Around the World in 10 Days, Chairman-Style
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 25, 2005 After 10 days of circling the globe and seeing more than 10,000 servicemembers, the U.S. military's top officer says troops have not lost focus and have high morale despite the challenges they face.
Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, throws a souvenir football into the audience gathered for a USO show Aug. 16 in Kuwait. Photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"We have got a great U.S. military," Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview. "They are persevering despite the sacrifices they and their families are making."
From battle-dress uniforms to desert flight suits; from 60-degree weather to 138; from combat zones to long-established bases; from Army to Navy to Marine Corps to Air Force; from sea to land to a lot of time in the air, Myers led the nearly 30,000-mile journey.
The chairman planned the odyssey to assess troop morale at bases around the world. "I wanted to see as many servicemen and women as I could, look them in the eyes and tell them thanks," he said.
Myers asked along sports personality and cover girl Leeann Tweeden, NFL Hall of Fame member Gale Sayers, and comedians Jeffrey Ross and Colin Quinn. The United Service Organizations performers put on 18 shows before more than 10,000 servicemembers during the 10-day trip.
The trip began Aug. 14 at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. The chairman and the performers flew aboard a C-40 passenger jet, while support personnel flew aboard a C-17 Globemaster III transport jet. Later in the trip, the C-17 also took the chairman and his party into combat zones.
The chairman used the stops to visit with servicemembers, see the conditions they are living under, and see if they need anything more. Tammy Cameron, the staff director for the Senate Appropriations Committee military construction subcommittee, accompanied the chairman. Cameron met troops and evaluated facilities at the bases.
The first day set the stage for the entire trip. After flying all night, the chairman and his party went to Germany, Kosovo and Kuwait before calling it a day.
In Wiesbaden, Germany, the chairmen met soldiers of the 1st Armored Division, and the performers put on the first show. The show was in a hangar because of rain. The division is "resetting" following duty in Iraq earlier this year. It will also be affected by changes to the global military posture.
In Kosovo, the group landed at the provincial capital of Pristina and took a helicopter to Camp Bondsteel. This was a far different crowd from that in Germany. National Guardsmen form the core of the effort in the country. During the show, Myers ducked away from the front of the audience and went to sit with some soldiers in the bleachers -- a tactic he would repeat as the trip progressed.
After the show, Myers and the performers met with soldiers, signed autographs, posed for pictures or just shook hands.
The show moved on the Kuwait City that night before stopping. There, NBC "Today" show co-host Matt Lauer met up with the chairman.
Following two shows in Kuwait, the party moved to Iraq, with a show at Speicher Forward Operating Base, near Tikrit, and then one at Camp Liberty, in Baghdad. Lauer hosted "Today" show broadcast from the Tigerland Dining Facility, at Camp Liberty, and interviewed the chairman.
The event made for a memorable scene on the trip. As the USO show was going on on one side of the mess hall, Lauer had an interview going to millions of people on the other side. The scene resembled typical shots from outside the show's New York studio -- with the people in the background all waving at the camera and trying to get on the air. The only difference was they were heavily armed and all wearing desert camouflage uniforms.
The day ended with a show at Al Asad Air Base, and the group met with Marines based there.
The next day the party enjoyed a carrier "trap" landing aboard the USS Nimitz, in the Persian Gulf. The carrier was performing flight operations, and the performers got a chance to watch as two F-18s landed and two took off. The temperature on the flight deck was 138 degrees Fahrenheit, and the hangar deck where the show was held was stifling.
The group then moved on to Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, where they performed for members of the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa. The next day, the group traveled to Afghanistan for shows in Kandahar and Bagram.
Then it was the long trip to South Korea, where the party landed at Osan Air Base. The chairman gave the group the night to recover before shows at Osan and Camp Casey.
Up next was Japan, where the group performed at Yokota and Misawa air bases.
In Hawaii, the troupe did shows for soldiers at Schofield Barracks and Marines at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, at Kaneohe Bay.
It was in Hawaii, Myers did his only non-troop event: He spoke at the annual American Legion convention Aug. 23. But even there, in front of thousands of veterans, he spoke of servicemembers.
"I'm starting to feel a little bit nostalgic about life as I'm inside of 40 days remaining of a 40-year (military) career," the chairman said. "And shaking all the hands I've shaken in the last week, I can tell you, has certainly inspired me and it's one of the reasons I wanted to do this.
"Of course people start asking you after 40 years and four years in this job, what are you proudest of? And the answer is really, really simple: I'm proud of what our servicemembers have accomplished over the last four years. (They are) answering the nation's call one more time, to make the world better and the future more hopeful for millions and millions of people."
The last show occurred at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, Aug. 23.
In an interview aboard the plane back to Washington Aug. 24, Myers compared the military he joined with the military he will retire from. "When I came on active duty, Vietnam was just ramping up," he said. "It was an organization dealing with drug use, discrimination -- all the issues society in general was dealing with at the time.
"Now look," he continued. "The U.S. military is the finest organization on the planet. It has high standards and values and won't tolerate those who don't meet those standards. The hallmark of the military today is selflessness and service. The troops come in all shapes and sizes and colors, and they make a great team."
The chairman said he comes away from the grueling trip "energized" by his meetings with the troops. "How can you not be?" he asked.