Welcome to Taliban country. That's where our FOB hopping brought us today on what we're calling "Army Day." Having had some fun with the Marines in central Afghanistan, we headed to the far east to go Army strong!
The mission of a USO/AFE entertainment tour is to remind our men and women in uniform how much we appreciate their service to our nation no matter (literally) where they are in the world. Nobody does that better than Toby Keith. This is TK's seventh USO tour to a CZ (Combat Zone), and with Toby it is all heart.
So, when we arrived at our first of two FOBs (FOB #4 on the tour), it was no surprise that Toby walked straight off the Blackhawk from the LZ into a sea of troops and immediately launched into jokes, handshakes, and photographs with everyone awaiting his arrival.
This is one of Toby's specialties – even if it means our schedule goes off track a bit – Toby tries to get as many photos taken with service members as possible. In fact, he insists on it, and the sincerity of the gesture is not lost on those living out there on the edge.
But it was at COB/FOB #5 (Combat Outpost) that what Toby does year after year become real for this tour being at the tip of the spear. COB #5 is six miles from Pakistan's border. You can walk from one end of the outpost to the other in less than five minutes (tiny compared to regular bases, and even smaller by FOB standards). The post is at an altitude of 7,200 feet above sea level, or about 1,000 feet higher than Colorado Springs.
The reception from the 509 Geronimo unit from Anchorage, Alaska -- the only Airborne unit from west of the Mississippi -- was incredible. They have only had one other celebrity visitor, and that visit was cut short by a mortar attack back last December. Not one of them could believe country mega star, Toby Keith, would come so far just to see them until we actually landed.
Toby and Scotty Emerick (Toby's guitarist and song-writing buddy) played an acoustic set for everyone on a very cool and special stage. The unit was so excited when they learned of our arrival time and that all of our air assets were confirmed, they began to scavenge the outpost for anything that could be used to decorate the stage area -– a 20 X 20 slab of concrete with a makeshift plywood wall behind it.
In just an hour's worth of work, what the team of sergeants managed to accomplish was beautiful, and not a little random like the Duke (aka John Wayne) emblazoned American flag that adorned FOB #2's stage. Taking a cargo parachute, and similar to the elementary school game, the chute was tented and pinned over the area held up by string wire and binder clips -- the guys told told us that they had finally found a use for them.
The stage decor also included an American flag and the unit seal stenciled on the back wall. As Matt, a West Virginia native and one of the trio of sergeants leading the stage decorating mission informed us, "we did the best we could with what we had, getting it right was a matter of unit pride." What they had put togther and the effort put was not only appreciated but also urban chic! Thank you, Geronimo for hosting us -- you are our American Soldiers.