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Leeann Tweeden, a model and television personality signs an autograph for a young Marine after the United Service Organization show on Aug. 17.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew Pendracki

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says farewell: USO troupe entertains troops at Al Asad

17 Aug 2005 | Cpl. C. Alex Herron

Before the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff steps down and turns over the job of top military advisor to the President of the United States to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers set out on a worldwide tour to share his appreciation for service members at different bases on more than three continents and ships at sea. “There are three reasons for this tour,” Myers said. “For us to say thank you, let service members know the American people are behind them and to entertain the troops. Our country has always asked a lot of those of us in uniform. All of the sacrifices are making a difference, just like they have since the Revolutionary War and George Washington when he led 3,000 troops with no shoes or proper clothing into battle and came out victorious.”Before the show began, Myers presented three service members with medals for their work while serving in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Army Staff Sgt. Ariel Custodio, a water logistical specialist with the 326th Area Support Group and Kansas City, Mo., native, was awarded the Army Commendation Medal. Sergeant Diego Velasquez, the fiscal noncommissioned officer-in-charge with Marine Aircraft Group 26 and Queens, N.Y., native and Cpl. Spencer Atkinson, a mechanic with Combat Logistics Battalion 2 and Jacksonville, Fla., native, were awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. “It was an honor to be presented my award by [Myers],” Atkinson said. “I never thought anything like this would happen on this deployment. It was a great privilege that I’ll remember as one of my highlights.”After the ceremony, the entertainers took center stage and entertained the capacity crowd with humor, stories and inspirational words of encouragement. Leeann Tweeden, a model and television personality warmed the crowd and shared her experiences with the USO and why she supports the organization.“When I was younger I stumbled upon an autographed photo of Raquel Welch addressed to my father. After I asked him about it, my father explained how Bob Hope and other entertainers would go to bases in deployed locations to entertain the troops,” Tweeden said. “He still talks about how much that experience helped him get through his time away from home.”After Tweeden’s remarks, she introduced pro football Hall of Fame running back, Gale Sayers, who spent five seasons with the Chicago Bears. Sayers spoke to the service members about the real heroes of America.“Why am I successful,” Sayers continued. “Teamwork, whether I gained one yard or 50 yards it was all because other guys were making blocks and pulling their weight. You guys are on the ultimate team. Nothing you do can be done alone. As long as you have your fellow Marines and soldiers with you, you too will be successful.”Sayers ended his speech with a poem and introduced comedian, Jeffery Ross. At the conclusion of Ross’s act, another comedian, Colin Quinn took a shot at entertaining the crowd. “The comedians were great,” said Cpl. Tyrone Hatter, a switchboard operator with Marine Wing Communications Squadron 28 and Baton Rouge, La., native. “It was nice to take a break from our busy schedules. These events give everyone a chance to forget about the stress of being in a combat zone. It allows everyone to recharge and get their heads on straight before going back out there to continue to fight.”At the conclusion of the event, Myers introduced a well known television news anchor, Matt Lauer, who shared a few thoughts of his own about the war and the troops that fight it.“On our show we debate the reasons or the pros and cons of why we are here,” said Lauer, a host of NBC’s Today show. “But there is one thing that is never up for debate, the support of the troops. We still get messages from viewers that say, ‘Keep the focus on the troops.’ The sacrifice you make to be here doesn’t go unnoticed. Bottom line, the general consensus is one of thanks. Thanks for everything you do and keep up the good work.” The 11-day tour has already taken the group to Germany, Kosovo and Iraq. *For more information about this story please e-mail Cpl. Alex Herron at*
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