(  Regulatory Intelligence Data ) INDSTRY GROUP 91; 04-04-2000

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April  4, 2000) He's not a Marine, but he played one on TV. Nowadays, Gerald McRaney shows his support of service members by visiting them while they  serve their country, often far from home.

McRaney, who starred in the television shows "Major Dad" and "Simon and Simon," visited  Fort Myer, Va., and Arlington National Cemetery March 29. He was also  presented with a prestigious award at the USO of Metropolitan Washington's  annual awards dinner later that evening.

Chairman of the  Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry Shelton presented McRaney with the organization's Merit award. Shelton called the actor a truly great American, who has given up his time, energy and his talent for America's  young warriors. "Mr. Gerald McRaney is an American patriot who cares  passionately for our military men and women, and you only have to talk to  him for a few minutes to feel that," Shelton said. "He also has visited our troops in some of the dark and dangerous places that they served, including Desert Storm, Bosnia, Haiti, Somalia and his message to our  troops has always been crystal clear: Americans care about you and they're  proud of what you do.

"Mr. Gerald  McRaney has earned the respect of millions in uniform, not only because of  his great efforts with the USO, but because of what he's done to show military service in a favorable way and in raising awareness of veterans' issues," Shelton said.

McRaney  reluctantly accepted the award, because he said when he visits troops, he sees it as simply going someplace to visit with friends. "I have played a few heroic characters in my career, but I am certainly not one of them," McRaney said. "The friends that I go to visit, however, are. These are the  men and women who willingly put their lives on the line so I can live a happy, free and prosperous life in a happy, free and prosperous country. These are the people who are heroes and deserving of more honors than we have to give."

McRaney, who had never been to Fort Myer before, said he was impressed with the post, especially with the young people he visited with. "People who think  there's something wrong with the youth of the country ought to just go visit any military base, and your faith in the future of the country and  the world gets restored," he said. "That's one of the reasons I do these USO tours, to recharge my own batteries." McRaney said the level of discipline and the friendliness of the soldiers stuck out.

McRaney began  the day with lunch at Fort Myer's Tri Service Dining Facility. After his  meal, McRaney took time to chat with service members eating there and pose  for pictures and sign autographs. Pvt.2 Michelle Harris and Spc. Katherine  Persijn of the Fort Myer Military Police Company sat with McRaney. They said they were caught off guard when he sat with them, but were surprised at how nice the actor was. "I thought it was kind of cool," Harris said. "When he sat down at the table, I didn't know what to do."

After a brief  visit to the post headquarters building, McRaney stopped in Brucker Hall,  home of the U.S. Army Band. While there he listened in on a rehearsal by the U.S. Army Blues jazz ensemble. Asked if he sang, McRaney jokingly replied, "If you ever need a room emptied in a hurry, call on me."

From there, he went to the 3d U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard) Caisson Platoon where he got a tour of the facilities from Spc. Michael Hafner and Staff Sgt. Jon Peace. While there, McRaney also looked in on a re- enlistment ceremony  for Spc. Rickey Hines.

Next stop was  the provost marshal's office where McRaney received coins and gifts from the provost marshal, the MP Company and headquarters command battalion. He wasn't originally scheduled to visit the PMO, but he had some spare time, and thanks to some quick wheeling and dealing by Spc. Maria Feliciano, a  civilian liaison at the PMO, he was able to make a visit.

Next, McRaney  received a tour of Arlington National Cemetery from Superintendent Jack  Metzler. Stops on the tour included John F. Kennedy's gravesite and  Arlington House, where McRaney was mobbed by fans who wanted to have their picture taken with the actor.

The final stop on the tour was the Tomb of the Unknowns where McRaney laid a wreath and  was given a tour of the Tomb Guard quarters. McRaney said the wreath-laying was a particularly moving experience. McRaney said he got a  chill after laying the wreath when "Taps" was played by Staff Sgt. Scott Little, a bugler from the U.S. Army Band. "When I hear "Taps" played, it  reminds me of all the sacrifices that have been made for me. Everybody  always talks about the sacrifices people make for their country, but I take it more personally than that -- it was done for me directly, I see it that personally."

McRaney, who has gone on USO tours to such places as Bosnia, Haiti and Somalia, said  they are simply a way for him to say "thank you" to service members. "All  too often I think people in this country just sort of take it for granted  that we are somehow supposed to be a free country and a free people as though it were somehow pronounced by God that's the way it was supposed to be in this country," McRaney said. "That's a thing that was earned and  continues to be earned by people who are willing to lay down their lives  for that idea."

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