As soon as the wheels touched down in South Korea, I felt like I was home for the holidays. This was my second time in Seoul on a USO tour. Just sitting on the runway, waiting for the pilot to turn off the “fasten your seat belt” sign, had me more anxious to start flying in Blackhawks, visit our troops and perform each night for a crowd full of military uniforms, than a child on Christmas morning about to open up a gift.
That reminds me of a quote I once heard: “Life is not tied with a bow, but it is still a gift.” I am still thankful each day for the opportunity I was given to travel overseas last Christmas to boost morale and spread cheer to our servicemen and women. I am even more thankful that I was able to return this holiday season.
Experiencing first hand the lives of the men and women who sacrifice so much for us each day and bringing a touch of home to them is a life-changing experience I will never forget. I’ve performed for many different crowds – NFL games, minor league baseball games, hockey games, corporate events, etc. – but nothing compares to what I see and experience on a USO tour.
Our hotel was the JW Marriott in Seoul. I can honestly say it is one of my favorite hotels that I have stayed in during a trip. Not only is Seoul the capital of Korea, but it is also the fifth largest city in the world. One thing you may notice when you arrive in Korea is the people stand and walk very, very close to you. Why? Koreans actually have a closer sense of personal space, so elbowing someone or cutting in front of them in a line is not considered rude. It is a way of life in Korea.
Here are some phrases I picked up while I was overseas:
Kahm-sa Ham-nee dah
Our first day in Korea consisted of breakfast (our hotel had the most incredible breakfast buffet I’ve ever had), a visit to K-16, a children’s clinic at Yongsan Garrison, and our first show at the YS Gym. As a dance instructor for young girls and boys in Dallas, I truly enjoyed the opportunity to interact with and teach the children of the men and women who are stationed in Yongsan. It made me feel so good to hear the parents talk about how excited their children have been the past few months when they heard that we were coming and that they would be able to dance with us (possibly even learn some of our famous moves)!
During our tour last season, I fell in love with traveling in helicopters. Every time my itinerary said “via Blackhawk,” I jumped for joy! Our second day was exciting for the tour rookies in my group, Sunni and Melissa, because they experienced their first helicopter ride.
Our first stop was in Panmunjom, where we visited the DMZ – the Korean Demilitarized Zone. The DMZ cuts across the peninsula, and many people around the globe believe that it is the most heavily-defended border in the world. North Korean and South Korean armies stand toe-to-toe in opposition.
While we thought our visit to the DMZ was simply going to be having lunch with military members and listening to their stories, it turned into much more. The news that Kim Jong Il passed away was announced while we were at the DMZ. At that moment, I felt like I had experienced a part of history first-hand.
Our next few stops were at Camp Casey and Camp Hovey before our show at the Carey Fitness Center.
On the third day of our USO tour in Korea, we visited K2 and Camp Walker, where we hosted another clinic for a group of sweet children. Our last stop was taking the Blackhawk over to Osan Air Base where we had our next show at the AAFES Theater.
Our last day in Korea was extremely special to me. We were able to meet General J.D. Thurman (Commander, R.O.K.-U.S. Combined Forces Command and Commander, U.S. Forces Korea). We were originally going to meet him the previous day, however, the death of Kim Jong Il slightly altered our itinerary. Luckily, he was able to see us the next day. Not only was he one of the sweetest people I have ever met, but he also gave each of us a gorgeous Korean musical jewelry box and a military dog tag that read, “Presented by the Commander for Excellence – We go together!”
After meeting General Thurman, we visited Kunsan Air Base on the shores of the Yellow Sea, where we met up with my favorite, the Wolfpack. There, we got to sit in an F-16 (a single-engine aircraft that is extremely small and light) and play with the range simulator, which provides highly realistic video-based environments for firearm/weapon training and strategies!
Last but not least, it was time to head over to our final show, in the Super Gym at Camp Humphreys. I remember feeling like our journey had just begun. I could not believe that in less than an hour and a half, the 2011 Holiday Tour would be over. I guess time flies when you’re having fun!
It is tradition that the DCC stay overseas through Christmas. This year, however, our visit to South Korea ended early, and I can say that I was not ready to leave. There is something magical about performing for and visiting with our troops on Christmas Day! I feel blessed that, as Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, we can boost the moral of our troops who are serving and protecting our great country so far away from home and their families.
Although we were not able to hang out with our troops on Christmas Day this time around due to a home game at Cowboys Stadium on Christmas Eve, I want them to know that they are all supported and loved and in our hearts, thoughts, and prayers, always.
I may have told this story before, but for those of you who haven’t heard it, as a little girl I always set the alarm on my house before I went to bed. I felt that if someone were to break into my house, the sound of the alarm going off would serve as a warning of danger to my parents, and in the end, it would protect us. As I grew older, I realized that the brave men and women who serve our country each and every day are our alarms. If danger arises, they warn us and protect us. Now, every night before I go to bed, I not only set my house alarm, but I think about our troops who are away from home and their families, and I pray for their safety, health and happiness.
Here is one of my favorite poems, written by a Marine once stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
(Warning: May cause chills and a tear or two to fall.)
‘Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone
In a one bedroom house made of plaster and stone.
I had come down the chimney with presents to give
And to see just who in this home did live.
I looked all about a strange sight I did see,
No tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by the fire, just boots filled with sand,
On the wall hung pictures of far distant lands.
With medals and badges, awards of all kind
A sober thought came through my mind.
For this house was different, so dark and dreary,
I knew I had found the home of a soldier, once I could see clearly.
I heard stories about them, I had to see more
So I walked down the hall and pushed open the door.
And there he lay sleeping silent alone,
Curled up on the floor in his one bedroom home.
His face so gentle, his room in such disorder,
Not how I pictured a United States soldier.
Was this the hero of whom I’d just read?
Curled up in his poncho, a floor for his bed?
His head was clean shaven, his weathered face tan,
I soon understood this was more then a man.
For I realized the families that I saw that night
Owed their lives to these men who were willing to fight.
Soon ’round the world, the children would play,
And grownups would celebrate on a bright Christmas day.
They all enjoyed freedom each month of the day,
Because of soldiers like this one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder how many lay alone
On a cold Christmas Eve in a land far from home.
Just the very thought brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees and started to cry.
The solder awakened and I heard a rough voice,
“Santa don’t cry, this life is my choice;
I fight for freedom, I don’t ask for more,
My life is my God, my country, my Corps.”
With that he rolled over and drifted off into sleep,
I couldn’t control it, I continued to weep.
I watched him for hours, so silent and still,
I noticed he shivered from the cold night’s chill.
So I took off my jacket, the one made of red,
And I covered this Soldier from his toes to his head.
And I put on his T-shirt of gray and black,
With an eagle and an Army patch embroidered on back.
And although it barely fit me, I began to swell with pride,
And for a shining moment, I was United States Army deep inside.
I didn’t want to leave him on that cold dark night,
This guardian of honor so willing to fight.
Then the soldier rolled over, whispered with a voice so clean and pure,
“Carry on Santa, it’s Christmas day, all is secure.”
One look at my watch, and I knew he was right,
Merry Christmas my friend, and to all a good night!