Sec Def Holiday Tour Gets Underway
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 1999 William S. Cohen launched his third annual holiday tour, Dec. 20, and this year, the nation's defense secretary took along an all-star lineup eager to meet America's armed forces.
The secretary's impromptu traveling road show assembled in the early morning hours at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. A super model, two congressmen, singing stars, musicians, comedians, sports stars and six Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders arrived at the base VIP terminal.
Slated to visit service members at Aviano Air Base, Italy, and aboard the USS Bataan, an amphibious ship docked in Naples, the traveling party also planned stops in Bosnia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Kosovo. Cohen and his guests were due back in Washington Dec. 23.
Super model Christie L. Brinkley, MTV's "Downtown" Julie Brown, and comedian Al Franken were among those who volunteered to entertain forward-deployed service members this year. Grammy-award winning country music star Mary Chapin Carpenter joined the trip for the third consecutive year. Country music's Shane Minor and rhythm and blues singer Ruth Pointer of Pointer Sisters fame took their seats for the 8-hour flight to Rome.
Football stars Terry Bradshaw, a former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback who now works as a Fox TV sportscaster, and Mike Singletary, a former Chicago Bears linebacker, also volunteered to show their appreciation for the troops. Marco Etcheverry, a D.C. United soccer star, also signed up for the trip. Support staff and some family members accompanied the celebrities.
Virginia's House Representative Robert C. Scott and North Carolina's Representative Mike McIntyre also joined the group bound for Europe.
The secretary's annual holiday tours actually began more modestly. Cohen and his wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, started what now has become a tradition in December 1997 when they brought along a single entertainer, long-time friend Mary Chapin Carpenter, on their holiday visit to the troops. Strumming her folk guitar, the Grammy award winning country music star charmed troops in the field in Bosnia and aboard ship in the Persian Gulf.
The next year, the holiday tour got a little bigger. Singer-songwriter Carol King and several musicians joined Chapin Carpenter on the 1998 holiday circuit. This year the celebrity list grew ever longer as the departure date drew near.
About 90 people, including 14 celebrities, two Congressmen, the services' senior enlisted, assorted defense officials, media and guests, boarded two U.S. Air Force jets when Cohen took to the road for the 1999 holiday tour. An E-4B 747 and a C-32 757 set off in a drizzling rain at 6 a.m., Dec. 20, for a three-day tour of troop stations in Italy and the Balkans.
Many of the entertainers who arrived at Andrews for the early morning flight were about to encounter the military for the first time. Travel arrangements and accommodations thus far had been provided by the Armed Forces Entertainment Office.
While the USO recruits celebrities for overseas shows, DoD's Armed Forces Entertainment Office, headed by the Air Force, provides logistical support. Entertainers basically perform for free, and DoD pays for food, lodging, transportation and other expenses.
For this group, the next stop was overnight in Rome before heading on to Aviano, Naples and the Balkans. And as the saying goes -- it's on with the show.