Running with the Rock Stars on Tour for the Troops
by Lt. Col. Ann Peru Knabe
I’ll never make it as a rock star – I love my sleep too much. But I’m spending two weeks with some real rock stars on the Tour for the Troops; these artists rarely sleep.
Seven shows in less than 12 days is no easy feat. The performing artists are short on sleep as they spend hours setting up, performing sound tests, signing autographs, touring bases, posing for photos with the troops, and, of course, performing.
Despite the long hours cramped on a plane with equipment, the performers remain positive and focused, working to the point of exhaustion.
There’s commitment behind the scenes, too, as the tech and production crews set-up and tear down stages at every location. There are no divas on this trip – they all have enormous stage talent, and yet enormous responsibility setting-up sound and light gear. There are no autograph sessions or after-parties for most of the roadies, they have a date with a loadmaster who is packing the plane.
Meanwhile additional deployed Airmen and Soldiers work behind the scenes at each location to ensure the tour’s success. They welcome the artists, dedicating scarce resources and manning to ensure the shows’ success.
The tour is an amazing total force effort: Before leaving the U.S., two Air Force Reserve aircraft were packed with artists, backup singers, a full support team and more than 45,000 pounds of cargo, including a grand piano, the bands’ instruments, and all the lights, sound and electronic equipment used during the show. It’s enough to fill two semi-trucks. Reserve aerial porters load and unload the aircraft at each location, and Reserve crews fly the group. The Band of the Air Force Reserve, itself, is comprised of musicians who belong to the regular Air Force, and features soloist, Angelina Johnson, a Guardsman who joined the Reserve component after serving on active duty. Plus there are civilians manning the production team, putting together the stage, lights and sound system. They all work together to ensure a sensational show is offered at every venue.
Sure, there are glitches, like the time we flew to a forward operating base in Iraq and left the autograph cards back at Kirkuk. But the troops were appreciative to have their first VIP guests in four years. And there are laughs, like the time Jessie had a brown hairy wolf spider scare her out of her room in Incirlik.
The tour is exhausting, but it’s only two weeks of my life. That’s a sharp contrast to Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen spending six months to a year in the war zone. As the Tour for the Troops finishes its trip through the AOR, the Air Force Reserve salutes all deployed service members and says “thank you” to their supportive families. We’ll soon be back home in the U.S. , but the personal sacrifices of our men and women in the armed forces will not be forgotten.
Lt. Col. Ann Peru Knabe, an Air Force Reservist, is the public affairs officer traveling with the 2009 Tour for the Troops. Tour for the Troops is sponsored by the Air Force Reserve. See photos, video and updates on the Tour for the Troops Facebook fan page. Follow Air Force Reserve on Twitter @AFRC. Look for tour updates on Twitter at #Tour4Troops