Country Stars, ‘America’s Sweethearts’ Visit Troops in Afghanistan
By Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr., USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Dec. 23, 2007 Military men and women in eastern Kunar province were surprised Dec. 21 by a visit from the Army’s top enlisted soldier and several celebrities at the remote Camp Blessing, Afghanistan.
Country music singer Darryl Worley (center) sings for military men and women Dec. 21, 2007, at the Camp Blessing dining facility in Kunar province, Afghanistan, accompanied by band mates Scott Randon (left), and Jeff Jared. Worley was a part of the sixth annual Hope and Freedom USO Tour, hosted by the sergeant major of Army. Worley, four Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, fellow country music star Keni Thomas, and model/television personality Leann Tweeden ate lunch with, performed for, and took pictures with troops at Camp Blessing. Photo by Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr., USMC
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Sgt. Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston is hosting the sixth annual Hope and Freedom USO Tour. As part of the tour, Preston arrived in Kabul late Dec. 20 with four Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, country music stars Darryl Worley and Keni Thomas, as well as model and TV personality Leann Tweeden. They travelled in helicopters from Kabul to Camp Blessing, in eastern Kunar province.
With a late morning arrival to the camp, the celebrities joined soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines at the dining facility for lunch and conversation before they performed for the troops.
Most troops said they had heard about the sergeant major of the Army and USO visit between a few minutes and a few hours beforehand. Some drove over from forward operating bases several miles away to Camp Blessing.
Upon finding out about the visit, Army Pfc. Chris Floeck, a Waller, Texas, native, said, “Why are you playing with me? Stop messing with me.” Floeck is assigned as an infantryman to 2nd Airborne Battalion, 503rd Army Infantry Regiment, deployed to Afghanistan from Vicenza, Italy. “I didn’t really believe it until we got in the vehicles and left (for Camp Blessing),” Floeck said as Tweeden sat down at his table.
Daytona Beach, Fla. native, Army Pfc. Ryan D. King said, “They told me (about the visit), and I was doing cartwheels.” As Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders walked by he added, “I’m a Texas fan today.” King is also an infantryman with 2/503rd.
Preston introduced all the performers as everyone finished their lunches. He said this was the sixth USO tour sponsored by the sergeant major of the Army, and fourth that he has hosted. “I’ve been very blessed. I’ve seen all six shows,” he told the troops.
Preston said he makes it a point to get the show out to troops at remote locations like Camp Blessing. “Soldiers up here don’t get a lot of visitors,” he explained.
The show, he said, took about eight months of planning. Most of the performers with this group have toured with the USO before. “I’ve been told this is the greatest USO show in history, and nobody’s told me it’s not.”
Thomas, an Army veteran and Bronze Star Medal with Valor recipient, performed first, accompanied by a bandsman on an acoustic guitar. They were followed by Worley, also on acoustic guitar with two of his bandmates. They drew the loudest cheers when the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders danced during one of Worley’s songs.
“It’s nice seeing the cheerleaders,” said Dallas Cowboys fan and Fort Smith, Ark., native Marine Cpl. Joel D. Chasteen. Chasteen is an embedded training team mentor and ammunition technician deployed to Afghanistan from Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, in Okinawa, Japan.
After the performances, the guests posed with the military men and women for individual and group pictures and signed autographs. Preston and the USO group left the area later that afternoon to go back to Kabul and hold their second performance of the day at Camp Phoenix.
(Marine Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr. is assigned to Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan Public Affairs.)