Thursday, December 20, 2007
Kid Rock does NOT rock Baghdad
It was supposed to be the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen's 'thank you' to troops serving in Baghdad over the holidays. Fly in musician Kid Rock, comedian Robin Williams, beauty queen Miss USA and some others for a concert at Camp Liberty - one of the U.S. Army bases in Iraq’s combat zone.
When my producer, cameraman and I arrived at the military base field house more attune to a high school gymnasium than a concert hall, we could hardly believe the line of hundreds of soldiers snaking outside the building, along the concrete t-wall barriers intended to deflect incoming mortars. But that is the lure of the United Service Organization, better known as the USO. For generations, the charity organization has been bringing celebs from Bob Hope to Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong to conflict areas to entertain the troops.
"Kid Rock rocks!" and "It is great that [the celebrities] support us, that they'd come out to see us during the holidays!" - that’s pretty much the theme we heard from soldiers, some who had been waiting four or five hours in the winter cold for the night concert to begin.
But it wasn't meant to be.
Along with the winter chill came terribly strong winds – and eventually an announcement from the Joint Chief of Staff Chairman himself: the concert was off. Admiral Mullen, who had come to Camp Liberty before the bad weather set in, said the Blackhawk helicopters set to bring the entertainers from another gig in Tikrit, north of Baghdad, could not fly safely to Camp Liberty. At first, some of the troops cheered – thinking the Admiral on stage in front of them was joking. But then they realized the concert meant to bring Christmas cheer, was not going to take place. The disappointment was palpable.
Admiral Mullen, somewhat moved by being the bearer of bad news to hundreds of young soldiers, apologized and allowed service members to take pictures with him. Then the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff handed out much coveted challenge coins – considered in many military circles as an award for bravery, hard work or service.
I understand the sentimental value of these coins - I was there when U.S. military commanding officers gave coins to troops who took part in the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003. Some troops will spend 20 or 30 years in the military and never receive a coin. And here’s the military’s top brass handing out his coin - for standing in a line for USO concert? It almost seems over the top. But don’t tell that to a 20-something soldier spending his first Christmas away from home, in a war zone.
-- From Alphonso Van Marsh in Baghdad
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