By ARNEWS compilationDecember 22, 2010
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 22, 2010) -- Thousands of troops deployed overseas away from their families this Christmas can at least look forward to USO entertainment and special holiday meals.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston kicked off his seventh and final USO Hope and Freedom Tour at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, Dec. 17, before moving on to Iraq, with plans to finish up in Afghanistan with a Christmas Eve performance.
At the same time, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff USO Tour was at Camp Liberty, Iraq, with comedian Robin Williams, country songwriter Kicks Brooks, and inspirational athlete Lance Armstrong, among others.
Meanwhile dining facilities overseas have been preparing to serve more than 140,000 troops holiday fare that includes 244,000 pounds of turkey, 112,000 pounds of beef, 8,600 cans of sweet potatoes, and 47,000 cakes and pies sent by the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support activity.
"There have been ten Christmases Soldiers have been away from their families and loved ones back home," said the sergeant major of the Army while visiting Kuwait. "I think for many of our Soldiers out there right now, it is important to know that people back home keep them in their prayers and really care about the mission they perform every day."
His USO Hope and Freedom Tour, hosted by ESPN correspondent Leeann Tweeden, featured the U.S. Army Band "Downrange," musicians Keni Thomas, Alan Grace, Buddy Jewell and Emily West, Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders Nicole Hamilton and Brandi Redmond, and comedian Chonda Pierce.
"I thought the show was awesome," said Staff Sgt. William Smith, a liaison officer with the 3rd Armored Calvary Regiment. "They had a really good mix of music and entertainers."
"Being away from family and friends can be hard, but events like this help us stay focused on the mission at hand," Smith said.
At Camp Taji, Iraq, an aviation brigade from Fort Riley, Kan., hosted a holiday party for several units Dec. 19.
The party, held by the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, included live music, food and sporting events. Servicemembers from several Army and Air Force units at Camp Taji attended the party.
"Being away from home, especially during the holiday season, we thought it was important to spend some positive, fun time with those of us we have here," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Thomson, the brigade's senior enlisted Soldier, to the troops gathered for the party.
Breaking only for a prayer and a performance of "Silent Night" by one of the unit's officers, attendees competed in events ranging from volleyball to a horse shoe toss.
Some of the troops are serving their first deployments, but for many attendees the party marked yet another holiday spent in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Horst, 29, an Apache helicopter mechanic, is on his third deployment to Iraq.
"It doesn't get any easier. You have to deal with missing the special moments," said Horst, but added that he will spend this Christmas with his Soldiers.
(Sgt. Ryan Hohman of Third U.S. Army and Spc. Roland Hale of the Enhanced Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Inf. Div., contributed to this report.)