Country Artists, Actors Voice Support

By Carmen L. Burgess
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2006 - Entertainers took the stage in a tribute to those in uniform during the 2006 American Freedom Festival last night at DAR Constitution Hall here.

Several country artists and actors joined together in expressing their gratitude to troops during a live show aired on the Pentagon Channel to 350 military installations worldwide. Musicians Rodney Atkins, Mark Wills and Darryl Worley joined actress Karri Turner, comedian Henry Cho and World Wrestling Entertainment champion John Bradshaw Layfield in a fundraising event for troops wounded while serving overseas.

This wasn't the first time many of these artists had come together to thank the U.S. military - several have traveled together to Iraq and Afghanistan in repeated USO tours. Behind the scenes it was like a family reunion, while the show went on for thousands in attendance out front.

The American Freedom Foundation and USO are members of America Supports You, a Department of Defense program dedicated to connecting the citizens to troops at home and abroad.

Although it may have been fun and games in the back, these entertainers were united on one thing: their love for the men and women in the uniform.

"I believe in the military," said Mark Wills, whose Vietnam-vet father instilled in him patriotism and support for the armed forces at an early age. "I use my position as a platform to show my gratitude. It's an honor to be able to thank troops for their service."

Rodney Atkins said he views his single "Going Through Hell" as an anthem for what the troops are facing on a daily basis. He first performed the song for the homecoming of the 278th Regimental Combat Team from Knoxville, Tenn., when he realized that it was very pertinent to what the troops from his home state had experienced during their tour in Iraq.

"These soldiers are defending us while we're driving around, picking up our kids, going to church and living our lives," he said. "The honor we have is supporting them while they are walking through the fire."

Karri Turner, who is best known for her role as Lt. Harriet Sims on the CBS hit drama "JAG," made her first USO trip to South Korea in 2001 and has taken time off from her acting career to visit troops annually ever since.

"I don't know how many people understand the sacrifices made by our troops," Turner said. "I know this may sound corny - but freedom really, really isn't free."

She said she has never been the same since her first trip to meet troops overseas. "It has been such an honor to, for one quick second, give back to the greatest country in the world."

Turner is fervent in her admiration for the men and women in uniform. "I want all our troops to know that I support this mission," she said, "and I believe history will show we did the right thing, for the right reasons. Our troops are noble, and their mission is worthwhile."

Singer Darryl Worley closed his set, and the concert, with his newly released hit "I Just Came Back (From a War)" which was inspired by his interaction with a Marine who had a similar experience when returning from Iraq.

"It's about compassion, patience and understanding for those who are returning," said Worley. "We have a lot of folks who are standing in the gap for us - it's important for them to know that we support them."

"You don't have to agree with the war," said Wills, who has participated in three Christmas tours with the USO, "but it's essential to respect someone who's laying his or her life down on the line for you."

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