USO Performers Thank Thousands of Troops During Tour
ROYAL AIR FORCE MILDENHALL, England --
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Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, right, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks during the USO’s holiday show at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, Dec. 10, 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erin O’Shea
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Country music artist Kellie Pickler sings for airmen during the USO’s holiday show at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, Dec. 10, 2014. The USO show visited five countries to perform for thousands of service members and their families. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Trevor T. McBride
“Don’t be sad it’s over. Be glad it happened,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the performers of the USO holiday tour that ended here Dec. 10.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey and his wife, Deanie, thanked country singer Kellie Pickler and her songwriter husband Kyle Jacobs, comedian Rob Riggle, actresses Meghan Markleand and Dianna Agron, retired Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlrcher and Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister for their efforts to reach out to service members and their families during the trip. USO President J.D. Crouch and his wife, Kristin, also joined the traveling troupe.
Tour Visited Five Countries
The trip included five countries -- Spain, Italy, Turkey, Afghanistan and England -- to entertain thousands of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and their families. Four shows took place in hangars, and one took place in a gym. And 10,000 cupcakes sweetened the deal.
The performers first met each other at the Joint Base Andrews passenger terminal in Maryland on Dec. 5. “Embrace this experience,” Deanie Dempsey told them. “You will be so proud of our service members and their families.”
This was the fourth USO Holiday Tour the Dempseys have led, and both said it’s their favorite trip of the year.
Spain and Italy
The performers loaded onto the plane and flew to Rota, Spain, for the first stop on the tour. They toured the USS Donald K. Ross, an Aegis-equipped destroyer homeported there. They then performed before about 2,000 American service members and their families in a hangar on the base. Dianna Agron, who stars in the Fox series “Glee,” met many “Gleeks” after the performance, signing autographs and posing with them for selfies.
The next day, the troupe flew to Vicenza, Italy, to soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade and U.S. Army Africa. The show, held in the ultramodern gym of the newly constructed post, also featured thousands of Georgetown Cupcakes the stars passed out to the audience.
During the show, Jacobs sang “I Drive Your Truck,” a song he produced for country singer Lee Brice. The song is a powerful tribute to Army Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for actions in Afghanistan. The song grew out of an interview with Monti’s father, Paul, who, when asked how he coped with his son’s death, said he drove his truck.
Turkey and Afghanistan
The next day, the troupe flew to Incirlik, Turkey, where they met with airmen and their families who man posts just a few hundred miles from the civil war in Syria. The USO performers toured the base and met with hundreds of airmen. “It’s good they see what American service members are doing,” Crouch said. “There are many Americans who know nothing of this area, and these performers can go back home and tell them about it.”
The next day was an early one for the group, as they loaded for a flight to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. The show there was in a hangar along the Bagram flightline, and as it was going on, jets and C-130s taxied outside.
After the show, the performers met with service members and then had to board the aircraft for the flight to England. The long day finally came to an end in Cambridge, where the performers prevailed upon Dempsey to sing “The Wild Rover.”
On to England
The next day was the tour’s last show here. Airmen showed off the KC-135 tankers, F-15E Strike Eagles and CV-22 Ospreys stationed at the base and then went into the hangar. Markle showed off her signature five-inch heels, Urlacher showed why he didn’t take up singing with a rendition of “Let It Go,” and Pickler and her band got the propulsion going with her signature song, “Red High Heels.”
That night, the Dempseys hosted a thank you gathering for the USO performers at a Cambridge pub, The Anchor. But the performers thanked the Dempseys and the USO for the opportunity.
Riggle, who retired from the Marine Corps Reserve last year, said that in his profession, “it’s easy to be cynical, and that people expect it.” He was grateful for the tour, he added, because it “allowed me to be a patriot again.”
This was Pickler’s eighth USO tour. “If you come calling, I’ll be back,” she told the general. “I love this so much.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)