GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- The highest-ranking military official in the U.S. Armed Forces and a star-studded troupe of entertainers wrapped up the 2016 USO Holiday Tour with an evening performance here Dec. 8 at the U.S. Army's largest overseas military community.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford and his senior enlisted advisor, Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, headed this year's tour and visited with Soldiers and families here -- the headquarters of U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria.
"I don't think there is a busier group of Soldiers in the United States Army than the ones that are right here in the general area," Dunford said of the garrison and its tenant units. "We have an appreciation for the exercise tempo and the training tempo. But from where I sit, I also have appreciation for the impact you are having on how our allies feel about U.S. commitment."
Olympic gold medalist Maya DiRado, NBA legend Ray Allen, musician Craig Campbell and mentalist Jim Karol also accompanied Dunford on the tour.
Tonight was "for the Soldiers that are stationed here," Dunford told journalists at American Forces Network. "Bringing a little bit of America and letting them know that what they're doing is truly recognized and appreciated."
The event -- which featured daylong troop engagements followed by a performance -- was an unexpected home-style holiday break from ongoing training exercises at the garrison and the heavy focus on mission readiness.
"They know what they're doing, where they are," Ray Allen said, surprised by the service members' enthusiasm, despite living and working so far from home. "It's never political with them. It's about protecting and serving their country. And I had the sense of that everywhere I went."
The tradition of bringing a piece of home and holiday spirit to troops either stationed or deployed outside the U.S. over the holidays began in 2003 with Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myer during his tenure as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This is Dunford's second time boarding the holiday tour to boost morale since becoming chairman October 2015.
Dunford and the group of USO celebrities had a pretty ambitious schedule, visiting and entertaining hundreds of service members at four countries in only a few days.
The visit at Tower Barracks in Grafenwoehr marked the final stop of a holiday tour that included Turkey, Qatar and Afghanistan.
USAG Bavaria supports several multinational military exercises in the vast training areas that envelope the garrison's four installations at Garmisch, Grafenwoehr, Hohenfels and Vilseck.
USAG Bavaria also works closely with the 7th Army Training Command -- the U.S. Army's premier overseas military training organization -- and U.S. Army Europe to ensure the resiliency and readiness of U.S., NATO and partner nation forces for ongoing contingencies and land operations.