Photo: American Idol contestant and country musician Kellie Pickler grants a Christmas wish for a kiss to Marine Corps Sgt. Christopher Lambert at the 2008 USO Holiday Tour stop at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Dec. 19, 2008. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
The enthusiastic reception servicemembers are giving performers on this year's Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff USO Holiday Tour have led Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the nation's top military officer, to call the trip "Smiles Around the World."
The tour started its third day today with shows in Mosul and Al Asad Air Base in Iraq, and ended with a performance here.
At Mosul, more than 1,500 servicemembers trooped into a large fest tent for the show featuring Kid Rock, Kellie Pickler, Lewis Black, Tichina Arnold, Zac Brown, Kathleen Madigan and John Bowman.
In Al Asad, the performers entertained more than 3,000 Marines, sailors, airmen, soldiers and civilians at the soccer field from a stage that Navy Seabees built for the occasion.
The show at Al Asad started with decent temperatures, but once the sun went down, the temperature went south pretty quickly, too. The musicians felt the cold the most, but still kept "pickin' and grinnin'" through a number of songs that brought the house down.
The comedians – led by Lewis Black – clearly were enjoying the energy they were getting from the crowd, and all of the performers were on longer than scheduled. At the end of the show, the servicemembers started a chant of "One more song, one more song, one more song!" Kid Rock, Kellie Pickler and Zac Brown played John Cougar Mellencamp's "Little Pink Houses." The servicemembers all sang the chorus -- "which begins, "Ain't that America?" -- along with the performers.
The show here didn't start until midnight. It originally was scheduled to begin at 8:30, but the plane was late getting in, and then weather forced the group to motorcade from the airport in Kosovo's capital of Pristina to the base. The sound equipment took some time to get to Bondsteel and be set up. Mullen came early, spoke with the servicemembers and passed his personal coin out.
Few members of the mostly National Guard audience left the theater, despite the long wait. "We're sort of forgotten here in Kosovo," one specialist said. "Believe me, we're so pleased to have people like this come and entertain, we'd sit here all night, if necessary."
This is Mullen's second holiday tour.
"'Smiles Around the World' is what I call it," he said during an interview aboard the C-17 taking the troupe to Kosovo. "These performers can relate to the troops, and they appreciate the troops' sacrifices. They know how they feel at this time of year."
During the day, the chairman not only introduced the shows, but also received operational updates in Mosul and in Pristina. Earlier in the morning, he met with leaders of Multinational Corps Iraq at the Al Faw Palace at Camp Victory, outside Baghdad.
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
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