Saturday :: Dec 24, 2005

It's Christmas Eve! Do You Know Who's Entertaining YOUR GI?

by pessimist

There is a lot of opprobrium [thanks, mouser!] being levelled - with some justification - at popular celebrities who aren't interested in sharing their holidays with our troops sent to plunder a foreign land in the name of fighting 'terrism'. But of those who have responded, they haven't forgotten that personal political differences don't have any place in easing the emotional pain of not being home with the family for Christmas because they are - for a good reason or not - fighting our country's wars.

Stars turn backs on America's troops in Iraq

Just as the seemingly intractable nature of the war has led to a growing recruitment crisis, so the United Services Organisation, which has been putting on shows for the troops since the second world war, is struggling to get celebrities to sign up for even a short tour of duty.

"After 9/11 we couldn't have had enough airplanes for the people who were volunteering to go," Wayne Newton, the Las Vegas crooner who succeeded Bob Hope as head of USO's talent recruiting effort, told USA Today. "Now with 9/11 being as far removed as it is, the war being up one day and down the next, it becomes increasingly difficult to get people to go."

Newton said many celebrities have been wary of going because they think it might be seen that they are endorsing the war. "And I say it's not.

"I tell them these men and women are over there because our country sent them, and we have the absolute necessity to try to bring them as much happiness as we can."

Some popular entertainers are hearing that message, Wayne:

[M]any of the USO's regular performers are fierce critics of the war, among them the comic and star of Good Morning Vietnam, Robin Williams, who told USA Today he would like to return to the Middle East in the spring for what would be his fourth tour since 2002. "I'm there for the [troops], not for W," he said in a reference to the president. "Go, man. You won't forget it. You'll meet amazing people," is his message to stars that ask him about the tours.

Other critics of the war who regularly perform include the leftwing comedian Al Franken (who is headlining the current tour along with Christian hip-hop group Souljahz) and the punk legend and actor Henry Rollins, one of the Bush administrations most vocal critics.

More on Franken and the USO below the fold.

The Ghost Of USO Christmas Shows Past Still Has Something To Smile About

Despite Bob Hope going to that Big USO Show in the Sky, others have taken up the cause, including Al Franken, whose political leanings should have him in front of a tough audience. But based on these reports, he's being accepted well:

USO cheers troops, but Iraq gigs tough to book

In the Christmas tradition of the Andrews Sisters wowing World War II GIs with Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, comedian Al Franken is headlining USO shows at military bases in Iraq this week. Franken, 54, is making his third December tour of war zones. "I think I may be the only comedian who's played Abu Ghraib," he said, referring to his visit to the prison near Baghdad where U.S. guards had abused Iraqi detainees.

Like Hope, the entertainment legend who died in 2003 at age 100 and was the mainstay of USO shows for three generations, Franken opens with a monologue about Army chow.

"This Army grub doesn't agree with me. So far I've had five MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), and none of them seems to have an exit strategy." - Al Franken, Iraq, 2005
Two Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders follow with dance routines. Country singers Mark Wills, Craig Morgan and Keni Thomas then belt out odes to patriotism. Franken, dressed as Saddam Hussein, then does a comedy skit with TV actress Traylor Howard.

Al Franken talks to the one of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders dressed in burka during a skit.
(Guy Calaf, WPN)

Comics Robin Williams and Drew Carey also have performed in Iraq. Williams, 54, said he'd like to return to the Middle East this spring for what would be his fourth visit since 2002. The star of the 1987 film Good Morning, Vietnam starts his comic riffs at U.S. bases with "Gooooood morning, Al-Asad!" or whatever the location.

Franken and Williams are on a relatively short list of stars who are paid $50 a day and who are sent to overseas bases by USO President-CEO Ned Powell.

And how well is this playing in Camp Peoria, Iraq?

"It's the best thing since I've been here," Sgt. Thomas Harvey, 25, of Scranton, Pa., said after seeing the show Wednesday with 500 soldiers at Camp Victory, a U.S. base near the Baghdad airport. "Those guys gave up their time and came over here, and serve (the nation) with us."

Al Franken pays homage to Wayne Newton for his efforts on behalf of our troops:

"Wayne Newton is the Bob Hope of this war, but nobody can replace Bob Hope," Franken said. Newton has made 12 USO tours since 2000, including four trips to Iraq.

Across the Great Divide

Powell and Newton said they warn performers to avoid political comments while onstage. "We are an apolitical organization," USO Vice President Donna St. John said. Besides Newton, the USO's entertainers include conservatives such as country singers Darryl Worley, Toby Keith and Neal McCoy. Their political opposites include Bush critics Franken, Williams and Rollins. As Williams said, "I'm there for (the troops), not for W," referring to Bush. The USO welcomes them, and the Pentagon authorizes their travel.

The troops are grateful to any entertainer who travels to a dangerous post. "It really helps getting through all the stressful times" in Baghdad, said Spc. Emily Wilsoncroft, 23, of Syracuse, N.Y.

Why They Delight - Not Just From The Right

Sergeant Major of the Army Ken Preston, the service's senior enlisted soldier who hosts the tour, said he often is asked why he includes Franken with his "left wing" politics.
"What he says to the soldiers is: Even if there are different views ... the American people are united in our support for you," Preston said after Wednesday's show as the performers signed autographs.
Powell said he's received complaints about having Franken, a Democrat with a radio show on the liberal Air America network, entertain the troops. Franken said he confines his political gibes to his books and his radio program. "I know there are guys who hate me here, but there are a surprising number who come up with my book to sign," he said.

Powell said he followed Williams down a line of servicemembers as the comedian left Baghdad in 2003, three weeks after Bush had been there for Thanksgiving. Powell overheard a reporter asking a soldier to compare Williams' visit with Bush's. Powell said the soldier replied:

"The president's visit was really cool, but you know, sir, he had to come - and Robin Williams didn't."
"And that," Powell said, "is the point."

It's a good thing that someone noticed that we are all still Americans even if our politics differ greatly, for if that is not the case, all of those GIs are over in Iraq for no legitimate reason at all.

So, while you are scarfing down your Christmas goose, keep that unfortunate Reservist or National Guardsman in mind. You know the one - still stuck in Iraq thanks to Stop Loss or called away from loved ones because Bu$hCo has this insane goal of ruling the world through the selective application of petroleum products. All s/he's likely to get for Christmas from Bu$hCo is another staged photo op with some turkey.

Merry Christmas anyway, GIs! We'll get you all home as soon as we can.

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