FORT BELVOIR, Va. (May 7, 2009) -- Sgt. 1st Class Walter Henry III said recording artist Leigh Jones put a little pep in the step of his Warrior Transition Unit on May 6 at the Fort Belvoir Community Center.

"Actually, people were complaining because they didn't want to go, so we told them that they had to show up," said Henry, a WTU platoon sergeant whose troops were treated to a mini-concert and meet and greet with the sultry R&B/jazz singer/songwriter from Los Angeles. "But when she finished singing, everybody rushed the table to get their photos and autographs and stuff. I was looking at them and saying, 'Oh, you guys didn't want to come, but now I can't make you leave.'

"They were calling their friends and saying 'you guys need to get down here.' It really boosted their morale a lot. They go back to the unit with a little pep in their step."

"Music in My Soul," featuring the single "Free Fall," is the debut album for Jones, whose jazz and R&B flair creates a distinct retro sound that is sultry, sexy and insightful. Her wide-ranging musical influences range from Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Marvin Gaye to D'Angelo, Jill Scott and Joss Stone.

Jones worked a roomful of Soldiers at Fort Belvoir much like Raquel Welch entertained troops in Vietnam and Marilyn Monroe in Korea.

"When they got here, the Soldiers were trying to hide their excitement," Henry said. "I was looking at them and they wanted to wipe it off their face like they weren't really enjoying, and I said: 'I don't even want to hear it.'"

Several of the Soldiers turned red-faced when Jones wooed and sang to them.

"Some of them probably didn't want to explain that to their wives," Henry quipped.

Most of the troops, however, seemed to enjoy the Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command-backed show that also was attended by Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers members. FMWRC's Joe Leavell organized the event.

Staff Sgt. Chris Logas of Los Angeles told Jones that her "Cold in L.A," - a song about the phoniness naAfA-ve newcomers discover when they venture into the big city - classically describes their hometown.

"This is a good experience for the Soldiers," Logas said. "We appreciate them taking the time to come out and entertain the Soldiers. I'm cadre with the WTUs, so I know it means a lot to our Soldiers to be specially invited to this. ... It's good to know that people who are famous are taking the time out to come spend some time with us. She seems genuinely honored.

"It's great that she actually involved the crowd and was as personable with everybody as she was."

In 2007, the Army created 35 Warrior Transition Units on Army installations to fill a gap in support personnel for wounded Soldiers who are expected to require six months of rehabilitative care and the need for complex medical management - and their Families.

The units have physicians, nurses, squad leaders, platoon sergeants and mental health professionals who are responsible for ensuring the Soldiers' needs are met, their care is coordinated, and their Families are taken care of.

In its first year, WTU's caseload doubled from 6,000 to 12,000 troops.

"The guys in the unit have their own issues that they deal with, whether it's mental, physical, family adjustments coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan ..." Henry explained. "This helps smooth out the transition of getting back into the flow of things, whether it's getting back into the flow of being a Soldier and serving or if they're transitioning out of the military. They have a lot on their minds ... so this helps out a lot."

A group from Fort Belvoir's Warrior Transition Unit recently attended a Fleetwood Mac concert at the Verizon Center in Washington, said Pamela Winn-Lovelace, a Family Readiness support assistant at DeWitt Army Medical Center.

"When your daily focus is on healing and making appointments, if you just get to take some time off and do something that's not connected to the military at all, just for fun and to relax and have a good time, it's good for morale.

"Because the community has started to recognize that Fort Belvoir has warriors in transition here, they are coming out in big numbers and inviting us to different functions that they have, and it is really helping with the morale of our WTUs."

More than 70 WTU members currently are stationed at Fort Belvoir, where the door keeps revolving with active-duty, Reserve and National Guard Soldiers who were injured in Iraq, Afghanistan or while training.

"Recognizing that somebody besides Walter Reed (Army Medical Center) is caring for them has been a blessing to our Soldiers," Winn-Lovelace said. "We can't thank the community enough."

Six weeks ago, Henry saw Jones listed as an unknown artist at the iTunes Store on the Internet. He clicked on her music and enjoyed the sound. By the time he got around to downloading it a couple of weeks later, however, Jones' photo had vanished from the Web site and Henry could not remember her name.

"All of a sudden, we had a flier on the wall at the unit for Leigh Jones, and I was like: 'Hey, I know that name from somewhere,' but it never clicked in my mind," Henry said. "Everybody was telling me that she's a country singer. But last night, before I left to go home, I read the whole flier and it said R&B and jazz, and it dawned on me.

"I said: 'That's the girl! I was going to buy that CD.'"

On Wednesday, Henry got an autographed copy of the CD for free, along with a signed, 12-by-12 glossy, and had his photo taken with the rising star.

"This is such a beautiful way to start my day," Jones said as she signed autographs for every Soldier who waited in a line that stretched across the ballroom. "It's so nice."

Jones was accompanied by another celebrity, her boyfriend, NBA forward Louis Amundson of the Phoenix Suns. He also signed autographs and posed for photographs.

"It's great anytime you can give back to the troops," Amundson said. "I know it's really important to Leigh, and I think they really enjoyed being able to see her.

"I went to Walter Reed with the Sixers a few years ago. I'm used to it being on us, so it's kind of cool to be behind the scenes a little bit and let her do her thing and support her."

Sgt. Julian Snellings, a military policeman from Fredericksburg, Va., had Jones address an autograph to his wife, Blair, who is pregnant with their first child.

"This lets the Soldiers know that the celebrity community recognizes the job that we do and the sacrifice that we make to keep this country safe and keep it protected from the enemies and the things that go bump in the night," Snellings said. "It's nice to see, and I'm very appreciative of it. She's got a new sound that I haven't heard before, and I really enjoyed it."

Jones was honored and humbled to perform for the troops.

"We all really owe each and every one of you so much for what you do for our country," she told them. "On behalf of all of us, and Americans, we love you and we appreciate you. We want you to return home safely to your family and your kids and your wives and your husbands. And I hope that God blesses each and every one of you - I really, really do. Thank you so much."

The Soldiers responded with a standing ovation.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16