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Country stars, ‘America’s Sweethearts’ visit troops in remote Afghanistan camp

By Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr. | | December 21, 2007

Military men and women in eastern Kunar Province were surprised Dec. 21 by a visit from the Army’s top enlisted soldier and several celebrities at the remote Camp Blessing, Afghanistan.

 Sgt. Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston is hosting the sixth annual Hope and Freedom USO tour. As part of the tour, Preston arrived in Kabul late Dec. 20 with four Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, country music stars Darryl Worley and Keni Thomas, as well as model and TV personality Leann Tweeden. They travelled in helicopters from Kabul to Camp Blessing in eastern Kunar Province.

 With a late morning arrival to the camp, the celebrities joined soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines at the dining facility for lunch and conversation before they performed for the troops.

 Most troops said they heard about the sergeant major of the Army and USO visit between a few minutes and a few hours beforehand. Some drove over from forward operating bases several miles away to Camp Blessing.

 Upon finding out about the visit, Army Pfc. Chris Floeck, a Waller, Texas, native, said, “Why are you playing with me? Stop messing with me.” Floeck is assigned as an infantryman to the 2nd Airborne Battalion, 503rd Army Infantry Regiment, deployed to Afghanistan from Vicenza, Italy.

 “I didn’t really believe it until we got in the vehicles and left (for Camp Blessing),” Floeck said as Tweeden sat down at his table. “I can’t really talk this second,” he added, turning his attention to their visitor.

 Daytona Beach, Fla. native, Army Pfc. Ryan D. King said, “They told me (about the visit), and I was doing cartwheels.” As Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders walked by he added, “I’m a Texas fan today.” King is also an infantryman with 2/503rd.

 Preston introduced all the performers by name as everyone finished their lunches. He said this was the sixth USO tour sponsored by the sergeant major of the Army, and fourth that he has hosted.

 “I’ve been very blessed. I’ve seen all six shows,” he told the troops.

 Preston said he makes it a point to get the show out to troops at remote locations like Camp Blessing. “Soldiers up here don’t get a lot of visitors,” he explained.

 The show, he said, took about eight months of planning. Most of the performers with this group have toured with the USO before. “I’ve been told this is the greatest USO show in history, and nobody’s told me it’s not.”

 Thomas, an Army veteran and Bronze Star medal with Valor recipient performed first, accompanied by a bandsman on an acoustic guitar. They were followed by Worley, also on acoustic guitar with two of his bandmates. They drew the loudest cheers when the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders danced during one of Worley’s songs.

 “It’s nice seeing the cheerleaders,” said Dallas Cowboys fan and Ft. Smith, Ark., native Marine Cpl. Joel D. Chasteen. Chasteen is an embedded training team mentor and ammunition technician deployed to Afghanistan from Combat Assault Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, Okinawa, Japan.

 After the performances, the guests posed with the military men and women for individual and group pictures, and signed autographs as requested. Preston and the USO group left the area later that afternoon to go back to Kabul and hold their second performance of the day at Camp Phoenix

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