WASHINGTON, March 10, 2015 —
They greeted troops in places including Afghanistan, Bahrain and Diego Garcia, performed on an aircraft carrier as jets took off for missions in Iraq and Syria, and saw the Korean demilitarized zone where American troops serve.
The Vice Squad USO World Tour took participants literally to the front lines where members of the U.S. military serve to protect America, said Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Winnefeld led the eight-day tour that circumnavigated the globe, bringing with him athletes and entertainers, including singer Phillip Phillips, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev and Jason "Wee Man" Acuna.
"In the process, we've seen a lot of great young men and women out there serving our country," the admiral said Sunday as the group headed for the final performance in Hawaii.
The other stars on the trip were Colts coach Chuck Pagano, Colts tight end Dwayne Allen, Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro, actor Dennis Haysbert, and former "American Idol" contestants Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young.
"I hope all of you, including all of us, have gotten a better feel for who we are and what we do," Winnefeld told the troupe members, "even though we really only scratched the surface of what this wonderful military does."
Around the World in Eight Days
The purpose of the March 2-9 journey was to "bring a little bit of Americana to our wonderful soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen across the globe, wherever they may be," Winnefeld said.
The journey concluded at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, after the crew of goodwill ambassadors logged some 25,000 miles and 50 hours of flight time.
"I think it's important that our young men and women serving overseas get a periodic reminder that what they're doing is important," Winnefeld said.
The troupe first stopped in Germany, followed by Italy, Bahrain, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and the landing platform dock USS New York in the Arabian Gulf, Afghanistan, Diego Garcia, South Korea and Hawaii.
"This one wins it for the best one," said DeGarmo, who was on her fourth USO tour.
Putting it in Perspective
Seeing the service members in dangerous places far from home and separated from their families, Kazantsev said, was “absolutely eye-opening.”
The pageant winner, who was on her first USO tour, said the shows are important because they bring a little bit of cheer and happiness to the troops who do so much for the nation.
"It was a huge honor of mine to get to go overseas and thank them in person,” she said. “I'm so honored that I got to be a part of it. This crew and the cast were amazing. We were like a family."
Seeing the joy in the audience was wonderful, said DeGarmo and husband Young. It's especially important to do these shows to boost morale, DeGarmo said, knowing these service members are so far from home and that they and their families sacrifice so much.
Sharing a Message of Inspiration
"I have been told ever since I came out of the womb, 'You can't do this. You can't. You can't. You can't. You can't,'" Acuna said during the performance in Diego Garcia.
"I think that was the best thing that was ever told to me, because once I was told I couldn’t do it, I made sure I did it and I did it better than people would think I would do it," said the actor, prankster and professional skateboarder.
Acuna, who was on his second USO tour, said he wanted to share a positive message, and express his deep appreciation for what the men and women in the armed forces do every day for the nation’s freedom.
"Thank you for what you do," he said.
Service Members Appreciate USO Event
It's very special being a part of the show, and greeting the service members, Haysbert said.
"You can tell they really appreciate what we've done and that we've come down here to give them a little taste of home," said the actor, who has done multiple USO tours.
Pagano, who was on his first USO tour, said it was a privilege and an honor to visit the troops.
"It's a great opportunity for us to be here and support the troops to let them know that what they're doing means the world to all of us," the coach said.