“In the company of heroes” – USA Weekend’s Cover Story!

Singer, songwriter and entertainer Toby Keith entertains troops stationed a remote forward operating base in the Persian Gulf as part of a USO/MNC-I expeditionary/Armed Forces Entertainment tour in 2008. Playing alongside with Toby is Scotty Emerick, who has co-written a number of Toby's songs. (USO photo by Dave Gatley.)

If you’re one of the subscribers lucky enough to get USA Weekend in your Sunday paper, are you in for a treat today!  Their cover story describes the experiences of celebrity entertainers – including fan favorite Toby Keith – who travel around the world to support our Troops.

From the article: “This Memorial Day weekend, as we at home honor those who serve, it’s not hard to imagine how a bright light from back home can bring a welcome break to those far-flung men and women in uniform. But we wondered: How have our brave service men and women affected the celebrities who have entertained them? After the stars were airlifted from the glamour and comfort of their own lives, often to the front lines, what did it mean to them?”

Even if you don’t receive USA Weekend in your paper, you can enjoy the article and photos online.  Let us know what you think!

Bringing USO Goodness to Camp Leatherneck

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - Sergeant Mark Matice, a utilities NCO with Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, and Lance Cpl. Rory MacEachern (right), a military policeman with Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), perform a bagpipe rendition of 'Amazing Grace' prior to Toby Keith taking the stage here May 5. (Photo by Sgt. Justin Shemanski)

At the hot, dusty base in Afghanistan known as Camp Leatherneck, there wasn’t much to do during Troop’s downtime.  The surrounding Helmand Province is inhospitable territory, and the 60,000 Marines and Soldiers stationed there needed a break from the intensity of their work.  Enter the USO.

We identified the needs for Camp Leatherneck and quickly went into action providing the comforts of home and much needed programs and entertainment.  Although it’s not an official USO Center, we’re providing USO support and goodness at this established Army facility in the form of comfortable furniture, games, TVs, and more.   Plus, Toby Keith even visited on his last USO tour in the Persian Gulf!

To kick off the introduction of the USO’s presence at the camp, we sponsored a run with t-shirts for all participants (shown at right).  Then we threw a huge BBQ for Marines and Soldiers, followed by a ceremony for the official building dedication.  We capped the day’s events with a unique talent show showcasing the diverse skills of the Troops: one act featured a mime, another a bagpipe player.  There were also two comedians, break dancers, an actress, musicians from a Marine Corps Band, and many talented singers.  What a group!

New USO programs and services are now being offered in an existing Army facility at Camp Leatherneck. (USO photo by LTC Tom Rivard)

We’re thrilled to be able to support the men and women stationed at Camp Leatherneck in this innovative way and will continue to look for new ways to bring the USO goodness to COB’s and FOB’s, as well as other locations around the world not currently served by a full-scale USO Center.  We’d like to thank the Army for establishing and managing the facility, and thank all of the Troops who are stationed there.

Earlier this year, National Geographic featured Camp Leatherneck for its “Explorer” television series.  The snippet below offers a brief glimpse into what life is like there.  Hopefully, we’ll continue to make it a little better…

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Troops Respond to Toby Keith’s USO Concert

Megastar Toby Keith performs for troops at a remote Foward Operating Base in the Persian Gulf, May 5, 2010. Joining Keith onstage is singer/songwriter Scotty Emerick. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

Toby Keith may have concluded his eighth USO Tour, but the positive impact on the Troops continues.  Check out audience reaction to Keith’s concert…

Toby Keith Keeps it Country in Germany

Toby Keith is criss-crossing the globe on his eighth USO tour and what a ride it’s been so far!  The country music superstar recently tweeted “TK: Germany was awesome. Visited wounded soldiers. Some just arrived-never gets easier 2 see. Spirit of these humans remain ever vigilant.”  We couldn’t agree more!  Check out some photos from his stops in Germany…

Toby Keith poses with staff at Landstuhl Medical Facility in Germany, May 1, 2010. Travelng on his eighth USO tour Keith will visit four countries in 14 days, visiting and entertaining thousands of service members in Korea, Germany and the Persian Gulf. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

Toby Keith shares a meal with wounded warriors at the USO's Wounded Warrior Center in Landsthul, Germany, May 2, 2010. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

Nearly 5,000 soldiers and their families piled into an aircraft hanger at the Ramstein Air Field in Germany for an exclusive Toby Keith USO concert on May 1, 2010. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

Troops and their families lined Ramstein Airfield's aircraft parking apron for an exclusive USO concert featuring award-winning entertainer Toby Keith on May 1, 2010. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

As the American flag proudly waved behind the stage, Toby Keith and the band perform in a hangar at Ramstein Airfield in Germany on May 3, 2010. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

Toby Keith Delivers Boot-Stomping Rhythms to Troops

Megastar Toby Keith passes out guitar picks to service members and their families during an exclusive USO concert in Korea, April 29, 2010. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

“I’ve been traveling with the USO since 2002, and every year I look forward to spending time with the men and women who serve this great country.  When I get on stage and look out into a crowd of uniforms, it gives me a great sense of pride to know that I am giving back to them.”

That’s what award-winning singer, songwriter and entertainer Toby Keith had to say about his current four-country USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour.  He’s traveling to Korea, Germany and the Persian Gulf on his eighth USO tour. Since his first USO tour in 2002, Keith has traveled to more than 10 countries and entertained over 140,000 service men and women, many at small remote outposts.

Check out the latest pics from this tour and keep it tuned here for more Toby Keith news!

Megastar Toby Keith performs for military families in Korea as part of his eighth USO tour, April 29, 2010. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

Joined by singer/songwriter Scotty Emerick, Toby Keith delivers an intimate acoustic performance for troops in Korea, April 29, 2010. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

Military families line-up for an opportunity to meet award-winning singer/songwriter Toby Keith at the Camp Walker Kelly Gym in Korea, April 28, 2010. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

Singer/songwriter Toby Keith, with Scotty Emerick, put on an acoustic show at Camp Walker Kelly Gym in Korea, April 28, 2010. The duo entertained 600 military families. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

From the Desk Of…

SVP of Communications John Hanson:

The USO in Afghanistan, Part 2
(read Part 1 here)

In Afghanistan, the USO faced a challenge.  We exist to serve the needs of troops – especially those at the tip of the spear.  In past wars, it wasn’t so hard.  We could build USO centers at large and medium-sized bases and feel confident that we’d be there for most of the people serving in an area.

Afghanistan is different.  Our center in Bagram – the Pat Tillman Memorial USO – is an outstanding facility, operating at capacity more than 20 hours each day, but not everybody goes through Bagram.

A view from inside the Pat Tillman USO. (USO photo by Mike Theiler)

But, how can we get to the troops who are in the most isolated  (and unforgiving) locations?

Of course, many of our entertainment tours visit large and small bases.  If we can get the lift, we’ll take performers to remote outposts.  One of those performers  is Toby Keith.  Toby makes time available to the USO every year – usually just before summer – to spend more than a week in the war zone.  He will do large shows at large bases, but he insists on visiting forward operating bases and combat outposts.

After one of his trips, Toby looked at the USO representative on the tour and said, “If I can go there, why can’t the USO?”

So, we created what we call the USO in a Box.  It’s a transportable container that expands to about the size of a two-car garage.  These units contain laptop computers, a projector for watching movies and video game consoles.  They can connect to existing power, or they can on the power produced by a generator.  Three of these centers are located around Afghanistan (and we just sent one to Djibouti). And, they can be moved, if the troops move.

They provide a touch of home and a place to relax after a difficult day.

Thanks, Toby, for the challenge and for encouraging us to do more.