BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, March 6, 2015 -- The USO brought a little bit of home to Bagram Air Field today, thanks to recording artist Phillip Phillips and several others who helped mark the third and final USO tour for Admiral James Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"The men and women of America's military--representing the best of our nation--serve in all corners of the globe to protect our great nation, our friends, and our freedoms," Winnefeld said. "As we embark on this seven day, six-country USO tour, this gifted and generous group of athletes and entertainers will share their talents with Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines literally around the world. This tour is particularly significant to Mary and me, as this is our last USO Tour while serving in the position as the Vice Chairman."
The tour featured platinum recording artist and season 11 "American Idol" winner Phillip Phillips; American film, stage and television actor Dennis Haysbert; motion picture and television personality Jason "Wee Man" Acuna; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck; Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano; Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen; Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev; Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro; and American Idol alumni Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young.
A healthy crowd started to congregate in the Air Force hangar well before the group arrived at noon. Not everyone could get away from their post to attend the show. Service members are busy. U.S. Forces Afghanistan has the responsibility of providing support and resources to all U.S. service members in country, in addition to conducting security operations to protect the Aerial Port of Debarkation at Bagram.
"It feels great being here," Mark Villarreal, action officer, Joint Visitors Bureau, said. "This shows that [the artists/athletes] support the effort over here. Events like this let the troops over here know that so they're not forgotten."
"It gives the soldiers something to do and it boosts morale," Sgt. Andrew Aguila said. "And I'm looking forward to seeing Andrew Luck!"
This trip marks the seventh USO tour for Haysbert; fourth for DeGarmo, third for Winnefeld and Young; second for Acuna; and the first for Pagano, Luck, Allen, DeCastro, Kazantsev and Phillips.
"As soon as they asked me if I wanted to come on the USO tour, I definitely said yes to show my support for all of the troops because all I do is play guitar and it's not anywhere close to what you do out here," Phillips said, before taking the stage to sing his hits like Gone, Gone, Gone and Home. "And I'm here to show as much support as I possibly can."
This is Haysbert's seventh tour -- the second with the VCJCS -- that took him through Afghanistan, Iraq, and Okinawa. When asked what he'd like to say to the troops, he said, "That I love you. That I appreciate you. Because what you do allows me to do what I do. And I want to entertain you and make you feel as close to home as you can be. That's why I come over. Because I want to give a little taste of home. I appreciate you."
Jason "Wee Man" Acuna, before mingling, throwing up several peace signs, and taking selfies with the crowd, said, "It feels awesome [to be here]. It's a good tour. Got a good group of people I'm with, and we're having fun just making the troops take their mind off of something for the day. Get them a little excited. Put some smiles on some faces. And just have a good time!"
Football players Luck and Allen threw a few autographed footballs into the crowd before walking around and taking selfies with soldiers in the front row. Kazantsev followed right after, donning her crown and smiling every step of the way as Phillips sang on stage with Young accompanying on guitar.
Before saying good bye, the group took the stage with DeGarmo, who led the group, singing God Bless America. More than 100 soldiers lined up to take group pictures immediately after with Winnefeld passing out coins -- a memento of his last tour.
"It's my privilege to have a third opportunity to bring a group of talented athletes and entertainers overseas on a USO trip," Winnefeld said. "Just as Bob Hope did, each of these generous Americans, who are both literally and figuratively American idols, will bring a smile to the faces of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen serving across the globe, often under challenging conditions. We're lucky to have this wonderful organization and its many volunteers, who provide unwavering support to our men and women in uniform and their families wherever they happen to serve around the world."