No Fancy Venues, But the USO Stars Rock

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Dec. 17, 2008 - This year's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff USO Holiday Tour has played at an aircraft hangar in Germany, in a maintenance facility and in an in-processing facility here in Afghanistan.

The tour's stars -- Kid Rock, Kellie Pickler, Lewis Black, Tichina Arnold, Zac Brown, Kathleen Madigan and John Bowman -- have played far more prestigious venues, but probably none as appreciative. And their usual audiences generally don't get this warning:

"In case of a rocket attack, let's do what we always do ? hit the ground and count to 100," Army Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, deputy commanding general for stability at Regional Command South, told the audience here. "If it continues, the performers will leave, and you will leave to take shelter. But when the all-clear sounds, they will come back and you will come back, and they'll pick up where they left off."

The performers rocked at every show. U.S. troopsand their allies got world-class entertainment under challenging conditions. Joint Chiefs Chairman Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said the performers are national treasures who came for the purpose of saying thanks to the servicemembers, and giving them a little touch of America.

Kid Rock worked his appreciation for the servicemembers into his "If I Were President" blues song. He told them, "As long as you are out here, you can count on me to keep coming back."

In the middle of Kathleen Madigan's performance in Kandahar, the all-clear siren sounded. She wasn't sure what the siren meant, but she kept right on with her bit, incorporating it seamlessly into her comedy.

The comedians kept the audiences roaring, and servicemembers sang along with Kid Rock's, Kellie Pickler's and Zac Brown's songs.

"It was freaking awesome," said Army Spec. John Barnett, who saw the show at Forward Operating Base Sharana in Paktika Province. "Not too many people come out here ? it really is the middle of nowhere -- so we all really appreciate it."

"These guys could be having fun back with their families ? it is the holiday season," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Annette Gant, who caught the show here. "Instead, they are with us. We can't thank them enough."

Mullen told servicemembers at every stop that he appreciates their sacrifices and those of their families.

"Thank you for volunteering at a very crucial time in our nation's history," he said. "Thank you for all you do for our country and for the people of Afghanistan."

In an interview later, Mullen said the universal comment from servicemembers when he meets them is an expression of thanks for bringing the entertainers to perform for them.

"It's something that they will remember for life, and I hope that as the years go by they remember and do something for USO," he said.

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