America Supports You: 'Stars for Stripes' Boosts Troop Morale
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2005 After circling the globe more times than she can count, taking musical headliners around the world to entertain U.S. servicemembers in remote locations, the driving force behind the "Stars for Stripes" program said it's easy to stay pumped up about the effort.
Stars for Stripes President and Chief Executive Officer Judy Seale (right) hugs country music legend Charlie Daniels following a Stars for Stripes concert at the Association of the U.S. Army annual meeting in Washington Oct. 4. Photo by Donna Miles
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The Stars for Stripes program brings top entertainment to U.S. troops, particularly those serving in remote locations not typically visited by United Service Organizations tours.
"All it takes is one e-mail from a soldier saying, 'thanks' (for a concert) or one e-mail from another asking if we can bring some entertainment," Judy Seale, Stars for Stripes president and chief executive officer, said.
Seale talked with the American Forces Press Service during an Oct. 4 Stars for Stripes-sponsored concert that featured the Charlie Daniels Band performing for U.S. troops attending the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting here.
Army Gen. B.B. Bell, commander of U.S. Army Europe and 7th Army, invited Daniels to perform after watching the legendary fiddler entertain Bell's troops deployed in what he called some of "the most difficult and dangerous places" in U.S. Central Command's operating area.
Bell credited Stars for Stripes with bringing "the heart and soul of the nation" to the armed forces serving overseas.
Seale, who manages a variety of musical artists in Nashville, said participating in USO shows during Operation Desert Storm opened her eyes to the military and its members serving around the world.
But, she said, she recognized that many of the bigger entertainment shows, which often feature big-name entertainers, gave concerts in large, fixed locations, too far away for some deployed troops to enjoy. So Seale established Stars for Stripes and began recruiting stars willing to provide free concerts for servicemembers in far-flung reaches of the world.
The concerts give the entertainers a true taste of military life, she said. They live and eat where the troops live and eat, move from site to site in military vehicles, and, in many cases, wear protective vests and helmets, just like the troops they entertain.
Following each performance, the entertainers spend hours chatting with troops, posing for photos and signing autographs.
Through the experience, Seale said, entertainers get the opportunity to perform for what Seale called "the most appreciative audiences" they will ever meet and to thank them personally for their contributions to U.S. security.
"It's really humbling when you go over there and realize how good you have it (in the United States)," Scott Olson said after serving as production manger during a recent 12-day Stars for Stripes tour to four bases in Afghanistan. The tour included country music star Chely Wright; Dave Price from CBS's "The Early Show," and Joey Gilbert from the NBC boxing reality show "The Contender."
That tour was Stars for Stripes' fifth during 2005, bringing entertainment not only to Afghanistan, but also to Iraq, Kuwait, other parts of the Middle East, Germany and South Korea.
Stars for Stripes is taking the group Trick Pony to bases throughout Korea Oct. 17 to 26, and has two additional trips to the Middle East in the works for November and December.
"I'm the luckiest, most blessed person in the world," Seale said of her work with Stars for Stripes. "I get to go and say, 'Thank you' in person for allowing me and other Americans to live the lives we live."
And the troops say "thank you" back, both in person and in e-mails to the Stars for Stripes Web site. "Knowing that people care about us enough to come and perform for us really brings up our spirits," wrote an Army private in Korea, pining for home from her first duty station. "Thank you so much for all the support you give us."
"Your tours have lifted the spirits of everyone that you have visited!" echoed a sailor at U.S. Naval Station Rota, Spain.
Similarly, an Army chief warrant officer deployed to Camp Cooke, Iraq, wrote thanking Stars for Stripes and Wright "for bringing a piece of home to those of us here in Iraq."
The concert, he said, enabled him and his fellow troops to temporarily transcend their environment. "For a brief moment, we were not in Iraq," he wrote. "With (Wright's) songs, she helped us forget about where we were for a little while." He noted that the visit, in light of the risks involved, "showed us the real meaning of patriotism."
Seale said she sometimes feels embarrassed when a servicemember approaches her and thanks her for her efforts. "I tell them, 'No, you are the ones who deserve the thanks,'" she said.
Heath Wright, lead vocalist and lead guitarist for the group Ricochet, called entertaining troops during two Stars for Stripes tours an honor.
"Every time we perform for an audience of military personnel, we get the same comment: 'Thank you for taking the time to come all the way over here to entertain us,'" he said.
"To be honest, it's almost embarrassing to hear that," Wright said. "It's us that should be thanking them for the freedom to be able to do something as trivial as sing songs for a living.
"Bringing a little bit of home to those brave men and women is the least we as entertainers can do to say thanks for their dedication and service," she said. "And if the entertainer gets a chance to perform on one of these tours, I guarantee that they'll walk away with a new appreciation of the freedoms that they may have previously taken for granted."