ARLINGTON, Va. (Nov. 4, 2008) - For many Soldiers, performing in the U.S. Army Soldier Show is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

For Army Maj. Elaine Gullotta, a public affairs officer for the Office of Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve in Rosslyn, the Soldier Show has been a chance to be a part of many once-in-a-lifetime and first-ever moments.

It all started more than 25 years ago, when as a private first class, she was selected to be a member of the first cast of the newly revamped show.

Featuring choreographers and coaches with Broadway backgrounds, the modern version of the Soldier Show originated in 1983 as an outgrowth of several Soldier shows existing in various Army commands with Soldier talent selected from worldwide competition.

One and only show

"It was thrilling," said Gullotta. "The cast had I think 23 members, maybe 25, and they were from all over the Army. They practiced and put the show together at Fort Meyer (Va.) and then had what was supposed to be the one and only show at the (Association of the United States Army) conference."

The response to that performance was so overwhelming that organizers of the show decided to do a tour.

"In January 1985, they brought us back and put us on the road," said Gullotta. "We only did 17 shows. We performed in a lot of old theatres that were sort of on the verge of coming back. And then we all went back to our units. (The Army) decided to make this an annual thing, and they've been doing this ever since."

For Gullotta, performing in the Soldier Show opened up many new doors during her Army career. She was trained as a military police officer, but while serving in Italy and after touring with the Soldier Show, she decided to make a change.

"After the first Army Soldier Show ... I did a few years with the Army Field Band and Chorus as a choral member and soloist with the stage band (in United States Army in Europe). Then, when I got off active duty and joined the Reserve in California, I was in the 300th Army Reserve Band."

She remained in contact with those affiliated with the Soldier Show for many years. And in 1991, she returned to the show, but this time in a different role.

"I got off active duty and used my G.I. Bill and got a degree in entertainment production. So, in 1991, I was in California and I was in the Army Reserve and arranged to go back to Fort Belvoir (where the Soldier Show is based) and do my reserve annual training with the show, which also counted as an internship for school."

For Gullotta, it was just as rewarding as being on-stage as part of the show. "It was great," she said. "It was only three weeks, but I got to see the business side of Army entertainment, and I got to meet the cast."

Gullotta would return to the Soldier Show again as a performer and also as part of another first.

In 1998, after transferring over to the Army National Guard, she received a call from the show's organizers. "I had just gotten laid off (by her civilian employer) and the show calls me and said, 'Hey, we're having our 15-year anniversary, would you come back and be a part of the show''"

And that's how she became the first Guardmember in the show. "That was a bit of a challenge," she said. "I remember my orders changed like six times while I was on the road with them, trying to figure out the right (duty) status to put me in."

Life on the road - thrilling but exhausting

When she returned to the show, she found it had changed quite a bit in the past 15 years. "That tour was really rough," Gullotta said. "The first time I was in the tour, we only did 17 shows. This time we did, I think it was 111 shows and it was back-breaking. We traveled from the middle of May to the middle of November all across the country, and of course to Bosnia."

The incredibly high operational tempo took some getting used to. "(It) was such that you would get on the bus in the morning, drive to the next location, you'd get there around dinner time. Typically, you would have that night off, which meant you went to your room and went to sleep. You were up first thing in the morning and you set the whole (show) up. You started at 8 (a.m.) and you were usually done around 2 (p.m.) with everybody working full speed," she said.

But that wasn't the end of the day. "Then the show would start about 3 o'clock and you would run through a whole show, which was an hour and a half," she said. "And you'd be sweating like crazy by the end. Usually the last number you were in your dress blues, and you'd be dripping with sweat. At the end of the show, you'd have a chance to change back into your work clothes.

"You'd have a chance to eat supper, and then you'd turn around and (perform the show for the audience.) Then when you were done about 9:30 at night, you'd pack everything up into the truck. You would be done about one in the morning and then get back in the bus at 8 (a.m.) and go to the next venue. Your body was physically exhausted."

Though it may have been strenuous, it was also something she enjoyed.

"The huge audiences filled with troops and some of them would come in from the field and the whole theatre would just reek, from them and from us," Gullotta said. "It was sort of this funk that you got used to. It was really kind of endearing because you knew why you were there. The troops were always just crazy about the show."

And she was also proud to once again be a member of the Soldier Show. "I was really, really proud to represent the Guard and to open the show to the Reserve and Guard at that point," she said.

In the 10 years since her second tour with the Soldier Show, numerous Guard Soldiers have become members of the cast.

25 years later

Gullotta returned to sing with the group during a recent performance at the Warner Theatre in Washington.

During the show, and as part of the 25th anniversary of the show, she sang "Go the Distance," a song written by Michael Bolton. "It was a great opportunity, and I was glad to do it," she said.

And for other Guard Soldiers who may be interested in performing in the Soldier Show, she has one thing to say: Do it!

"If you have any skill at all, they will work with you to bring out the best of the abilities you have," she said. "It's always a plus for a Guardsman to be performing as it shows, hey, we're a Total Force. I think we finally have convinced the Army that we're (the active component's) equals, and we deserve to be here."

The 2008 U.S. Army Soldier Show wraps up its tour in several area dates, including: Nov. 6 at Fort A.P. Hill, Va.; and at 4 p.m., Nov. 8 at the Wallace Theater on Fort Belvoir, Va.

(Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy writes for the National Guard Bureau.)