AL ASAD, Iraq -- The Arizona Cardinals Cheerleading Team took the field here June 20. Ten smiling faces greeted the forward deployed 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing as part of a armed forces entertainment show touring forward deployed bases in Iraq.
Morale boosting events such as this are not uncommon for celebrities, or in this case cheerleaders for a professional football team, to show their appreciation to the fighting men and women of the military. Hundreds of Marines, sailors and soldiers poured in to receive autographed pictures and snap their own shots of the Arizona beauties.
“This was a sight for sore eyes,” said Cpl. Khauncey D. Hurt, 23, from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 26. “This was a real morale pick-me-up; now I’m an Arizona fan,” added the Eatonton, Ga., native.
The cheerleading team wasn’t on board to promote their pro football team or encourage crowd support. They were cheering another team; the team of warriors fighting for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“It has been an amazing experience,” said Kristi L. Gauthier, 25, who has been cheerleading for the Cardinals for three years. “I love to put smiles on their faces and it is our honor to be here.”
“I’m very proud,” punctuated Bridgot L. Asher, 30. “I’ve always supported our military, but I’ve never been this close. I have a new appreciation for what our military men and women do.”
Sergeant Rodrigo A. Diazcoloma, who hails from Long Island, N.Y., didn’t arrive with just his pen in hand. After making his way to the head of the line he produced an object familiar to each of the ladies.
“I had each of them sign my football,” said Diazcoloma, assigned to Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron 269. “It’s part of my scrapbook. I’ll place it somewhere for everyone to see; who know’s, I may donate it to the squadron.”
The team of cheerleaders expected Marines and other uniformed military men and women when they arrived in country. Probably their most loyal fan, was the most unexpected: Dany, a 5-year-old German Shephard, serving as a military working dog.
“I think Dany enjoyed the attention,” said Cpl. Robert A. La Place, 25, from Sacramento Calif. La Place and Dany ensure the security of Al Asad on a daily basis. “It’s awesome these women came to Iraq,” said La Place. It makes us happy and it makes a difference. The war never goes away, but if we can take our minds from it for just a minute, it makes a difference.”
The female bombshells will spend two weeks in Iraq before heading back to the West Coast. Prior to arriving here, they said, they were given a different impression of the ongoing operations. They mentioned all the negative advertising from the major news networks, however, after arriving they have encountered a new face of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The news networks aren’t telling the stories that need to be told,” said Heather V. Shrake, 28, who has coached the team for one year. “We have flown in helicopters and witnessed the support first hand from the people who live here. They swarm around their villages to just wave at us flying overhead,” added Shrake. “The people back home also don’t see all the soccer balls going to the Iraqi children, the candy that puts smiles on their faces, or the rebuilding. You can see the support from the people who live here. The networks need to get it right.”
“It takes courage to come here,” said Cpl. Adam L. Brant, 20, assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252, and native of Hubbard, Ohio. “We appreciate their support, and it is always nice to see pretty ladies.”
There were no football players scoring points, making the big tackles, or scoring the winning touchdown for their home state. The team of cheerleaders who visited here were no longer on the sidelines, they were doing their part on the frontlines to support the men and women maintaining the momentum in the Global War on Terrorism and Operation Enduring Freedom.