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Gary Sinise's Gift To Iraq

Oscar-nominated actor and the star of "CSI: New York," Gary Sinise is using his star power to improve the lives of Iraqi school children.

The Early Show national correspondent Hattie Kauffman spoke with this American Hero about his mission to put learning tools into eager little hands.

On "CSI," Gary Sinise's character is withdrawn, a loner, but in real life, he reaches out all the way across the globe.

While visiting school children in Iraq, Sinise was stunned to learn the schools have no paper, pencils or books.

"One school I visited, rebuilt by the troops, it originally didn't have a floor," he said. "It was just dirt, and there were no windows. It was just kind of cinderblocks."

Inspired to help change young lives, Sinise returned home to his own children's school and asked kids to donate classroom supplies to Iraq. The response was overwhelming, and "Operation Iraqi Children" was born. To date, his organization has sent more than 100,000 school kits to Iraqi students.

"It's a wonderful way to help the little kids over there who really have nothing," Sinise said. "They've lived in an oppressed society for many, many years. We're actually providing supplies for these little kids to have a better life."

Sinise teamed up with American troops to get the school supplies into the hands of Iraqi students. One Iraqi school girl said, "I study to learn, to be an educated person."

"These soldiers over there and these Marines are very special people," Sinise said. "They care about these people."

In fact, the servicemen sometimes risk their lives to deliver the school supplies.

"I want them to see me not as a warrior with a gun, but as a messenger of friendship and goodwill," one soldier said.

Though the kids see the soldiers, they may never know the role the actor played in bringing them school books.

"Whether I ever meet these kids or not, it doesn't matter," Sinise said. "I know that we're doing something that's positive."

As his way of saying thanks to the troops, Sinise performs with his rock group, the Lt. Dan Band, named for his Oscar-nominated role in "Forest Gump."

"It's just a way to give back, just a way to do something to help out," he said.

In addition to his performances on the USO tour, Sinise continues to stay in touch with the troops in Iraq. From them he hears the good news that he says is overlooked in press coverage from Iraq.

"I get another side of the story that we don't hear through the media," he said. "And it's more positive things happening than you would think based on the perception that we have on a daily basis."

The news reports, he said, are "always about a bomb or a suicide bomber or somebody getting killed. Of course that's dramatic and all of that but, on a day-to-day basis, there is a lot of improvement; there's a lot of hope, a lot of kids that are going to school that never got to do that before."

What difference might a school book make? For Sinise, all the difference in the world.

"If we can help these little kids," he said, "and they can see that there is freedom to learn — to just go to school and have a pencil and learn — something might happen in the way they grow up, and take charge of their own country."

Click here for more information on Operation Iraqi Children.

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