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 News Article

Winnefeld, Celebrities Bring Cheer to Troops on USO World Tour

By Lisa Ferdinando
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, March 3, 2015 – A top NFL quarterback, an “American Idol” winner and Miss America are making their first voyage around the globe to bring cheer to deployed service members.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev and singer Diana DeGarmo arrive in Germany as part of a USO Tour hosted by Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, March 3, 2015. DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando.
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, season 11 “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips, and Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev are among the celebrities traveling with Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on his third USO tour.

Others in the traveling troupe include actor Dennis Haysbert, who is making his sixth USO tour; “American Idol” runner-up Diana DeGarmo, on her fourth tour; and DeGarmo's husband, Ace Young, an “American Idol” finalist, who is on his third USO trip.

On his second USO tour is film and television personality Jason “Wee Man” Acuna, while the goodwill trip marks the first such travel for Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen, Pittsburgh Steelers guard David DeCastro, and Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano.

Thanking Troops for Their Service, Sacrifice

Before they departed yesterday on their world tour, Winnefeld and some of the celebrities visited Arlington National Cemetery and then spent time with wounded warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

"It's always terrific for the wounded warriors to be able to see these people who are so successful in life [and] don’t have to do this, but take the time to come speak with them, ask them questions, see how they are doing. It makes a heck of a difference," Winnefeld said.

"It's a break from the routine, and it really shows these wonderful people who have given so much to our country that they really do matter," he added.

Winnefeld, who spoke to DoD News as he and the crew headed for Germany, the troupe’s first stop, said he looks forward to thanking the deployed men and women in the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard who have given so much in service to the nation.

"They've raised their right hand. They've volunteered to serve. They're overseas," he said. "They're serving their country and they're sacrificing a lot while they are doing it."

The tour will be special for Winnefeld and his wife, Mary, who is also on the trip, as it is his last as the nation's second-highest-ranking military officer. The admiral, whose term ends later this year, predicted this will be the "best one yet."

"This is a tremendous treat for us to be able to do this," he said.

Celebrity Couple Happy, Proud to Be a Part of USO Tour

DeGarmo and Young said they always look forward to participating in the USO tours. "It's the least we can do for our troops and our service members who do so much for us," DeGarmo said. It is a humbling experience, Young said, considering the incredible sacrifice made by both the service members and their families.

"It's just a big eye-opener for me, it really humbles me [and] makes me grateful for every opportunity that I have back home, because none of it would be available without the people serving," Young added.

Just to be invited on the tour is an honor, DeGarmo said, citing the USO’s historical significance and the happiness and joy the tours have brought to service members far from home all over the world. “To be back now for our fourth time is wonderful, and it’s a great organization to be a part of," she said.

A beaming DiGarmo added, "As you can tell, we are very happy to be here."

A Slice of Home, for Troops, Families Worldwide

The USO, or United Service Organizations, is a nonprofit organization that supports service members and their families with an extensive range of programs in 160 locations in the United States and abroad.

"Thousands of USO volunteers do everything possible to provide a home away from home for our troops and to keep them connected to the families they left behind," the organization’s website reads.

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Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr.

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