U.S. Army Soldier Show hits JBLM, one performer reconnects with longtime friend
August 3, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. " With impending overseas deployments, frequent changes of station and occasional away-from-home temporary duty, Army life can sometimes feel like a travelling show.
And while most Soldiers can’t exactly attest to feeling like stage performers, the U.S. Army Soldier Show’s stop at Joint Base Lewis-McChord Aug.1-2 served as a reminder that there’s at least one similarity between Soldier and performer.
“The crowd seemed to really enjoy our message,” said John Stewart, program director for the U.S. Army Soldier Show, whose all-Soldier cast put on three separate song-and-dance performances at JBLM’s Carey Theater. “And that was the message of us travelling, just as our Soldiers do from place to place, going to a new place and setting up shop.”
“That’s the same thing we (Soldier Show performers) do,” he added.
The show’s annual tour began in April and will end in December. By the tour’s end, the 2011 cast of the show will have performed more than 100 shows at more than 50 different military venues across the U.S., Germany and Korea.
This year, Stewart said, the show’s theme, which changes each year, resembled a carnival in its quick-paced, hustle-and-bustle portrayal of a group’s travelling lifestyle and its selfless goal to tirelessly entertain one important real-life audience: servicemembers and their families.
The group performed both contemporary hits and old-school classics from a wide variety of musical genres while a ring leader " clad in an oversized top hat and red tailcoat to fit the bill " comically transitioned the set and prepared the audience for the next act.
“The ring master carried the audience through a musical journey,” Stewart said, likening that journey to the ones military members and their families face throughout a career of service to their country.
The cast’s lineup included renditions of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance,” Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never,” the Charlie Daniels Band’s “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and Britney Spears’s “Circus.”
Stewart said the group put military twists on many of the songs, citing Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” as one example, in which the cast altered the song lyrics, directing them at Soldiers.
The mission of the show is to bring morale to the Soldier community from Soldiers, and that’s a mission performer Sgt. 1st Class Cornelius Whitaker takes just as seriously as any Soldier mission he’s executed as a combat medic " his actual Army occupation.
“I know Soldiers who have been deployed more than they’ve been with their families,” he said, “so for us to come out and boost the morale of those family members, retirees and civilians, it’s a mission that’s needed.”
Whitaker has travelled across the world in just the past few months, but his visit to JBLM stood out among all other places he’s been. That’s because the installation is currently home to a longtime close friend he hasn’t seen in nine years.
Whitaker describes that friend, 1st Sgt. Raymond Washington, as really more of a brother.
“He was my best friend " like the big brother I never had,” Whitaker said of Washington, whom Whitaker met as a private in 1999 when he arrived at his first duty station, Fort Hood, Texas. “If I went out, he was with me; if he went out, I was with him.”
Whitaker added that the two even met one another’s families, and eventually they hung out nearly every day. They grew through the junior Army ranks together, but when they were reassigned thousands of miles apart in 2002, that all ended.
That’s why the cast’s JBLM performance Aug. 1 " nine years after a sad goodbye between comrades " will be one of the happiest moments for both Whitaker and Washington.
“It was kind of like seeing someone grow up and achieve their goal,” said Washington, first sergeant for the 585th Engineer Company, 864th Engineer Battalion on JBLM. “When you don’t see someone for a very long time, and then you see them accomplish something, it’s like a fast-forward in a very good way.”
“It was like a breath of fresh air,” he added.
Washington even had the honor of promoting Whitaker to sergeant first class on the morning of the show " something that, even in their time together at Fort Hood, they never had the opportunity to do.
Washington does, however, remember that at Fort Hood he was there when Whitaker first grew interested in becoming a part of the Soldier Show.
“He mentioned it and was really interested in it,” Washington recalled.
Seeing the culmination of Whitaker’s aspiration-turned-reality right before his eyes was nothing short of amazing, Washington said.
“Just to be able to see what he did and has been doing was great,” he said. “It’s as if it were happening to me. That’s how happy I am.”
Even in an organization where life tends to draw similarity to those of travelling performers, where few are lucky enough to have the type of joyous brush with fate that Whitaker and Washington did, there can be periods of great bliss.
Whitaker can validate that sentiment better than most.
“We give them (Soldiers and their families) 90 minutes of pure entertainment to just have fun and relax and enjoy themselves, especially with all the deployments and people living in the barracks and being away from their families,” he said. “It’s a break " a refresher, if nothing else.”