.

Gary Sinise, actor and military supporter, receives a pre-flight briefing from Princess about the implements and functions of the U-2 flight suit June 7, 2011 at the 9th Physiological Support Squadron, Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Mr. Sinise was visiting Beale to document the mission of the U-2 Dragon Lady and meet with Airmen to boost morale.

Gary Sinise, actor and military supporter, receives a pre-flight briefing from Princess about the implements and functions of the U-2 flight suit June 7, 2011 at the 9th Physiological Support Squadron, Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Mr. Sinise was visiting Beale to document the mission of the U-2 Dragon Lady and meet with Airmen to boost morale.

Gary Sinise addresses Airmen at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., June 8 during a talk to the troops after going for a high flight in the U-2 Dragon Lady to 70,000 feet. Mr. Sinise was visiting Beale to document the mission of the U-2 Dragon Lady and meet with Airmen to boost morale.

Gary Sinise addresses Airmen at Beale Air Force Base, Calif., June 8 during a talk to the troops after going for a high flight in the U-2 Dragon Lady to 70,000 feet. Mr. Sinise was visiting Beale to document the mission of the U-2 Dragon Lady and meet with Airmen to boost morale.

Gary Sinise, actor and military supporter, receives the 9th Reconnaissance Wing Unit mission brief from Brig. Gen. Paul McGillicuddy, 9th RW commander, June 7, 2011 prior to beginning the training to take a high flight to 70,000 feet in the U-2 Dragon Lady. Mr. Sinise was visiting Beale to document the mission of the U-2 Dragon Lady and meet with Airmen to boost morale.

Gary Sinise, actor and military supporter, receives the 9th Reconnaissance Wing Unit mission brief from Brig. Gen. Paul McGillicuddy, 9th RW commander, June 7, 2011 prior to beginning the training to take a high flight to 70,000 feet in the U-2 Dragon Lady. Mr. Sinise was visiting Beale to document the mission of the U-2 Dragon Lady and meet with Airmen to boost morale.

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE -- Even though he has been a strong military supporter and philanthropist, most remember Gary Sinise by his award-winning role as Lieutenant Dan Taylor, who he played in the 1994 film "Forrest Gump."

The Blue Island, Ill., native visited Team Beale June 6-9 to document the capabilities of the U-2 Dragon Lady and meet with Airmen to boost morale.

"Where ever I go for the military, they always call me Lt. Dan," he said. "What I really what to be remembered as is a good father, a man that does what he needs to take care of his family and someone who supports the troops that protect the country I live in. It's a dangerous world out there and anytime anything happens, the U.S. military is there to help."

A film crew documented his trip to Beale, including the complicated training for a high flight, which will be used to tell the U-2 story and highlight Beale's mission on network television.
"Beale has the best pilots in the world and the crews that prepare them for these unique missions are without a doubt some of the most incredible people I have ever worked with," Mr. Sinise said.

Mr. Sinise described the preparation for the June 8 flight as a daunting process that took almost every ounce of energy he had. After spending time in an altitude chamber, simulating loss of cabin pressure at 70,000 feet, he said his ears hurt and his body was fatigued because of the stress.

"All the information that was thrown at me throughout the day was enough to fill anyone's head," he said. "But then being in the chamber and doing egress training after that, really made it the most difficult part of this whole experience. I was totally exhausted."

Even though the preparation was hard work, Mr. Sinise said it was all worth it in the end as three Pontiac G8 chase cars led the black and red dragon lady out to the flight line. Within minutes he was being propelled in the time-tested jet piloted by Capt. Jay, a 1st Reconnaissance Squadron U-2 pilot, at 200 knots to their 70,000 feet destination.

"Being up there was unbelievable," said Mr. Sinise as he reviewed post flight video clips from his trip to the brink of space. "I can't believe that was really me up there. I just can't believe I did that."

Although he was involved in the intense preparation required to go up in U-2, throughout his training and after his flight, Mr. Sinise took time to meet with Beale Airmen including a talk to the troops time at Dock 6.

He highlighted his trip to Beale and took time to especially thank Airmen for their service to their country and his appreciation for the missions at Beale.

"I generally don't get stirred up by celebrities, but it was nice to have such a big military supporter here and to be thanked for our service by someone of that magnitude... It really meant a lot," said a 9th Communications Squadron ground radar maintenance technician. "There is more weight in what he says because he shows his patriotism with his character not just on the screen, but off."

After spending three days with Team Beale, experiencing a little of what it takes to be a U-2 pilot and flying at 70,000 feet, Mr. Sinise said the highlight of the whole experience was being able to do something for his county that not every person can.

"Training, going for a ride in this incredible airplane and spending time with the Airmen of Beale was a great experience," he said. "Overall I am just glad that I am going to be able to take what I have learned these past few days and share it with a grateful nation that is protected by our great military."