USO Holiday Show Tours Central Command
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Dec. 18, 2003 Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers has not forgotten what it was like to be a junior officer assigned to a remote post. That's why he understands the importance of the USO Holiday Tour he has taken to the U.S. Central Command area.
"I saw USO shows when I was assigned in Taiwan, Okinawa and Korea early in my career," the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff said during an interview. "It's a taste of America, and it's important to have that taste."
The tour features Academy Award-winning actor Robin Williams, Olympic gold medalist and wrestler Kurt Angle, NASCAR driver Mike Wallace and Fox Sports host Leeann Tweeden. The group put on three shows in Kuwait, two in Baghdad, and shows in Kirkuk, Balad and Mosul, Iraq, and at Bagram air base, Afghanistan, and here. And the show will continue at other CENTCOM stops.
"Every time I meet soldiers, they say thanks for coming out here," Tweeden said. "I tell them that I'm the one who should be doing the thanking. If it weren't for what they do, none of us could do what we do."
And that is the theme throughout this trip. Before the show at Mosul, Myers presented Soldiers Medals, Bronze Stars, Air Medals and Purple Hearts to 101st Airborne Division soldiers.
NASCAR's Wallace said he was deeply moved by the ceremony. "These are the real heroes," he said. "Putting faces to the news headlines really drives home the point. It is a humbling experience. I wish everyone in America could see this."
Wrestler Angle said the American service members were the best team because they won't settle for second best. He said he was honored to receive a wrestling gold medal in the 1996 Olympic Games, but it couldn't compare to what service members do for America day in, day out.
The chairman and the performers thanked service members for their duty at every stop, but it wasn't all serious. "The idea is to have fun," Tweeden said. And the service members did truly enjoy themselves.
"I don't think there is anyone funnier in the world than Robin Williams," said a 4th Infantry Division soldier who saw the show at Kirkuk. This is the comedian's second USO tour. He entertained service members in and around Afghanistan last year.
This year he had the capture of Saddam Hussein as part of his routine. Actually calling it a "routine" isn't quite accurate: A Robin Williams show routine is different at each place.
For example, the actor-comedian brought down the house in Baghdad with this bit: "I love the fact that when (Saddam Hussein) came out of that spider hole, he wanted to negotiate," Williams said.
Then in the voice of a soldier: "It's a little late for that, bubsy! You're at the point where you're going to share a cell with a large man named Bubba."
In deep-voice character, he continued: "I'm gonna be yo' new Baghdaddy."
Williams also delved into other topics, such as how the Scots' invented golf; his proposal for the inaugural Baghdad 500 race with supercharged humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles; and meals, ready-to-eat.
Following each performance the stars have signed autographs, posed for pictures or just talked with service members. They visited service members in a Baghdad hospital and ate with service members in various dining facilities.
"It's important that we do this," said USO president and chief executive officer Ned Powell. "These young men and women need to know America loves them, misses them and values them."