By Jennifer Lindquist (the Cannoneer)November 19, 2007
BY Jennifer Lindquist, the Cannoneer
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (Army News Service, Nov. 20, 2007) -- Lights flashed, spotlights blazed and the American flag waved above the action on stage. Soldiers stood at attention amongst the pyrotechnics and focused on the song that is about them, the American Soldiers. On Nov. 16, Toby Keith sung his well known song, "American Soldier," to the sold out crowd at the Oklahoma Centennial Spectacular Concert with Fort Sill Soldiers standing on stage behind him.
Oklahoma Centennial Spectacular culminated the year long celebration of the state's birth. Due to the patriotic nature of Toby Keith's song for the Centennial, Jolene Guffy, Fort Sill community relations chief , was asked to provide 22 Soldiers for the event. The Soldiers chosen to represent Fort Sill came from different units and different ranks, but each had recently completed a deployment to Iraq.
"I feel very lucky to be given this opportunity because my family is from Oklahoma and have been here for over a 100 years. I'm hoping that we will be surprised and get to meet some of the stars, though I'm not going to set myself up for disappointment," said Sgt. Denita Walters, 1st Battalion,17th Field Artillery, before the performance.
The concert featured native Oklahoman musicians, actors and athletes wishing Oklahoma a happy birthday in their own way. From Carrie Underwood's "Ain't Checotah Anymore" to Willard Scott's toast to Oklahomans over 100 years-old and The All-American Reject singing "Move Along," the Ford Center was alive for three hours..
Standing behind the stage, waiting for their cue, the Soldiers had a special opportunity to meet the headliners.
"We were standing there and all of a sudden I saw Garth Brooks and whispered 'It's Garth Brooks', everyone looked and got really excited. He came up to us, shook our hands and thanked us for our service. His aides kept rushing him, trying to move him towards his dressing room, but he refused to move. He kept shaking hands and taking pictures with us," said Sgt. Marcus Lindquist, 4-27 Field Artillery.
After Brooks finished personally thanking the 22 Soldiers, it was time for them to make their entrance. The audience erupted into cheers and applause as the Soldiers found their places on stage. Glow sticks given to the audience especially for Keith's performance, were broken and waved frantically.
"When they announced we were coming on stage, everybody stood up for us and kept standing up, kept cheering, kept clapping, it was really hard for me not to cry," said Spec. Trindi Collins, Office of the Command Sgt. Maj.
The Soldiers stood at attention while Keith sang to the audience and the Soldiers.
"With all the people, noise, commotion and lights everywhere, I kept fighting the urge to look down and see what Toby was doing," said Walters.
The words of Keith's song took on new, more poignant, meaning as the audience watched the performance. Audience members stayed standing during the entire performance, the only time during the show that happened.
"To me, the Soldiers made (Toby Keith's) song especially significant, simply by being there. By having the presence of the Soldiers and you could tell the appreciation was there, it brought the whole package together," said Guffy.
With a final salute, Keith ended his performance as the audience gave a standing ovation.
"I was thrilled to be on stage with Toby and get to be recognized by the song he sang, because a lot of times we don't get that recognition, a lot of people don't realize that there are faces and people behind the music Toby sings," recalls Staff Sgt. Jason Lunn, 520th Signal Company.
The performance was one that will never be forgotten by the Soldiers and their families.
"I don't think I can describe in words how phenomenal it was to be up there...it was a once in a lifetime experience" said Collins.