This year on our annual USO tour, I decided to keep a journal about the daily activities we participated in. Every year since I have been in Show Group, we have taken a trip to South Korea for the USO tour, but this year was a little bit different.
DAY 1: Dec. 14, 2011
Our first destination was Okinawa, an island in Japan, so Day 1 of the tour was basically just a 13-hour flight from DFW to Tokyo. After we arrived, we each grabbed our two suitcases and one carry-on bag and lugged them through the airport.
We take two large suitcases because in one we carry all of our costumes for our two-hour variety show, while in the other we have all of our matching outfits for the eight days of the tour, as well as our toiletries and anything extra that we may need. In our small bag, we carry on our uniform, boots, and pompoms because if we lose that in our checked luggage, it would be worst-case scenario!
Anyway, after grabbing all of our luggage and shuffling through the airport, we boarded our second plane to Okinawa. The first night, we finally arrived to our camp hotel at Kadena Air Base around 10 p.m. or so. We ate dinner, unpacked, had a meeting about the next day’s activities, then went to bed.
DAY 2: Dec. 15, 2011
Day 2 of our USO tour started with breakfast at the base officer’s club. Then the 12 of us traveled together to meet Brigadier General Molloy, the 18th Wing Commander, and Vice Commander Colonel Martin. They welcomed us with open arms and told us a little bit of history about the base, and what they had been through since they first opened in 1951 under another name.
Personally, I really enjoy all history, and General Molloy didn’t hold back in letting us know details about the wars and battles they had fought to defend our country and its allies. We were then very honored to be “coined” by General Molloy for our support of the Okinawa military servicemen.
After our visit with the General, we split off into our two tour groups for the day. Group A was made up of Ally, Kelsi, Meagan, Ashton, Jackie and Holly, while group B had the other six members of the tour: Whitney, myself, Sydney, Mia, Melissa and Sunni. Our group first went to visit the 909th Air Refueling Squadron where we did a meet and greet with several members of the Air Force. Then, we traveled over to the 33rd Rescue and HMU Hangar where we toured a battle helicopter and spent a little time with them as well.
We then jumped back into the bus and traveled over to the Banyon Tree Enlisted Club where we had lunch with several soldiers and signed photos for them and their families. After spending about 30 minutes there, we departed for the Base Exchange where we did an hour-long autograph signing for anyone at the base who decided to come see us. It was a rewarding first day of the tour, meeting so many people who sacrificed so much to be there for our freedom.
After the first half of the day, we proceeded to the Kadena Air Base Keystone Theater where we rehearsed our show, then performed for the troops. Following our show, we had an autograph line, where we line up at the edge of the stage and spend a little time chatting and taking photos with each person who attended the show. Around 10 p.m., we went back over to the officer’s club for dinner, and ate like we hadn’t eaten in days!
DAY 3: Dec. 16, 2011
Day 3 of our USO tour was another awesome experience in Okinawa at Kadena Air Base. We started out with another fabulous (and huge) breakfast at the Commander’s Club then moved on to our first visit at the Naval Hospital in Okinawa. We signed autographs for all of the people there at the hospital, the staff and their children, and four DCC went upstairs to do room visits for those who were recovering or could not leave their hospital rooms.
We also visited the USO headquarters in Kadena where we met lots of families and signed autographs and took pictures with them. For lunch, we went to the Base Exchange where we were VERY excited to pick our lunch from the food court. Of course, Melissa, Sunni, Jackie and I instantly teamed up and headed to Taco Bell!
Some of the children from the elementary school on base had been on a field trip to the bowling alley, and they were having lunch in the same food court, so when we finished eating some of the kids started to ask for our autographs. It ended up being a very entertaining autograph session, because the kids decided to start racing to get all 12 of our signatures, and we were spread out all over the huge food court. It was so funny to see one kid celebrating when they asked which one you were and realizing they didn’t have your signature yet, then having another kid begging you to show them where Melissa was at that moment. It was entertaining to say the least, and we had fun meeting all the children there.
We were sad to leave the kids, but we had to move on to our next item on the agenda, so we proceeded to visit the SeaBees, which was also really fun. We did an autograph line there, and took photos with the soldiers. Then as quickly as we got there, we were back on the bus headed to our second show.
Once again, we rehearsed the two-hour variety show and set the staging the way we did the day before. Before each performance, at around 1800 hours, which is 6 p.m., the doors are opened to the public to come in and start taking their seats. We have to stay backstage and get ready during that final hour, then at 1900 hours we start the show. We usually finish up after about two hours, then we have only a couple of minutes to quickly dry ourselves off, freshen up our make-up and hair, spray some perfume or body spray on our uniforms, pop in a mint, and head back out on the stage. Then we do an autograph line for everyone that attended the show and we take photos with them and meet people that we may have not gotten the chance to meet earlier in the day during visits.
The post-show autograph line is my favorite part of the day on tour. It gives us a chance to catch up with some of the soldiers and the families that we met during our daytime visits, and we also get to meet new people. We get to ask the audience members if they enjoyed the show and what their favorite parts were. It is fun to hear one man say he loved Whitney’s lyrical solo, and then hear his buddy say he loved the rock routine. The audience feedback is awesome to hear because it gives us a little boost for the next show, knowing that someone enjoyed that part the night before!
The routine for which we hear the best feedback is our holiday number: 12 Days of Christmas. Each girl has a day during the song, and we dance when our day is sung. It’s really our easiest dance because we only dance during our specific number, but it is also really fun to watch each other dance for a change.
Whitney and I tried to change things up a little bit here and there during some shows just so we could get a laugh out of the other ones. I stand next to Whitney for a lot of that routine, which makes things really fun. Like I said before, though, that is usually the crowd favorite, and I think it’s probably because we are having fun and the energy spreads throughout the entire theater.
Hearing responses from the soldiers after shows is very enlightening and really helps out when we are very tired from a long day and a two-hour performance. We are there first and foremost for those fighting for us every day, so knowing that we made them smile for just a couple hours makes me feel like I accomplished exactly what I went on tour for. Hopefully the memory can last them until we return again, and continue to boost the morale for just a little longer.
DAY 4: Dec. 17, 2011
Sadly, we had to leave Okinawa, though we were excited to head to Korea. I am so blessed to have had the opportunity to see a new place this tour, and Okinawa was everything it was cracked up to be!
My dad actually told me a story about his father who was stationed in Okinawa, who I never had the chance to meet. He said that his father told him that if he didn’t have a wife and child waiting at home for him in the states, that he would have never left Okinawa because it was so beautiful. Though we were there for only two days of rainy weather, I could tell that it was very much as breathtaking as people described.
When we left Okinawa, we flew a different airline, our third different one in just three days. On the way to the airport, however, I was flipping through our travel book, and I realized that Holly’s flight itinerary was different than the rest of ours. It said that her flight was Friday, Dec. 16, and the rest of ours was Saturday. Basically Holly had already missed her flight because there was a mistake in the booking of the trip.
When we got there, our trusty leader, Dan, sorted everything out, and got Holly to Korea with the rest of us. The flight was only a few hours, but it definitely gave us plenty of time to catch up on sleep that we desperately needed. We arrived in Seoul around 1500 hours as scheduled, and waited in the immigration line for about an hour, which was not planned, then got all of our suitcases sorted and headed for the bus.
We were on the road for about an hour and a half before arriving at our final destination of the day, the J. W. Marriot in Seoul. The hotel is so beautiful and was covered in awesome holiday décor. Returning there for a third year is not something that I would ever have complaints about. We then gathered our belongings and headed upstairs to our rooms, where we were very much spoiled and pampered. With a night off from dancing, we enjoyed a delicious room-service dinner, relaxed and watched movies.
We usually spend our day off on the tour shopping in Osan in Korea, but I think that staying off our feet and spending the day traveling and resting was the best remedy for my achy, worn-out injured knee. It was perfect, in my opinion, and I had fun watching movies with my roommate Jackie Bob!