Across U.S., Military Audiences Enjoy First In-Person USO Tour in Over a Year

By Sandi Gohn

As the sun set over Hood Stadium in Fort Hood, Texas, on July 2, the stressors of the past year were the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Service members and military families enjoy the USO show at Fort Hood, Texas, in July 2021. | Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

Military children rushed to the blue-and-red-lit stage to wave at Miss America Camille Schrier. Giddy fans attempted to snap photos of actor Kyle Chandler. Soldiers, some in uniform and others in civilian clothes, laughed at comedian Taylor Williamson’s jokes. Military families of all colors, shapes and sizes swayed to the live music of LOCASH. Everyone, from the audience members to the entertainers and military leaders on stage, looked up in awe at the finale fireworks display.

After a year where everything was far from normal due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 USO Summer Tour was a breath of fresh air at Fort Hood and everywhere the tour went.

Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

A military family enjoys the USO show at Whidbey Island, Wash.

After a Year Hiatus from In-Person Shows, USO Tours Hit the Road Again

Led by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, the USO tour kicked off on June 27 with its only international stop in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before traveling to seven continental U.S. locations over the following week. At many of the trip stops, the USO was the first live entertainment, or special visitors welcomed by the local community, in well over a year.

Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

Comedian Taylor Williamson on stage with Gen. Hyten during the 2021 USO Summer Tour stop in Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.

“People hadn’t experienced live music, they hadn’t experienced live entertainment, that joy that comes from being together [in a long time],” Hyten said.

“It was exciting to see it at every place we went. That’s why we did [the USO tour] inside the United States. It is so special to have that interaction once again.”

Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

A service member and the child of one of his fellow sailors dance during the USO show at Naval Base San Diego.

Everywhere the tour went, from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, to Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, and more, the sentiment expressed by the local military communities was resoundingly the same — the USO tour was a needed and welcome morale boost after a year that was particularly challenging for the military community due to COVID-19.

Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

Gen. Hyten was joined on the tour during the Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, stop by SEAC Ramon Colon-Lopez and entertainers; country recording artists LOCASH, Miss America Camille Schrier, comedian Taylor Williamson and DJ J.Dayz.

“Being able to feel like a person again, and not like a prisoner to COVID, is unbelievable and to start it this way, absolutely amazing,” said Marine Lance Cpl. Emily Hunt at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California.

“Without the USO, this day would not have happened for me or anybody here.”

In addition to hosting the live USO show at each stop, the tour group participated in meet-and-greet unit visits at each location, signed autographs, took photographs with service members and military families and spent time learning about the military community.

Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

Entertainers visit service members at Naval Base San Diego.

“I feel really appreciated that some of these big names just came out to support and see what we do. It was awesome,” said Army Sgt. James Long, after spending time with the tour participants in Fort Hood, Texas.

A Star-Studded Line-Up of New and Veteran USO Entertainers

Joining Gen. Hyten on the trip was Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramon “CZ” Colon-Lopez, country duo LOCASH, Miss America Camille Schreir, comedian Taylor Williamson and DJ J Dayz.

DJ J Dayz performs at Naval Base San Diego. | Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

“Just to see … one person smiling and the next thing you know, the whole crowd is just smiling [after] we’ve all been wearing masks [for so long], it’s cool to see everybody smiling again,” LOCASH’s Chris Lucas said. “And music bringing everybody together.”

“It just felt like we are back, not just us, but all of us,” LOCASH’s Preston Brust said.

While LOCASH and DJ J Dayz had traveled on USO tours before, this was the inaugural in-person USO tour for both Williamson and Schrier.

Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

Country recording artists LOCASH perform during the 2021 USO Summer Tour stop in Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.

“I think military life, in a lot of ways, is very isolating to begin with, without COVID,” Schrier said. “So going out and being able to spread some cheer and some positivity to those families, and especially being able to see the military kids, was really exciting for me.”

Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

Miss America Camille Schrier during the 2021 USO Summer Tour stop in Joint Base San Antonio, Texas.

“I think one of the highlights of this tour for me was getting to perform in Guantanamo Bay for all the families and service [members],” Williamson said. “Being told that we’re going to be the first visitors and entertainment they’ve had in over a year, that was such an honor and a privilege, and it was amazing. That was really special for me.”

Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

Comedian Taylor Williamson talks with Marines during the 2021 USO Summer Tour stop at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

Other stars made guest appearances along the way;

Lauren Daigle performs at Naval Base San Diego. | Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

Former New Orleans Saints Hall of Famers champions Deuce McAllister and Michael Lewis in Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida; USO Global Ambassador, actor, advocate and producer Wilmer Valderrama along with Grammy-winning vocalist Lauren Daigle in Naval Base San Diego and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California; Actor and comedian Matt Walsh along with screenwriter Scot Armstrong in Naval Base San Diego; actor Kyle Chandler in Fort Hood, Texas; and others.

Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

LOCASH jams with service members at USO Fort Hood.

“The main thing that sticks out [to me after spending time on Fort Hood] is the professionalism of the guys and the girls [in uniform], and everyone that we met … how proficient, how knowledgeable [they were] and yet, they were very welcoming,” Chandler said.

Photo credit USO/Sandi Gohn

Service members and military families enjoy the USO show at Fort Hood, Texas, in July 2021.

Although the 2021 USO Summer Tour wrapped up with its final stop in Bethesda, Maryland – which included a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center – the joy and positivity delivered through the whirlwind tour still lingers in the communities it visited.

“Meeting the youngest people, little kids, to the largest soldier that you could imagine, and seeing the joy in their faces, that’s a pretty cool thing,” Hyten said.

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As the COVID-19 outbreak is evolving, the USO has pivoted resources across the entire global enterprise in an approach that helps care for military members and their families.

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