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USO Tour Shows Nation’s Gratitude, Vice Chairman Says

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

NAVAL AIR STATION NAPLES, Italy, April 17, 2012 – The USO's spring tour not only brightens the day for service members and their families living overseas, but also shows them the nation is grateful for their sacrifices, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told a crowded auditorium here yesterday.

“We really are here to see you and thank you for what you are doing in uniform -- serving the United States of America overseas,” Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. said.

The USO has been entertaining troops overseas for decades, Winnefeld said, noting that the Navy named a ship after Bob Hope, who’d headlined many of the tours.

The vice chairman said leading this tour is a privilege, and he thanked the USO, its volunteers and the cast for working hard to bring enjoyment to troops overseas.

Winnefeld is joined by comedian/actor Anthony Anderson; former Major League Baseball pitcher Randy “The Big Unit” Johnson; performer Jason “Wee-Man” Acuna, actor and pitchman Dennis Haysbert; Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders Allyson Traylor, Brittany Evans and Kelsi Reich; and former “American Idol” contestants Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young.

Following the show here, service members and their families said they enjoyed an “awesome” show and spoke of their appreciation for the traveling celebrities.

“I liked it a lot,” said Valerie Stein, a Navy spouse who watched the Naples show with her husband. “It shows that everyone is thinking about us over here and cares about us.”

Her husband, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joel Stein, said he also enjoyed the show and it had a “good group of celebrities.”

“I'm a baseball fan, so I liked Randy Johnson [the most], but I like ‘The Unit,’ too,” he said, referring to a 2006-2009 series in which Haysbert starred as a member of a special operations unit. “I liked all of those guys.”

Valerie Stein, a native of Westerfield, N.Y., said the Stein family has been in Italy for a year, and she noted the USO tour is important because it “brings a piece of home” to the base.

“Just keep up the good work and keep the celebrities coming as much as they can,” she added. “It helps us get through being away and everything.”

Another Navy spouse, Heather Hawkins, said she enjoyed the cheerleaders during the show.

“It was awesome, and I had a really good time,” she said. “We came from Texas, so the Cowboys [cheerleaders] were awesome to see there.”

Hawkins said she cried when the cast sang “God Bless America,” and thanked the families in the audience. “That means a lot, and it is hard, because you are apart sometimes,” she said.

If she had an opportunity to speak to the USO talent, she added, she would express her gratitude.

“I'd thank them for taking the time out -- they're busy, I know they're busy -- and I don't think they fully understand how much it does mean that they recognize the troops and the sacrifices they make,” she said. “Even the families -- I really appreciated that. Sometimes the families get [forgotten].”

Hawkins said she would encourage more celebrities to travel overseas on USO tours.

“I don't think they understand what it means to see familiar faces from home,” she said. “It kind of keeps the morale of the troops up, and families’ as well.”


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Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr.

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