BAGHDAD (Oct. 13, 2010) Aca,!" To deployed servicemembers, a live concert experience is considerably unlike an evening of country music at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. There is a sense of heightened awareness in the air, intermixed with a whirlwind of dust, laughter and country music.
An audience gathered at at Joint Security Station Shield Oct. 10, arranging their lawn chairs in a crescent around the outdoor stage. Lit by fluorescent lights and the smiles of welcoming community members, the 2008 recipient of the U.S. Army's Bob Hope "Spirit of Hope" award, Michael Peterson performed for an intimate crowd.
The audience swayed to Peterson's upbeat rhythms as he performed songs tailored to servicemembers, featuring "I'm my own Grandpa" and a heartwarming closer titled "This Old Army Hat," inspired by veterans. A motivated crowd sang along as Peterson performed "Three Wooden Crosses," a song performed by Randy Travis which received CMA's "Best Song of the Year" honors in 2003.
Inspired on his sixth USO tour, the singer-songwriter debuted a song titled "The Shield," which he penned between the afternoon rehearsal and evening performance.
"They told us entertainers seldom play in the 'Red Zone,' but we said we'll go to show the gratitude we feel for you, 'The Shield,'" he said.
Peterson's genuine performance of 'The Shield' encouraged the crowd, especially one country music lover in particular.
"The song was incredibly thoughtful and touching," said Sgt. Nicole Berry, a paralegal non-commissioned officer with United States Forces-Iraq Law and Order Task Force.
Berry, a native of Colusa, Calif., said Peterson's tribute to Shield made her feel loved and appreciated adding, "your support means more than you know."
JSS Shield is a quaint community in central Iraq, with gravel-packed roads surrounded by towering protective barriers topped with concertina wire. To reach Shield, one must travel through the "Red Zone," a term used to describe the riskier parts of Baghdad that are not heavily fortified.
Peterson's performance marked the first live music concert at Shield in three years.
While at Shield, Peterson toured components of USF-I and met with servicemembers.
Berry, who arrived at Shield in June, said the base community is a family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation events such as Peterson's tour reinforces their camaraderie.
"These events bring us a piece of home," Berry said.
In his transitions between songs, Peterson, who said "laughter is good for the soul," shared humorous and even personal anecdotes with the audience.
Peterson's USO tours to Iraq and Afghanistan have helped him understand the commitment and sacrifices servicemembers continuously make, he said. He's experienced indirect fire and other dangers of traveling through war zones. Still, he said he will continue to support the troops.
"I didn't serve in the military and in some small way I can give back through music," he said, "So, when asked to be here, I said, 'Yes.'"
This country music veteran's repertoire spans 16 recorded albums over a 25-year music career; with two more set to be released this year. His online jukebox at www.michaelpetersononline.com streams more than 100 songs free. Still, he said it is not hard to know what songs to perform for servicemembers. "My priority is not my favorite song, but what will reach the Soldiers," he said.
In appreciation for Peterson's service to the troops, JSS Shield's Senior Enlisted Advisor Sgt. Maj. David Hammond presented the artist with a memento of his visit - a coin and certificate of appreciation.
"From the moment I first came onto this stage, I've seen your shoulders drop and your feet begin to tap," Peterson said, "There's nothing more rewarding than performing for you."
"May God's grace go before you and your faith never yield; God bless 'The Shield.'"
<b>Editor's note:</b> <i>Alicea Valentin is a member of the Ohio Army National Guard's 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment attached to the U.S. Forces-Iraq Deputy Commanding General for Advising and Training Public Affairs Office.</i>