Troops Overseas Appreciate 'Touch of Home'
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 29, 2006 When the Air Force 332nd Recruiting Squadron got the chance to provide a color guard for the Grand Ole Opry's Memorial Day weekend All-American Salute Signature Shows, the airmen were happy to oblige.
"I thought it was awesome to get to see all these country stars," Tech. Sgt. Kimberly Haugen said backstage between the 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. shows. "Everyone spoke to me, and they thanked me for doing time in the service. It's amazing how many people here have been in the Air Force or the Army or the Marines or whatever."
Haugen, from Wise, Va., has spent 20 years on active duty. Like most servicemembers, she's seen her share of celebrity tours. She said she saw being in the color guard as a chance to give something back to the entertainers.
"It means so much for them to take time out of their busy schedules to come entertain us," Haugen said. "It makes us feel like we're important to them."
Staff Sgt. Jason McAlister, from Bend, Ore., an eight-year Air Force veteran, echoed Haugen's sentiments about the entertainers' visits. He said it's extremely important to have the celebrity shows come out.
"It's like a little piece of home coming overseas," McAlister said. "You've got so much stuff on your mind as far as what's going on. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't over in Iraq; I deployed to Kuwait, but it's still hard being away from the family. It's a great feeling to see those guys come out specifically for us."
It seems, he said, as if the entertainers carry a message from the folks back home: "We know you're out there. We know you're doing your job."
McAlister said he saw carrying the flags in the Opry shows as a chance to pay tribute to the troops "overseas right now doing the job" and making the sacrifice of being away from their familes.
"That's where it strikes home for me," McAlister said. "Being a servicemember myself and having gone overseas, I know what those guys go through. It's important for me to come out here and pay tribute to them -- to be able to say thank you for what they do, not only for their fellow members in the military, but everybody in general. It's a blessing and a privilege to be able to come out for them."
Master Sgt. Clint Dark, from Tyler, Texas, has served in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during his 16 and a half years in the Air Force. He said that touch of home the celebrity tours bring "means the world" to the troops.
"We need the moral support," Dark said. "It makes us realize what we're doing is important to the people back home. (The mission) is for a great cause, and sometimes we lose sight of it. The celebrities bring the support from home that we can't touch and feel to us."