By Master Sgt. Ryan Matson
There’s the show, and then there’s the show behind the show.
When United Service Organizations (USO) entertainers from Hollywood, Major League Baseball’s World Series champion Washington Nationals, the Ultimate Fighting Challenge and Bellator, took the stage January 8 as part of the 2020 USO New Year’s tour, it was the beginning of the end of a very long day for U.S. Army Reserve Maj. Brian Casey of the 652nd Regional Support Group.
“The Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff’s office and the USO made the determination that they wanted to make a stop in Powidz, Poland, and since the commander of the 652nd, Colonel Erica Herzog, is the ranking officer here, the responsibility fell to our unit for the coordination and planning of the event,” Casey said.
The Behind-the-Scenes Work that Makes a USO Tour Stop a Success
That coordination began with a couple weeks of planning by Casey in conjunction with USO representatives and Polish liaisons at Powidz. Although the 652nd manages the base, the Polish military own it.
To make the USO tour stop a success, the day included soldiers in the 652nd doing everything from finding some last-minute props for the entertainers at local stores, to greeting entertainers, to directing vehicles to the correct event locations, to acting as safeties for a celebrity shooting range and much more.
“I did a lot of the planning and coordination, and then the day of the event I was moving between venues and doing what I could,” Casey said. “At one point I found myself loading M-16 magazines, so you do what you gotta do to make sure the show goes on without a hitch.”
Casey said coordinating with the Polish made the difference in making the show great, rather than good. The Polish allowed the show to take place in their hangar, which could allow for a much larger crowd to view the show. They even brought one of their large military planes into the hangar as a display for the event.
“Before the show, we had a few meetings and talked about a basic plan,” Maj. Anna Kaluzna, the Polish liaison with American forces on Powidz said. “Knowing each other helped us coordinate in a lack of time. And at the end it was our success. Everything went really smoothly. It was a pleasure working with the 652nd Regional Support Group Soldiers and I am looking forward to new challenges.”
A Day of Logistics, Introductions and Morale-Boosting
The night before the show, Chief Warrant Officer Alex Hiday, the unit movement officer with the 652nd, received a request for some last-minute prop materials for one of the acts. Hiday searched around and was able to find all the requested items.
The day of the show, the 652nd’s commander, Col. Erica Herzog, was particularly busy, traveling to the airfield to meet the distinguished guests of the show, which included U.S. Army Europe Deputy Commanding General for Army National Guard, Maj. Gen. Joe Jarrard.
Shortly afterward, Jarrard and Herzog were greeting a team of entertainers that included the headlining act, country music duo LoCash, comedians Matt Walsh (of HBO’s VEEP) and Brad Morris, screenwriter Scot Armstrong, DJ J. Dayz, World Series champion Washington Nationals players Adam Eaton and Aaron Barrett, Bellator women’s flyweight world champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and Bellator hype-girl Natalie Ficarra, and Ultimate Fighting Championship top contender Felicity Herrig.
The entertainers then ate with soldiers from throughout the base camp at the dining facility. Herzog and 652nd Command Sgt. Maj. Duane Hedrick got the chance to talk with USO CEO Dr. J.D. Crouch II and his wife, Kristin, about the organization, which has supported American troops around the world for more than 75 years.
A couple of the 652nd’s soldiers got a chance to eat with the entertainers, including sports super-fan Sgt. Bill Daniels, a die-hard Philadelphia Phillies fan. Daniels ate at the table with World Series champion Washington Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton.
“I asked him how winning the series had changed his life,” Daniels said.
“He said ‘Imagine if you were five years old, and you’ve wanted something so much since then and then you finally achieve it.’”
After lunch, the entertainers moved to the Polish airfield to use the Polish’ indoor firing range. The 652nd again worked with the Polish, who not only allowed the entertainers the use of their indoor range, but even provided a tactical pistol demonstration by the Polish military.
Following the demonstration, Lt. Jacob Ahmann and Staff Sgt. Christopher Sturgill, both with the 652nd and who also serve as Montana police officers in the civilian sector, conducted a safety brief before escorting the celebrities on the range. At the range, 652nd military police officers Pfc. Emory Faber, Spc. Dylan Roselles and Spc. Richard Thomas, as well as Sgt. Ashton Clark acted as safeties on the firing lanes.
The fundamentals of firearm safety and effective shooting were very fresh in the mind of Faber, a Helena, Montana, native. The 19-year-old is on his first mobilization and had just completed his own basic training in May. He had several shooters at his lane including Eaton and Macfarlane.
“It was pretty awesome to get to meet and interact so closely with the celebrities,” Faber said. “Some of them had never shot before so it was really cool to walk them through it with them and see them get all hyped up to shoot again.”
Sgt. Levi Proctor, serving with the 652nd at the Swietoszow base camp, played a part in the event by being able to procure ammunition for the range on short notice. Meanwhile, Staff Sgt. James Campbell, a 652nd soldier from Great Falls, Montana, served on the detail by loading magazines with Sgt. 1st Class Lynnsey Moen, a military police officer with the 652nd from Whitehall, Montana.
A USO Show to End the Day
After all the work, Casey and the rest of the 652nd Soldiers could finally sit back and enjoy the show, along with hundreds of other cheering American and Polish service members, in the airfield hangar.
“I liked the way the USO talent interacted with the soldiers,” Casey said.
“They surprised me with how gracious and humble and approachable they were. They repeatedly told soldiers, ‘thank you for your service, thank you for your sacrifice,’ and made it very clear that it was their honor to be here.”
Eaton also found Daniels after the show and literally gave the soldier his jersey off his back, signed it and showed him how to track the games he had worn it in, which included two against Daniels’ Phillies. The gesture dumbfounded Daniels.
“I will always be a Phillies fan, but I think today I became a fan of those guys and will always follow their careers,” Daniels said of Eaton and his teammate, pitcher Aaron Barrett. “I’m not gonna be OK if the Nationals win the game, but if they do good in the game, I’ll be happy. He found me and gave me his jersey.”
-This story originally appeared on dvids.net. It has been edited for USO.org.
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