By Nicole Hayes, Operation Tribute to FreedomAugust 30, 2007
As a two-time veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Ackley had been trained by the Army to be prepared for any experience his time in Iraq could throw at him. But this past Tuesday night with four fellow OIF veterans at his side, little in his Army training had prepared him for his next experience- The BeyoncAfA Experience.
Tuesday evening, five Soldiers representing the California National Guard and the Fresno Recruiting Company were honored before 16,000 people by the pop/R&B sensation BeyoncAfA Knowles during her performance at the Save Mart Center in Fresno, Calif. This was the second of two concerts during which the singer took time to thank Soldiers for their service at her performances on her world tour, The BeyoncAfA Experience. The first was Wednesday, August 22 in Denver, where two Fort Carson Soldiers were recognized.
Despite a tightly choreographed performance, the artist added in a special portion of the show to recognize not only the Soldiers in attendance, but all those serving in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
Ackley, a twice-deployed OIF veteran and recruiter with the Fresno Recruiting Battalion, brought his 13-year-old daughter Alicia, to see the singer.
"The concert was great, not only to see BeyoncAfA, but for the chance to share the experience with my daughter," he said. "Our favorite part of the show was when BeyoncAfA asked Where's my Soldiers at' and recognized those who serve as she sang her song Soldier. The audience applauded us and it was such a great experience."
Ackley successfully led and returned home 60 Soldiers in his role as a Platoon Sergeant, with the Task Force, 1st Battalion, 77th Armor in Balad, Iraq. He deployed to Iraq in February 2004 for the second time, and returned home in February 2005.
Sgt. Monica Estrada of the Headquarters, Headquarters Joint Force Headquarters of the California National Guard in Sacramento, drove three hours for the experience and thought every mile was worth the drive.
"I felt really appreciated, because I actually had people come up to me during the concert to say thank you so much for what you are doing," she said. "As a Soldier, I told them that we appreciate the support."
Sgt. Ernesto Hernandez, a Station Commander of the Visalia Recruiting Station of the Fresno Recruiting Company, along with Sgt. 1st Class Vanessa Hayes, a Food Service Sergeant and Sgt. Vincent Orosco, a Retention NCO of the California National Guard, were also among the Soldiers honored in Fresno. Sgt. Tiffany Thomas and Pvt. Pavlarr Curnutt of Fort Carson were honored in Denver at an earlier show.
The recognitions at the shows are part of the Army's Operation Tribute to Freedom program which honors Soldiers returning from Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
For more information about Operation Tribute to Freedom, visit www.army.mil/otf .