By JASON DUARTE For The Sun
Mother Nature was threatening, but her flood gates stayed down for the Operation: Support Our Troops fourth annual "Rockin' For The Troops" fundraiser held Saturday at Cantigny Park in Wheaton. Last year's event sold out, drawing more than 10,000 people, not including vendors an volunteers.
Admission was $25; the same cost to ship a care package overseas. Naperville resident and Operation: Support Our Troops volunteer Marilyn Jannusch helps the organization in sending 200 care packages out every other week.
At the Operation: Support Our Troops warehouse in Lisle, Jannusch helps pack and send out items such as canned tuna, peanut butter, beef jerky, toothpaste, popcorn and those little drink packets that transform an ordinary bottle of water into an entirely new beverage.
"My job at the warehouse is snack bags. They say I can jam more stuff in the (quart-sized) bags than anyone," Jannusch said. "And I take pride in that."
Event coordinator Al Keener said Operation: Support Our Troops spends about $10,000 a month in postage alone, covering the cost of 400 care packages.
Resources for troops and their families such as grief counseling and mental health assessment also were there. One such resource for troops who feel symptoms of depression, anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder can take a free, anonymous mental health screening online at www.militarymentalhealth.org, said Col. Janet Kamer, Ph.D., chief psychologist for the Air Force Reserve Command.
"Lots of people are concerned, so they can go online and do an anonymous screening," Kamer said.
If they score positive, a list of customized resources is automatically displayed.
Also supporting and promoting the event was 94.7 WLS-FM DJ, Radio Hall of Famer and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Dick Biondi.
"It's my way of giving a little bit back — very little — to all the guys and women in the armed forces," Biondi said.
Other attractions at this year's Rockin' For The Troops included magicians, belly dancers, comedian Anita Renfroe, the Gaddis Sisters, The Byrds co-founder Chris Hillman with folk/country musician Herb Pedersen, Eagles tribute band Heartache Tonight and headlining the main stage at 8:30 p.m. was Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.
Additional money was raised raffling off a 2009 Harley Davidson XL 1200N Sportster 1200 Nightster autographed by Gary Sinise, an MB guitar autographed by Gary Sinise and a suite for 15 including food at Wrigley Field for the Cubs' Aug. 31 game against the Astros. Raffle tickets were $10 each or three for $25.
But Saturday wasn't all about fun and activities. Many Blue Star and Gold Star families made up the crowd of thousands. Wearing a Blue Star badge means they have a loved one serving in active duty. Wearing a Gold Star badge means they lost a loved one in military service.
Round Lake Beach resident Sue Weinger wore a T-shirt with her son's picture on it and a Gold Star pinned to it. Her son, Army Sgt. Robert M. Weinger, 24, was killed March 15 in Jalabad, Afghanistan, with two others by an improvised explosive device.
"I'm here to support everybody else to come home safely because nobody should go through what we're going through," Weinger said through tearing eyes.
Since her loss, Weinger has become close with the mother of Spc. Normal L. Cain III, who was killed with her son.
Cain's mother lives in Freeport, roughly a two-hour drive from Round Lake Beach.
"We make the drive back and forth," Weinger said.
Operation: Support Our Troops volunteers already began packing boxes for the holidays containing handmade stockings filled with playing cards, dice games, CDs and anything else the troops could have some fun with.
"We'll be doing this until the last kid comes home," Jannusch said. "We're not in it just this month, and then we're through."
Some 12,000 fans attended Saturday’s “Rockin’ for the Troops” fundraiser held at Cantigny featuring the Lt. Dan Band, with actior Gary Sinise (below) on bass.