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‘Criminal Minds’ Star Joe Mantegna Uses TV To Give Back

The Criminal Minds actor talks big changes in Season 12 and how he uses the show to honor our military. 

Criminal Minds actor Joe Mantegna

For Criminal Minds star Joe Mantegna, the new season of the hit CBS crime drama has brought about big changes.

The actor and Chicago native, who plays Special Agent David Rossi on the show, was coming off his hometown’s big Cubs World Series win when he spoke to Guideposts about the major shakeups that have happened during Season 12. (Along with some returning faces and new additions, star Thomas Gibson was fired from the show early in the season after an alleged altercation with a staff writer.)

“I guess I’ll equate it to baseball in a way,” Mantegna said of the show’s changes. “You have a team, you’re doing well, then some changes happen and you have different personnel, but the game goes on.”

READ MORE: THE TRUE STORY BEHIND THE HERO OF ‘HACKSAW RIDGE’

With Gibson gone, one of the biggest questions of Season 12 is how the show will handle the departure of his on-screen alter ego, Aaron Hotchner, but Mantegna said fans shouldn’t be worried.

“It’ll become clear how that gets handled but it gets handled in the best way possible,” the actor revealed.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Mantegna’s commitment to raising awareness for a group of people that deserved to be valued: our military service men and women

His character on the show is the leader of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit and a Vietnam War vet – a storyline the actor had a hand in creating. He’s worked with the writers on Criminal Minds to feature real Marine generals as characters on the show and to draw attention to organizations helping homeless veterans like L.A.’s New Directions for Veterans.

“I wanted to bring attention to the men and women who have made those sacrifices,” Mantegna said of his role in creating his character’s back story and highlighting veterans’ issues on screen.

“It’s television doing a service for the community. That’s what I think is great,” Mantegna said.

The actor’s impassioned advocacy for our service men and women comes in part from his family’s own history of service. The actor had five uncles who were combat veterans in World War II.

“They didn’t wear it on their sleeve,” Mantegna said. “They weren’t active in groups for veterans as many weren’t because that was a part of their life they wanted to put behind them.”

It wasn’t until lifelong friend Charles Durning asked him to contribute to the National Memorial Day Concert following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that he realized what his uncles had given up during World War II and why he needed to do more to honor that sacrifice.

“My job was to read the words of four New York City firemen who had lost their sons, who were also New York City firemen, during 9/11,” Mantegna recalled. “I’m on stage; in front of me is the U.S. Capitol Building with the American flag flying, behind me is the Washington Symphony Orchestra playing Mozart’s Requiem and in the front row are these four New York City retired firemen in full uniform with their wives. I’m having to say their words [in front of them], of how it’s a good day when they’re going through the rubble and they find a piece of their son’s clothing. It took all I could to get through it.”

The experience was life-changing.

“I’ve made a very good living for myself as an actor and I’ve had a wonderful life and it just all hit me at once. In that one moment on that stage, I thought to myself, ‘I have to do something. I have to put something back.’”

READ MORE: GARY SINISE ON GIVING BACK TO VETERANS

Mantegna now regularly contributes to organizations for veterans like the Gary Sinise Foundation and he is the national spokesman for the campaign to build the National Museum of the United States Army. He also hosts the annual National Memorial Day Concert in Washington D.C., a job he’s been doing for the past 15 years.

The actor hopes lending his celebrity can raise awareness about the issues facing veterans once they come home and leave the service.

“When a war is over, it’s like, ‘Okay, everything’s fine. Let’s get back to normal life,’” Mantegna said. “I visit these military hospitals and you see people in there with body parts missing. You realize, this is not over for them. Their lives are changed forever. They made this sacrifice for what they hoped was a good reason but now that reason seems to have passed and everybody else is going on with their life. That’s fine, they don’t regret that, but let’s not forget about that. PTSD is a real thing, the suicide rate of our military everyday is a real thing and it’s not happening by accident. This is going on. Let’s not forget.”

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