Q-WEST, Iraq —
“We could not bring you home for Christmas, so we decided to bring a little bit of home to you,” Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford said yesterday on Christmas to service members here at this base near Mosul.
That’s the heart of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s annual USO Holiday Tour playing in Iraq after putting on shows in Afghanistan, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, at al-Dhafra Air Base in the United Arab Emirates and at Moron Air Base, Spain.
The American people -- through the USO -- sponsored a holiday tour that started Dec. 20 and runs through today. The idea was to reach out to as many service members as possible during the tour, to include many remote areas as well.
These are not easy tours to put on and even as iconic an organization as the USO can have a hard time getting entertainers who can travel during the holidays. For many stars, the holiday season is the only time during the year when they have a break.
Entertainers Visit With Deployed U.S. Troops
But the organization managed to put together a group of entertainers with the time, desire and drive to make the trip. All of them had made USO tours in the past, and all made the sacrifice of missing their own holidays with family to put on 11 shows on two continents for the troops.
The modes of transportation ran the gamut from C-17 and C-130 aircraft, to UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters, to a landing and takeoff on a C-2 Greyhound aircraft from the USS Theodore Roosevelt. On the ground they rode in dusty buses in Iraq and Afghanistan, to just walking to the venue from the flightline.
The impact of the tour is best explained in a series of vignettes.
At Camp Taji, Iraq, a Texas National Guardsman serving with the 1st Armored Division stood in the crowd and sang along with Country star Jerrod Niemann.
One group of soldiers at Operating Base Lightning in Afghanistan was so excited to meet actor/comedian Adam Devine that they could hardly put two words together to ask for a photo with him. Then, when they got the photo, they jokingly criticized the way he did a push-up on stage.
A young airman at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, was overcome by laughter at a line from comedian Iliza Shlesinger.
WWE wrestling is big in the Navy. The sailors on the hangar deck of the Roosevelt chanted “USA, USA, USA” when professional wrestlers the Miz and Alicia Fox took the stage.
Marines deployed to Spain thanked Chef Robert Irvine and his wife Gail Kim for visiting. The two said in response it was they who should be thanking the Marines, quickly saying it was their honor to meet them.
Retired Army Capt. Florent Groberg visited Operating Base Fenty for the first time since he was medically evacuated from the post in 2012. He touched the names of four of his comrades engraved on a memorial plaque. The men were killed in the same action for which he received the Medal of Honor.
Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines at stops all along the route received boxes from Operation Gratitude. At Q-West on Christmas Day, a young specialist opened a box from the group with a huge smile. “The mail has been kind of hit-or-miss lately,” he said. “I hadn’t received anything from my family, and this means a lot.”
At Bagram, a 3rd Infantry Division soldier used a K-bar knife to open a bright pink box of Georgetown Cupcakes.
The standing ovation for Jerrod Niemann’s new song “(That’s Why They Call It) Old Glory” at Bagram Air Base.
And at every stop along the way, Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, the chairman’s senior enlisted advisor, telling the troops to not let up, to keep focused. “We have ISIS on the run,” Troxell told them. “And we are going to keep after them through working with allies, or dropping a bomb on them. We are going to give ISIS two choices: surrender or die.”
At each base, Dunford and the sergeant major got a chance to talk with service members at every level. The conversations were involved and covered a range of issues. It was an invaluable first-hand look at the morale of service members at the pointy end of the spear.
“There is no place we would rather be than out here with you,” Dunford told soldiers at Q-West. “And if you get a chance to speak to your families back home, thank them for me for the sacrifices they are making, too.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)
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