Stars for Stripes Brings Chely Wright to Iraq, Kuwait
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2004 Country music star Chely Wright of "Single White Female" fame is heading to Kuwait and Iraq next week with her band to boost the troops' morale with some foot-stomping entertainment.
Judy Seale, president and chief executive officer for Stars
for Stripes, second from left, and country singer Chely Wright, second from
right, join airmen from the "Wolf Pack" at Kunsan Air Force Base, South Korea,
during a concert tour in October 2003. Courtesy photo by Stars for
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Wright's five-concert series, slated for Sept. 13 to 22, is sponsored by Stars for Stripes, a nonprofit group committed to providing quality entertainment to deployed troops particularly those in remote outposts not typically visited during USO tours.
Founder, president and chief executive officer Judy Seale, who manages a variety of musical artists in Nashville, said participating in USO shows during Operation Desert Storm "opened my eyes to the military and the fact that we have people serving all over the world."
But Seale said she recognized that many of the bigger entertainment shows, which often feature big-name entertainers, gave concerts in large, fixed locations, too far away for some deployed troops to enjoy.
So she established Stars for Stripes and began recruiting stars willing to provide free concerts for servicemembers in far-flung reaches of the world. A DoD organization, Armed Forces Entertainment, pays for the tours.
The upcoming tour is Stars for Stripes' third to Southwest Asia. Stars for Stripes sent two country music artists to the theater for its Seasons Greetings Tour during the 2003 holiday season, which included seven stops in Kuwait and 13 in Iraq. This year's Summer Salute Tour in June and July included concerts at 14 camps in Kuwait, Iraq, Djibouti and Qatar.
"There's no way to even estimate how many thousands of troops we have visited just on those two tours, because we sometimes hit three and four camps a day," Seale said.
The concerts were a bit more basic than at stateside venues, with instrumentation generally limited to acoustics. During one concert, country entertainer Jolie Edwards performed on top of a freezer in a dining facility at a forward operating base in Iraq a testament to the remote outposts Stars for Stripes serves. At another concert -- when singers Chalee Tennison and Danni Leigh entertained the troops at Camp Anaconda in Balad, Iraq, this summer -- mortars hit the camp during the show. After donning flak vests and helmets, the artists simply went on with the show.
But Seale said the upcoming Chely Wright concert will represent a big step forward for Stars for Stripes. Wright will perform with her full band and stage equipment to be rented in Kuwait, bringing full-production-value music to the troops.
Seale said the concerts are as meaningful to her and the performers as their audiences. "It's a way to give back and say 'thank you' to the people who are allowing me to live the way I live," she said. And although she knows the concerts "are good for the troops," Seale said "it's the artists whose lives are forever changed."
Among the program's top billings is Wright, a member of the Stars for Stripes board, who has a long tradition of military service. Her brother, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Wright, recently returned from Iraq.
Wright said she was taught from a very young age "to do my part to show my appreciation to those who served or are serving" in the U.S. military. Her childhood lessons have evolved into an unabashed love for the troops a love she never fails to exhibit when she steps onstage.
"I'm not a Democrat or a Republican. I'm an American," Wright told a crowd at a Labor Day weekend concert in Annapolis, Md. "And whether you're for Kerry or for Bush, what's important is that you show your support for our troops."
Wright traveled to the area a day early for the concert, at Seale's urging, so she could visit wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
"It was unreal. I can't put into words what an experience that was," Wright told the crowd in Annapolis, as she described meeting with troops who had lost arms, legs, even eyesight in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I asked one of them where he wanted to do his convalescent leave and he told me, 'Baghdad, ma'am.' That pretty much says it all, doesn't it?" she asked.
The upcoming trip to Iraq will be Wright's second with Stars for Stripes, which she called "an efficient, professional and classy vehicle for entertainers of all types to 'give back.'"
Wright said her motivation for performing for the troops is "selfish" in nature. "It simply makes me feel good, fills up my heart, inspires me, galvanizes my appreciation for life and freedom, and it just makes me feel like I'm doing something valuable," she said.
But the country diva said she gets a special kick and a lot of pride -- when a servicemember comes up to her at a show in the United States and says, "Hey, I saw your show in South Korea. Thank you for coming all that way to bring a little bit of home to us."
A new DVD/CD, slated for release this week, will feature footage from Wright's trips to Japan, South Korea and the Middle East to entertain the troops.
The highlight of her career, she said, was being named "Woman of the Year" by the American Legion Auxiliary in 2003. "Although I feel I don't deserve that distinctions, I cherish the acknowledgement," Wright said.
More information about Stars for Stripes is posted on the organization's website.