By Sgt. 1st Class Rob Frazier, AFN DaeguJuly 3, 2019
CAMP WALKER, South Korea -- The USO Troupe kicked off the Independence Day celebration for Area IV with a concert at the Kelly Fitness Center, July 3.
The four-person group performed a melody of patriotic songs and held a meet-and-greet to say 'thank you' to the community for their service to America.
"We're so grateful for the sacrifices you make, and we're just glad we could be here to provide some joy and happiness," said Stephanie Toups, who is completing her first year with the group. "You've given so much, and it's an honor to be here."
The event was the first of three concerts the group has planned across the South Korean Peninsula over the next few days in support of 4th of July festivities.
According to the USO Metropolitan of New York website, the USO Troupe entertains more than 300,000 service members and Families annually around the world each year.
"It's the dream job," added Joe Ogren, a San Luis Obispo, California, native, who is on his first tour of the peninsula. "It's a privilege to have this job that lets us travel the world to meet the true heroes and help brighten their day."
Howard Seo, the area operations manager for USO, said he hopes events like the USO Troupe reinforce the importance of their motto of 'Home, Family and Country.' "The USO is proud to support our military and Families through morale-boosting events, and we look forward to bringing more events to Korea in the future."
The USO began supporting the troops in 1941 at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. History reveals that after WWII, the USO disbanded but was brought back during the Korean War.
When the USO celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2016, writer Jim Garamone published an article where he quoted retired U.S. Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the chairman of the USO Board of Governors and former Army chief of staff, who "estimated that the USO has served more than 35 million Americans throughout its history."
The USO Troupe continues to extend the legacy of the organization joining famous headliners such as the late Robin Williams, Marilyn Monroe and Bob Hope in bringing entertainment to those serving around the world.
The group said crowd reactions and participation is a motivator for them, noting they feed off the emotion from the audience.
During their rendition of Walk the Moon's hit "Shut Up and Dance," they picked U.S. Army Lt. Col. Marc Welde's son to join them for a quick dance which received a thunderous cheer from the audience-packed gym.
"It's a reminder that sometimes the simplicity of song and dance can make an impact," said Karley Willcocks, who is serving her eighth year with the USO Troupe. "It changes their whole day, and it's special that I get to share something I love with the audience."
As part of their tour, the USO Troupe will travel to Camp Humphreys and Camp Casey over the next few days.
For Kristin Wetherington, performing on the peninsula has a special meaning. The Greenville, North Carolina, native smiled as she acknowledged her grandfather, John Hart, had served in Yongsan as an Army medic with 121st Combat Support Hospital, now known as the Brian Allgood Army Community Hospital.
"Even though we won't be going to Yongsan, I brought an American Flag that I am going to put in different places and take photos," said Wetherington. "I'm excited to bring those back and share with him."
Wetherington admitted there is a sense of pride in getting a first-hand look at what base life was like and getting a sneak peek into the world of military service.
"You get an inside treat that most civilians never see," said Wetherington. "Daegu has been a fantastic audience, and we just want to say 'thank you.'"