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BLOG - On the Frontlines

By Amy K. Mitchell
USO, Vice President, Publications

"Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue"

April 25, 2009

Upon arriving back at FOB #6, we prepped for the big, full band performance that evening. While Toby FOB hops, the other members of the band stay behind at the "base" FOB to do sound checks, set up, and rehearsal.

Groups of Soldiers had already gathered in front of the large tent where the concert was to be held later. By show time, the number would increase to 4,000.

The Commanding General told us before going on stage to open the concert amid the "Hoo-ah's" and "Toby" chants, "this is so important to our guys here. They are right in the thick of it out here, and a night like tonight means a lot."

It was apparent these Soldiers were ready for a night off. Boisterous and excited doesn't come close to describing the audience, and when Toby came on stage, they went crazy -- cheering, jumping up and down, and screaming out song titles.

Halfway through the show, and as Toby has done at each stop during the tour, he mentions his restaurant chain, "I Love This Bar and Grille." Toby tells the audience that when any of the service members he has played for here return home, food and drinks are on him at any of the locations. Oh, and he has "Whiskey Girls" as waitresses, similar to the Hooter's Girls, "only better."

The interaction between Toby and the crowd was emotional and real. The troops were singing along, holding lighters up, and during one chorus, singing for Toby (he had turned the microphone around to face them). These were die hard Toby Keith fans -- National Guard units from Mississippi and Alabama.

But when the introduction to "American Soldier" began -- the first time Toby had played the song during our first six stops -- the room silenced in quiet respectfulness and the atmosphere suddenly changed. It was palpable, and then the chorus of voices began to sing quietly along with Toby. Tears were in some eyes -- the base has had 26 wounded in action in the last nine weeks -- a group from Virginia, Task Force Pirate, has been particularly hard hit in the area because they've been bringing the fight to the enemy. It is very dangerous here, but fear is not a word in our military's vocabulary.

Then the first chords of "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue" were heard. There was another emotional shift in the room to that of courage and dedication. The noise level once again rose, and as the show closed, fists pumped as Toby sang the words, "And the statue of liberty/Started shakin her fist."

The feelings of the concert were summed up beautifully by a soldier we met after the show. Richard, a sergeant from Alabama, said to us as we were leaving for FOB #7, "We signed on the dotted line to be out here, Toby ddin't. And we can't thank him enough for coming over here to be with us."

Our hearts go out to those wounded in the defense of our country and their families at FOB #6, and our wounded warriors everywhere. We pray for their speedy recovery.