Soldiers of the Fort Eustis Warrior Transition Unit and Delta Company, 1-222nd Aviation Regiment received more than just food at lunch Sunday. In town for a concert at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., Aaron Tippin, country music star, joined the Soldiers at the dining facility in Building 1001 for fish, mashed potatoes, green beans, rice and more.
"(Tippin's visit) is a big confidence builder," said Pvt. Ronnie Garrett, Delta Co., 1/222nd Avn. Regt. A country music fan from Missouri, Garrett said the extra time Tippin took to be with the Soldiers meant a lot to him and his comrades.
During lunch, Tippin spoke to the Soldiers about growing up in South Carolina, his music, performing on the United Service Organization tour with Bob Hope in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield/ Desert Storm, training and about life in general. Tippin had plenty to talk to the Soldiers about since he is also a multiengine instrument aviator, helicopter-rated pilot and certified aircraft mechanic.
"I not only support these Soldiers, they support me," said Tippin. "I feel most committed to you guys and gals."
After lunch, Tippin signed dozens of autographs "thanks for my freedom," and took photo after photo with anxious Soldiers. One of the Soldiers brought his guitar for Tippin to sign. Tippin took the opportunity to perform a mini concert playing his chart-topping song "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly."
"(Tippin's visit) made me feel really good about what I am doing," said Pfc. Wade McMahan, Delta Co., 1-222nd Avn. Regt., about his decision to enlist in the Army. A self-proclaimed Aaron Tippin fan from Arkansas, McMahan went on to say that someone of Tippin's celebrity status recognizing scarifies of the military can speak volumes for many people.
Before leaving post to return to Busch Gardens for his evening performance, Tippin signed a Delta Company t-shirt, and, at the requests of excited Soldiers with cell phones, he left voicemails for Soldiers' mothers and friends.
"This is my only chance to serve my country," said Tippin. "I'm proud to do it."
The Soldiers were also invited to attend a meet-and-greet and the concert that evening at Busch Gardens. They received gifts of radios, stationary and other items at the meet-and-greet and took more photos with Tippin outside his tour bus.
Pvt. Jared Timms, Delta Co., 1-222nd Avn. Regt., said his favorite part of the concert was when Tippin pointed out the Soldiers in the crowd and saluted. A life-long country music fan, Timms said he has enjoyed Tippin's music since he was a kid growing up in Arkansas listening to his mom sing along with the radio while she cleaned their home.
Tippin is known for his support of the military, traveling to Afghanistan and Iraq annually to perform concerts for deployed troops. To Pvt. Derek Rice, Delta Co., 1-222nd Avn. Regt., Tippin's visit recognized not only seasoned Soldiers' commitments to protect the United States abroad but also new Soldiers' choices to join the military. An Advanced Individual Training Soldier from Florida, Rice knows firsthand how difficult things can become for a Soldier and how doubts can seep in. He said the interaction with Tippin helped boast Soldiers' morale.
"We're doing this for a reason," said Rice about his and his comrades' oath to serve in the military and how Tippin's visit acknowledged that pledge to country.