By Molly Hayden, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public AffairsMarch 27, 2009
ALIAMANU MILITARY RESERVATION, Hawaii - Cheers and laughter echoed through the gymnasium as family members and fans lined the bleachers to kick off the Hollywood Knights celebrity basketball game here, March 18.
"I think we are going to support the troops in more than one way this evening," said television actor and Hollywood Knights teammate James Lesure, laughing, while watching the Army Hawaii All-Star basketball team warm up. "Looking at our squad and looking at their squad, they are in for a morale boost."
"We have a pretty good team," piped in American Gladiator "Venom." "We'll see what happens."
Five of the 10 members of the Army Hawaii All-Star team strategically moved across the court, dodging celebrities and practicing various moves.
Celebrities maneuvered through Soldiers' defenses, backed by cheering family members, and shot basket after basket.
A loud buzzer, momentarily quieted the crowd and indicated the end of the first quarter.
The celebrities led by four points.
"It's a close game," said family member Jackie Wong. "I'm rooting for the Army, but I have my money on the celebrities."
The charity-driven effort brought celebrities and the United Service Organizations (USO) together for a tour to honor and support members of the armed forces.
During the five-day trip to Oahu, eight members of the Hollywood Knights received a behind-the-scenes look at the military, touring Pearl Harbor, visiting with wounded warriors at the Warrior Transition Clinic, and signing autographs for residents of the Fisher House.
The tour is the second USO tour for the Knights, who traveled to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands in September 2008.
The USO is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to support troops by providing morale, welfare and recreation-type services to men and women in uniform. Historically, few events have left a more lasting emotional impression on service members and their families than USO celebrity entertainment tours, according to tour manager, Jeff Harvey.
"Celebrities are always willing to get involved and help raise morale for Soldiers and their families," said Harvey. "They will always stop to sign autographs or shake hands, just to say thank you."
Venom, who recently returned from a visit to Iraq, initially volunteered with the USO tour, to say "thank you" in person.
"It's our chance to stand in front of (Soldiers) and give our thanks," she said, "to give them a hug and let them know we appreciate what they do."
On and off the court, the actors continuously said they had nothing but respect and gratitude for Soldiers and their families.
"It's hard to comprehend what Soldiers sacrifice on a daily basis and the families they leave behind," said musician and reality television star Aaron Carter. "It seems like such a hard life, but they still do it with a smile on their face and warmth in their hearts."
Carter, a veteran to the celebrity basketball games, has been participating in Hollywood Knights charity events since the age of 16.
"In the past five years, I've traveled all around the world with this team," said Carter.
Although his teammates are constantly changing, Carter's reason for participating has not.
"I do it for the fans, for the families," said Carter, "for what these guys give and do everyday for us."
"I have nothing but love for them," he added.
As the game continued, celebrities and Soldiers pulled people from the crowd to the court, for free throws, dribbling, passing and shooting.
Michael Black, 11, had never been on a basketball court during a "real game" with "real players."
"I did pretty good," said Black of his dribbling skills.
Standing barely above the waist of "Wolf," the American Gladiator blocked the opposing team as the young player made his way down the court. Black then passed the ball to television and movie star Aaron Yoo, who sunk a perfect 3-point shot.
As the game neared its end with the Army team trailing behind, new strategies came into play.
"We have a certain competitiveness and camaraderie," said Pfc. DeSazeo Johnson, 732nd Military Intelligence Battalion. "We are working together, stepping up and having fun."
"That's what it's all about," added Johnson.
In the end, the celebrities held the lead, finishing the game one point ahead of the base team with a final score of 73-72.
The two teams met up once again, this time at the Schofield Barracks gymnasium where the Soldiers taught the celebrities what it means to be "Army Strong" with a one-point victory.
Other celebrities of the Hollywood Nights basketball team included Frankie Delgado (The Hills, Bromance, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and Dancing with the Stars); Cody Linley (Hannah Montana); and James Kyson Lee (Heroes).