BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan —
America is safer this year thanks to the sacrifices American service members and their families have made in the past year, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told personnel based here today.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford and Army Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, the chairman’s senior enlisted advisor, led a USO troupe to the region as a way to thank soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Defense Department civilians and contractors.
The USO troupe features actors Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans; NBA legend Ray Allen; Olympic gold medalist Maya DiRado; country music star Craig Campbell and mentalist Jim Karol.
The base is the headquarters for the Training, Advising and Assisting Command East and is the largest U.S. facility in Afghanistan. Americans also are based at Forward Operating Base Gamberi and FOB Fenty. The area comprises 14 provinces and 165 districts and is roughly the size of Mississippi.
Upon their arrival in Bagram, Dunford and crew took choppers to visit the service members at FOB Gamberi. The FOB is actually inside a larger Afghan army camp and is built around a unit of the Fort Hood, Texas-based 3rd Cavalry Regiment. The unit advises the Afghan 201st Corps as well as police units in the region.
Back to Bagram
The group then flew back to Bagram, where service members and civilians waited to meet them. Service members thanked the performers for coming, with many telling them that they felt Americans were forgetting about the military effort in Afghanistan. The chairman addressed at least a part of that sentiment during his opening remarks to the service members.
“Less than 1 percent of the American people ever wear the uniform of a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine,” Dunford said. “But I’ve got to tell you that I’m pretty proud to wear this uniform, and the reason I am is because I’m looking out here at the kind of people who are wearing it as well, and I’m proud to be on the team.”
The holidays are a special time of year and one where all would wish to be with their families, but many in Afghanistan cannot. “But I got to tell you, this is your family too. You all know that,” the chairman said. “If you can’t be with your family, look around. I can’t think of anyplace I’d rather be or anybody else I’d rather be with than the people standing in this hangar.”
It was a sad day for many on the base, as they learned of the death of a senior NCO from the Nov. 12 attack on Bagram that killed four other Americans and wounded 16 more.
“He was a very, very great man,” said Army Staff Sgt. Richard Londono of the 1st Cavalry Division Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade. “He was concerned about your career and would ask if you were doing the things you needed to do to get promoted. He shook your hand every day. He will truly be missed in our unit.”
And perhaps that was why the USO troupe got such an enthusiastic welcome at Bagram – the service members really needed that touch of home.
“It’s not really a big deal about them being celebrities,” said Army Spc. Brittany Talley, a fuels specialist with the 1st Cavalry Division Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade. “It’s a big deal because somebody took the time out, because for a lot of us, but especially the younger soldiers, even our families have gotten busier as the days go on.
“So for somebody to say, ‘Hey these soldiers need attention,’ that’s a big deal for us, because a lot of people forget that we’re over here,” she continued. “A lot of people forget there are soldiers in Kuwait, there’s soldiers in Iraq, there’s soldiers in every country in the world almost.
“We don’t do this just to put a uniform on,” she said. “We don’t do this just to say, ‘Hey we’re in the Army.’ We do this so these things that we are dealing with here don’t ever happen back home. We make these sacrifices and we do it daily because we care about people we’ve never met before. But this is our job, and this is what we love to do.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)