Thanksgiving 2009 was a memorable occasion for Mitch Paliga, jazz saxophone instructor and a member of the jazz studies faculty at North Central. A professional saxophonist in the Lt. Dan Band—founded by actor Gary Sinise and music director Kimo Williams to entertain military troops—Paliga spent his Thanksgiving vacation performing at three military bases in Afghanistan. Conditions were primitive and entering an active war zone was challenging for the 12-member band. “The logistics were difficult and it was a real test to see if we could do it,” says Paliga.
The band played at Bagram Airfield, Camp Leatherneck and Kandahar Airfield and conditions varied from place to place. At Camp Leatherneck, a Marine base, the musicians played on flatbed trucks in a dust storm. In mountainous Kandahar, the outdoor evening concert became a test of the cold as temperatures dropped into the 30s. The band was delayed from arriving due to an earlier rocket attack in the area, explained Paliga.
Named for Sinise’s character in the movie Forrest Gump, the Lt. Dan Band plays up to 30 USO concerts a year at military bases and hospitals in the United States and around the globe. A member of the band since 2007, Paliga anticipates a tour of Europe in summer 2010. Some locations, like a concert in Okinawa, Japan, during summer 2009, can attract tens of thousands of soldiers and their families. The Rockin’ for the Troops concert held every summer at Cantigny in Winfield, IL, benefits Operation Support Our Troops-Illinois.
“Gary is a busy guy, he schedules all our dates around his filming of ‘CSI: New York,’” says Paliga. “He breaks even on the band; he doesn’t make any money but just believes in what we’re doing."
North Central NOW Winter 2010