Pace Comes Away From CENTCOM USO Tour Encouraged by Troops
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2006 Troop morale across the U.S. Central Command area of operations is high, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at the end of a USO trip to the region.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace took a weeklong trip to the region that ended Jan 3. He brought stars of screen and comedy and nine tons of Starbucks coffee to cheer the troops at the holidays.
"American Idol" 2004 finalist Diana DeGarmo, comedian Reggie McFadden and country singer-songwriter Michael Peterson accompanied the chairman. Retired Army Col. Jack Jacobs, an NBC News analyst who received the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War, delivered words of encouragement and thanks to the troops.
The USO troupe performed 13 shows for servicemembers.
The general said he was encouraged by what he saw and the people he met during the trip. "The troops have a quiet confidence about them that is very healthy and very productive," Pace said during an interview on his way back to Washington. "No matter what grade people were, they were positive about the election results in Iraq and the seating of the Afghan parliament."
In Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, Pace added, servicemembers were pleased about the assistance they are giving to the countries there to promote a climate that would not be friendly to terrorist groups seeking to operate in that region.
"It was a very uplifting couple of days," he said.
The chairman said he tried to assure the troops that the people in America support them no matter what their personal beliefs are about the war itself.
"No matter where (Americans) come out on the policy that our government is following, they remain very supportive of the troops and they appreciate what the troops are doing," he said. "You've got folks who are against the war who visit our troops in the hospital."
The chairman's senior enlisted advisor, Army Command Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, said the experience was enlightening.
"I watched the expressions of the troops during the show. They truly enjoyed it," he said. "You could see the morale of the servicemembers and the DoD civilians and contractors was high."
The sergeant major also commented on the troops' questions about support for them in the United States.
"They are concerned about the perception that support for the troops is declining," Gainey said. "But I was able to set them straight. I told them that the home folks really do support them. And no matter what their position on the war, all Americans are proud of them and want them to be safe."
The trip left Washington and ran into the first troops at Shannon Airport in Ireland. The chairman's aircraft stopped to refuel, and soldiers returning from Iraq just happened to be there.
The first show was in Qatar on Dec. 28. The next day, the troupe moved on and performed aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, at 5th Fleet headquarters in Manama, Bahrain, and at another base in the United Arab Emirates.
On Dec. 30 the group traveled to Afghanistan for shows in Kabul and Kandahar before returning to the UAE.
On New Year's Eve, the troupe journeyed into Iraq, first hosting a show in Mosul and then at Camp Victory near Baghdad. The group celebrated 2006's arrival in Baghdad, and then the general and the party had two more shows at Al Asad Air Base and at Balad, the logistics heart of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The group left Iraq for a show in Kuwait, and then the party moved to Djibouti to meet with servicemembers assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa.