Country Singer Joins USO Tour - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

12/21/05

Country Singer Joins USO Tour

Know anyone who's ever served in the military? Generations of troops know from experience that a little piece of home is priceless. The USO often provides it, putting on shows wherever there are American military men and women. There's a big tour through the Middle East right now.

We got the chance to check it out and talk with the troops in Baghdad via satellite today. Thousands of our Third Infantry troops are sill overseas for the holidays, and they say it's more than just entertainment. It helps to remind them the people back home are thinking of them.

Bright lights, Frisbees thrown into the audience, and of course, music, even dancing. It was almost like a concert back home, thanks the USO's Hope and Freedom Tour.

Among those entertaining the troops was country music singer Mark Wills. "For us it's a huge honor," he said. "Just to come over here and entertain our men and women of the services. And, you know, just to let them know that, especially throughout this time, the holiday season, we're in support of them."

Celebrity guests like Wills, Al Franken, even the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, also make time to visit with soldiers.

"As I told all the soldiers out here tonight, the entertainers and the USO show that are over here are here to say thanks on behalf of all the American people for the sacrifices that they're making right now for us," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston.

And the troops appreciate it.

"I think it's very important," said Staff Sgt. Shawndell Rouse of the Third Infantry Division. "Something to say that, hey, someone back home is thinking about us. I think it's real good, I think it's the type of thing that soldiers such as myself need."

For visitors, it's also a chance to see the progress being made in Iraq.

"The areas around Baghdad that we've got to see are cleaned up dramatically," Wills told us. "The people are out, they're moving around. It's not like everybody's scared to death like they were a few years ago. They're starting to get on with their lives."

"We see a lot of change within the country," said Staff Sgt. Rouse. "The people here, I think most of them are pretty happy that we're here on their behalf. They really appreciate what we're doing on their behalf."

It's something Wills says Americans don't always see in the media. "The media likes to portray sometimes that we're just kicking doors in and they're just tearing up stuff and they're not taking care of the people and that's just wrong," he said. "The one most impressive thing I've seen this trip is just how the medical staff has really, you know, they've been taking care of not just their soldiers, but the Iraqi people."

For Wills and several of the other entertainers on the tour, this is the third year they've participated. Wills says their time on stage is really only about 1/100th of what they do. He says it's really about getting to know the troops and seeing the positive work they're doing rebuilding Iraq.

Reported by: Charles Gray, cgray@wtoc.com

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