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BLOG - On the Frontlines

By Amy K. Mitchell
USO, Vice President, Publications

"Should've Been a Cowboy"

April 27, 2009, Part II

Another Combat Landing was how we began the day. Some actually enjoy such flying, others do not. With the G Forces pushing against your body, if you are prone to motion sickness you had better have Dramamine at the ready to get through the ride. But because Combat Landings are a safety issue, those of us who do not enjoy feeling like lead pop a pill and suffer in silence.

Toby has been tireless since we have arrived here (FYI: he is part of the former grouping of air passengers mentioned above). He has traveled to and performed 12 concerts in just four days to see as many service members as possible during our tour through Afghanistan. Why the rough schedule? As Toby said, "We try to set the example and the bar pretty high" for support to our military.

And so as if on cue as we approached FOB #13 on our fifth day touring through the Afghanistan countryside, the following announcement was made over our headsets: "Thank you for flying today with Army Air. We appreciate your business and hope you have enjoyed your flight. We realize you have many choices in air travel while in Afghanistan, and thank you for choosing the U.S. Army during your stay."

Decked out with an ASV (Armored Security Vehicle) and an MRAP, the stage was also set high for Toby at this FOB -- literally -- a ten foot high stage had been constructed overnight for his arrival. The FOB is "home" to the 10th Mountain Division (out of Fort Drum). The 10th is always at the frontlines, and has been for many years. With a history of getting the job done, the 10th is usually one of the first to be deployed when their nation calls. Therefore, the 10th's Mechanics would settle for nothing less than a stellar stage for Toby to perform on.

After the performance, a re-enlistment ceremony took place in front of Toby and the audience. The specialist's impact on his unit was apparent from the cheering and through his Officer in Chief's introduction: "I am humbled by your loyalty to the nation, the Army, and your fellow soldiers."

A quick lunch and we headed out to another hot zone -- a Combat Outpost (COP) manned by 25 service members who, "get shot at, but we're used to it." As it was described to us by one of the guys at one of the other FOBs, "out here it's like being in the Wild West."

Completely cut off from the rest of the units in the area -- supplies are dropped in by chute, MREs are on the menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and there is no running water here either -- so the troops of the 82nd Infantry at FOB #14 were pumped to get a visit from Toby.

We spent the extra time after the show mingling and chatting with the guys. They are fantastic, but a little lonely out there on their own. Without any of the "amentities" of the other bases we visited -- meaning a working bathroom and kitchen, you HAVE to be mission focused.

Toby made a quick call to the CO's wife (he has spoken to wives, girlfriends, friends along the way), then took photos with the guys as all enjoyed the beautiful view down the valley from the COP's perch on the mountains north of Kabul. TK has a connection with the military -- both on and off the stage -- and when out in the field, he performs the Army, Marines, and military songs that he has written instead of his number ones. The focus is always on the military and TK has demonstrated that over and over during this trip.

The 15th and last concert of the Afghanistan leg of America's Toughest Tour rocked FOB #15 (and luckily it was through music and not mortars). At this larger base, the multi-Service crowd sang along, with some even troops standing on rooftops across from the venue to listen to the band.

Tonight, we also had some special guests who had missed the show on Friday night. The CG from FOB #6 personally arranged that the wounded Soldiers recovering from his base at FOB #15 had first row seats.

After an encore performance it was time to pack up the gear to get ready for tomorrow's trip to Italy. As we leave FOB #15, we'd like to say a special thank you to the guys of Bravo 711 for great flying all day. We are in your debt.