Celebrities Salute Desert Fox Troops
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
CAMP DOHA, Kuwait, Dec. 29, 1998 They spent nearly 30 hours in the air and went more than 13,000 miles in three days just to say 'thanks' to the military men and women of Operation Desert Fox.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen invited singer- songwriters Mary Chapin Carpenter, who's received four country music Grammy awards; Carole King, whose musical career spans four decades; and David Ball, one of Nashville's newest stars, to accompany him to remote sites in the Arabian Gulf Dec. 22 to 24.
It was Chapin Carpenter's second holiday tour with the defense secretary. Last year, alone with her guitar, the country star performed for service members in Italy, Macedonia and Bosnia. Her hits "Down at the Twist and Shout" and "I Feel Lucky" had troops as well as the secretary and his wife, Janet Langhart, clapping, two- stepping, and singing along.
"Dinner time in the mess hall in Tuzla last year was pretty amazing," Chapin Carpenter recalled. "It was informal. People were just getting up and walking over. It was just kind of electric. There was kind of an energy. It was Christmas Eve."
This year Chapin Carpenter said, "My arm was ready to fall off, I signed so many autographs." Asked if she's willing to do a military tour again next year, she replied, "If they ask me -- yes. It's a privilege."
Chapin Carpenter said she was disappointed the singers couldn't also make it to Bosnia. "You just kind of don't want anyone to think that they're not important enough," she said. "But it's not about that really; there's only so much time they have to do these things."
Originally, the three entertainers were to visit troops in Bosnia and Macedonia, and sailors in port in Spain. But at the last minute, the itinerary changed and they were told to prepare for warm weather. Early Dec. 22, Cohen and his guests boarded a National Airborne Operations Center 747 at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., bound for the Persian Gulf.
After a 13-hour flight, the party arrived at Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, where the day was just beginning. There, after Cohen thanked members of the 363rd Air Expeditionary Wing for supporting Operation Desert Fox, the singers performed an a cappella version of Carole King's classic song, "You've Got a Friend." Military officials limited the performance out of respect for the Muslim observance of Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer and retreat.
The group then boarded a C-17 transport aircraft bound for Kuwait City where they climbed aboard Marine Corps helicopters bound for the USS Enterprise. It was from the decks of the Enterprise that the majority of aircraft strikes were launched against Iraq during Desert Fox.
Aboard the carrier nicknamed the "Big E," King opened the show with a confession. "For a long time, I guess I took what you folks did for granted," she said. "I certainly don't anymore. Back in the United States, we've been seeing you on TV. I just wanted you to know we care. We consider you our family and we want to be with you."
After a final concert at Camp Doha outside Kuwait City, the group spent the night as guests of the Kuwaitis and headed home the next morning. During the 16-hour return flight, the singers and musicians continued the show over the Atlantic. They sang a medley of Christmas carols, honky tonk, rock and roll and country songs with members of the 747 crew from Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., and the secretary's staff.
Jeff Harvey, USO celebrity coordinator, said the USO sponsored the entertainers who volunteered their time in the spirit of Bob Hope. The USO has provided entertainment to service members for more than 50 years.
"The defense secretary's office helped recruit some of the artists," said Harvey. "Mary Chapin Carpenter said she had such a great time last year, she wanted to come back for round number two."
"We're happy any time we can go to a deployed place, especially at this time of year," Harvey said. "That's the goal of the USO. We want to be with the people who feel they're the farthest from home.
"I've been to many of these remote sites and they're hard places to live," he continued. "These service members are living in tents, eating in chow lines. They're away from their families for months and months at a time. I'm sure that's got to be the hardest part."
For this tour, working with the secretary of defense, Harvey said, enabled the USO to support a larger show. "We're happy to have a singer with a guitar perform for 10 soldiers on a muddy hillside," he said. "If we can get the equipment and people into a location like those in the Middle East, which we wouldn't normally have access to with this much stuff, we love it. We're able to bring a full size concert a couple days before Christmas right into the heart of where we need to be."
Earlier this year, the USO took Hootie and the Blowfish to the Middle East, Bosnia and Hungary. Country artists Ricky Skaggs and Paul Overstreet did several shows in Bosnia and Hungary. Upcoming tours include the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, the Blues Travelers and several comedians, Harvey said.