Saturday, 14 May 2011 09:31
The Department of Defenses Office Armed Forces Entertainment
is gearing up for it's second ever Wrangler National Patriot Tour over the span of Memorial Day Week, in the Middle East. Western rodeo icons will leave their competition circuits for 2 weeks to share Americana with our troops, a TV host and country music artist will leave his set and stage behind ... all for the good of our US Armed Forces Members. This, saddling up for the troops, is being supported by a little known agency of the Department of Defense (DoD
) called Armed Forces Entertainment.
In 1951, the DoDestablished the office of Armed Forces Entertainment to meet the needs of our troops serving in remote and hardship deployment areas of operation. The office falls under command structure of the United States
Air Force, but is tasked with providing all service branches a total of over 1,200 engagements per year around the world, reaching over half a million troops. The government organization is not to be confused with the civilian non-profit group United Service Organization (USO) which is famous for bringing some of the most famous celebrities to large bases. Rather, Armed Forces Entertainment is focused with hardship, remote and front line combat areas of operation. It's tour celebrities go through stringent vetting while receiving a minimal government honorarium/per-diem.
So how does the DoD pick who gets to go on tours? In the case of one of their supporting
organizations, American300 Warrior Tours, the process starts by finding individuals who can bring more then their
resume, title, gold medal, or TV show ratings.
"We look for individuals who have a history that troops can relate to as well as people who understand the risks of the places that Armed Forces Entertainment puts our tours." says Rob Powers, founder / manager of American300 Warrior Tours. He adds "If it were as easy as taking celebrities over seas my duties for American300 and the DoD would be a piece of cake.
Instead, Powers and his board of directors and senior advisors (all volunteers) look for Americans who
can help make a difference in the daily lives of our Service Members. They focus on individuals who can withstand the organizations operational tempo of 16-20 hour days, are willing to pull 40+ hour 'straights' so they can engage night shift workers who otherwise never see the light of day - or sponsored 'entertainment', all the while sharing their own personal stories of duty, dedication and sacrifice. "You put an Olympic Gold Medalist in the room with a service member and listen in on their conversation and you can't tell who the Olympian is and who the Troop is, their stories are so similar: time away from home, dedication, work ethic, sacrifice, teamwork, perseverance... it's just amazing to listen to the similarities" Powers adds.
Not everyone makes the cut. "American300 puts our athletes through an extensive vetting process" says Jeff Chadwick, manager of western events for the Wrangler Corporation, adding "their focus is on individuals who are willing to put
in 20 hour days focused on interacting with troops, celebrities that can turn the spot light off themselves and shine it on our troops."
U.S. Army Major Jesse Stewart, a decorated combat infantry officer and board member with American300 points out that not every athlete, celebrity makes the cut. "We deal with lots of celebrities that while they want to go on a tour, don't pass our vetting process. Reasons range from time away from home, the operational areas our tours go into and in some cases the inability to truly realize that it's all about our Troops... not just a great resume add to their career as an athlete or performer" says Major Stewart, adding " the great thing is that our tours are being talked about, the after action reports from the field are coming back super positive, so we know that our focus on resiliency is working."
The American300 Warrior Tours has quickly become one of the Department of Defenses go to nonprofit organizations for assisting the office of Armed Forces Entertainment with 'new school' entertainment programming. The upcoming Armed Forces Entertainment Wrangler National Patriot Tour is just one of over a dozen tours that American300 has in the pipeline for our nation's deployed service members in 2011. " We started off co-producing 2-4 events a year for Armed Forces Entertainment 3 years ago" says Brian Barrett
,the nonprofits volunteer webmaster, (all staff and advisors are volunteers) " now I'm making additions to our upcoming tour listings and free family photo galleries bi-monthly".
Those changes include bringing television host and country star Lucas Hoge
on board with the Cowboys and Cowgirls of the Wrangler National Patriot Tour. "Last year I was competing in a celebrity event at the CMA Fan Festival in Nashville, when Robi (Powers) came up to me after the event, stuck out his hand and said: "Lucas I need you on a troop tour next year". Hoge says "next thing I know, American300 has me lined out with my favorites from the western world on this years Wrangler National Patriot Tour to the Middle East."
For American300 it's all about delivering to our troops a varied group of Americans each month with a focus on troop resiliency and strength. The format is simple: Put great Americans in and around our deployed troops in a manner that breads discussion, information exchange and life experience sharing. " What started as Olympians and their Olympic Medals tour has morphed into TV stars, NASCAR drivers and more " says Powers, with a smile that can fill a room, adding " we are even taking 'over' the World's top motorX adaptive athlete, Mike Schultz
, who lost his left leg from above the knee and owns 3 gold medals in ESPN's Adaptive XGames - that's going to be a tour Armed Forces Entertainment has us starting off with in Landstuhl, Germany at one of our Wounded Warrior Hospitals, it's going to be amazing to share a guy like Mike with our Troops"
Last Updated on Monday, 30 May 2011 08:48