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'Sundance for the Troops'

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'Sundance for the Troops'
Actor Joe Mantegna (left), a regular on the TV series "Criminal Minds," received the GI Spirit Award for his advocacy of veterans causes. (Photo courtesy GI Film Festival)

The cultures of Tinseltown and power-capital Washington are melding again this week at the sixth annual GI Film Festival (GIFF), which kicked off May 14 by honoring former presidential candidate H. Ross Perot.

Perot, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and longtime advocate for veterans causes, was presented with the "Lifetime Hero Award" by GIFF organizers at the Newseum.

Reluctant to give interviews during the last several years, Perot told The Washington Examiner, "It’s been a real privilege to be able to work with the military and help people, and it’s very nice of them to recognize it tonight.

"But the real issue is, we’ve got to take care of those people."

USAA sponsored a congressional reception Tuesday night that honored Vietnam veterans and included a screening of "Into Harms Way," a documentary about the West Point graduating class of 1963. Several Vietnam veterans of that class, along with film director Jordan Kronick, attended the world premiere.

"We’re the only military film festival in the country," said Brandon Millett, co-founder and president of GIFF. "Our mission is to honor the successes and sacrifices of American GIs. If you’re familiar with the Sundance Film Festival, we’re like Sundance for the troops."

Actor Joe Mantegna, a regular on the TV series "Criminal Minds," received the GI Spirit Award for his advocacy of veterans causes and his work as co-narrator of the annual Memorial Day Concert in Washington, D.C.

"To me, the most important thing I do every year is this concert," Mantegna told The American Legion. "Hopefully, we’ll have well over 300,000 people at the concert this year to celebrate the most important holiday this country has, which is Memorial Day. Ninety percent of the men in my family were in the military — I feel indebted to them. If there is something I can do to support them, I’m going to do it."

During his acceptance speech, Mantegna recalled that last year his name was placed in a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. "That’s what they do for actors. They take your name, if you’ve done a body of work, and they put it on a street in Hollywood," Mantegna said. "But the difference here in Washington, instead of someone like myself who has often portrayed heroes, in this town they put your name on a wall. The reason they put your name on a wall is because you were a hero and that’s a big difference. That’s why I’m here today. That’s why I’ve always supported our military."

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., pointed out that her district includes Disneyland. "We are the entertainment capital of the world in California," Sanchez said. "And the one thing that I know is that there are a lot of stories that need to be told. Most are never told."

Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, a POW during the Vietnam War, also received GI Hero awards as did Donna Babish, who served as an Army nurse in Vietnam. USAA and the TriWest Health Care Alliance received 2012 GI Film Festival Corporate Patriot Awards.

The week-long GI Film Festival will feature 42 film screenings representing every branch of the military and spanning five wars. The American Legion, a sponsor of the event, donated movie cinema gift cards to wounded warriors who will attend tonight’s premiere of Battleship. The cards were purchased through The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program.

GIFF is a past recipient of the National Commander’s Public Relations Award.

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