WASHINGTON -- Though he's earned fame and fortune portraying rough and tough military figures on television and in feature films, R. Lee Ermey has a soft spot when it comes to caring for troops.
Ermey, popular host of the History Channel's "Mail Call," in which he answers questions about military technology, has put together the R. Lee Emery Celebrity Experience, a three-day event to raise money for service members and their families.
The event benefits the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and the Young Marines Association, for which Ermey is a spokesman.
The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society provides financial, educational, and other assistance to members of the Naval Services of the United States, eligible family members and survivors when in need.
The Young Marines is a youth education and service program for boys and girls, ages 8 through completion of high school, which focuses on character building, leadership, and promotes a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
Ermey said the fundraiser begins at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., Sept. 10 with more than 20 of his Hollywood friends putting on a free six- hour show for troops there. "They're who I call the Hollywood 'good guys,'" he said. "They show up at all the charity events I do," he said in a Pentagon Channel interview last week.
Ermey, who starred in "Full Metal Jacket" (1987), "The Boys of Company C" (1978) and "Apocalypse Now" (1979), said the show will feature music, entertainment and "a lot of comedy."
"A lot of the guys that do comedy seem to give of themselves when it comes to charity," he said. "They're good guys."
The show will be held the Little Hall Theater at Quantico. The event is free to all military personnel and family members with government ID.
On Sept. 11, Ermey, along with several of his Hollywood friends, will take part in a Celebrity-Amateur Golf Tournament at the Renditions Golf Course in Davidsonville, Md. Tickets for the event are $5,000 each.
The next evening, Sept. 12, will be the "Gunny's Ball and Auction." The black-tie affair will be held at the Madison Hotel in downtown Washington. Tickets are $150, with discounts available for military personnel
A second charity golf tournament is planned Sept. 12 at the Renditions course. Tickets for that event are $10 for adults and $5 for teenagers and seniors. Children under 12 are admitted free.
Ermey said part of the reason he decided to start the event over the Sept. 11 weekend was because that date commemorates the "hugest disaster that has ever hit America."
"When we were thinking about date, this is one that sticks in everyone's mind," he said. "Nobody can forget about what happened to us on Sept. 11 (2001)."
He said the very service members and families that he is trying to help are away from their families in Afghanistan and Iraq because on one reason: 9/11.
Ermey said he wants to do whatever he can to make life easier for the troops fighting the war and their families. "If their families are having financial problems back here, that's got to be weighing pretty heavy on a troop's mind that's out there actually hands-on fighting the war," he said. "So we need to take that worry away ... and we need to look out after these families."
He said he hopes to make the fundraiser an annual event. "It's going to be every year in September," he said. The charity event is just one to the ways Ermey has given back to the military. Born in Emporia, Kan., on March 24, 1944, Ermey joined the Marine Corps in 1961 when he was 17, and served nearly two tours in Vietnam.
Injuries cut short his military career short, and in 1972 he was medically retired at the rank of staff sergeant. But the Marine Corps later promoted Ermey to the honorary rank of gunnery sergeant, he said.
Still, Ermey said, he never retired from the service, and he is just as active today with the Corps as he's ever been.
"I tell people I've been in the Marine Corps for 44 years," he said of his continued involvement with the service.
"I don't put 'RET' (Retired) behind Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey," he explained. "I put: Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey (Very Active)."
Ermey said he attends five or six Marines Corps Birthday Balls each year as the guest speaker or guest of honor.
In December, Ermey's attention turns to "Toys For Tots," a Marine Corps Reserve charity he actively supports. Ermey also finds time to spend with troops in the field, he said.
Last year, he took his "Mail Call" show to Iraq. After shooting the show, he sent his production crew home. He then spent the next seven days staying with his fellow Marines in the field. He said he traveled by helicopter to 34 different locations and talked to as many Marines as he could.
"I try to stay as involved as I can with the troops, and I love going into the field with the troops," he said.