JCS Vice Chairman, Spouse Accompany USO Overseas Tour
By U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh
Joint Chiefs of Staff Public Affairs
OVERSEAS WITH THE USO TOUR, Feb. 27, 2013 – Early in the evening of Feb. 25, the C-40 aircraft carrying Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his wife, Mary, support personnel, several professional football and baseball stars, an NFL coach, two American Idol finalists as well as a pair of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, took off en route on a weeklong USO tour to meet with overseas-deployed service members.
This, the second USO tour headed up by Winnefeld since he assumed his post in August 2011, is the first for some of the talent while others are tour veterans.
"We’ve got an amazing group of talented athletes and performers with us -- one of the best groups you could get,” Winnefeld said. “We’re welcoming back our favorite American Idols and have a whole team of other very talented men and women.”
The rest of the USO tour team consists of Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks coach, Clyde Christensen; Superbowl ring-wearing Denver Broncos quarterback, Peyton Manning; Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl receiver, Vincent Jackson; former Indianapolis Colt receiver, Austin Collie; World-Series winning Boston Red Sox pitcher, Curt Schilling; American Idol stars, Ace Young and Diana Degarmo, and Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Jackie Bob and Cassie Trammell.
The tour began on the afternoon of Feb. 25 with the talent, fresh off their flights from around the country, traveling to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to meet with patients and family members in the physical therapy section. The patients, mainly amputees fitted with cutting-edge prosthetics who grasped footballs and baseballs for autographs, smiled and posed for photos as they shared a little of their stories with the headliners and the vice chairman.
"We had the honor of meeting some wounded soldiers at Walter Reed to start this tour off," Manning said. “It was humbling to see those guys in there with their positive attitudes and working hard at getting better. We can’t thank you enough for what you do.”
After the stop at the hospital, the tour made its way to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland and departed for Rota, Spain, the first of many stops. The first order of business for the vice chairman upon landing in Spain was to award the Bronze Star and two other awards to explosive ordnance disposal sailors Chief Petty Officer Samuel Crumbaugh, Petty Officer 1st Class John Christmas and Petty Officer 2nd Class Aaron Mallsup. The EOD technicians earned their awards while deployed to Afghanistan for six months where, combined, they disposed of more than 41,000 pounds of explosives.
After a brief tour of the EOD facility, the USO team took to the stage to thank the military members for their service as the athletes and cheerleaders addressed the audience.
“I come from a military family,” said Jackson, whose father, a former Army first sergeant, served 21 years on active duty. “I couldn’t be prouder to be invited. This is my first USO tour and hopefully I’ll have another one down the road. It’s been amazing -- the people we’ve met, the places we’ve seen. It’s really exciting to be a part of this.”
The first leg of the whirlwind tour wrapped up with the entire team on stage singing “God Bless America” before heading to a photo session with service members, then back to the aircraft, logging a few hundred more air miles en route to Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy. At NAS Sigonella a pair of unmanned aerial vehicles parked next to the travelers’ aircraft awaited the team, along with a few of the UAVs’ pilots.
Upon completion of the tour, the hundred or so sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines and family members emerged from the hangar to greet the team. Within what seemed to be only seconds, the number of people brandishing footballs, baseballs, T-shirts, jerseys and other souvenirs for signature doubled.
A lucky few from the audience were brought up on stage by Manning, Jackson and Collie and were subject to a mini-combine where they faced away from Manning. At a point, he yelled “ball” and that was their cue to turn and catch a pass, which each of the three participants did.
Just before the closing act, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Tammell and Bob, representing the squad on its 76th USO tour, showed their moves as Ace and Diana belted out their rendition of rock group AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.”
The group then headed on to their second Italian city, Naples, for another meet-and-greet and performance for more than 400 troops from all the military services as well as their families.
With the first day of three events in three separate locations in two different countries, the team got their first chance to wind down with an overnight stay in Naples, and a chance for some team bonding before moving on to Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, and other locations.