USO, celebrities bring holiday cheer to service members in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq — The USO continued their annual Holiday Tour for deployed service members with a Christmas Eve show Dec. 24, 2016.

Kellie Pickler, who has travelled 11 times with the USO, headlined the event.

The tour, led by U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and U.S. Army Command Sgt. Maj. John W. Troxell, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman, aimed to bring a touch of home to troops throughout the holiday season.

“It’s great, and I’m excited that this is how I get to spend the holidays,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Maynard, who performed with the 1st Infantry Division Band’s “Thunderstruck” ensemble prior to the show.

The USO tour was packed with a diverse group of celebrities including former World Wrestling Entertainment and Total Nonstop Action women’s champion Gail Kim and her husband Chef Robert Irvine, who served as the master of ceremonies.

Comedy Central’s “Roast Master General” Jeff Ross also traveled with the group and brought laughter to the stage as he held court with an impromptu roast of several members in the audience.

In the midst of all the laughter, Ross also had encouraging words about the military relationships he has seen during his time traveling with the USO.

“It’s an amazing thing,” Ross said. “I am always inspired by how the military takes care of each other.”

Following Ross’ comedy set, Pickler, accompanied by her husband Kyle Jacobs, performed a medley of holiday songs and a few of her biggest hits.

During her first song “Tough,” Pickler invited Spc. Nicole Landon, a geospatial engineer with the 1st Inf. Div., to join her on stage.

“I was so excited,” Landon said after the performance. “That song has been my favorite song since it came out. It reminds me a lot of my own childhood. For me to able to sing it with her was awesome.”

The concert turned what had been a rainy day into a clear picture of the holiday season for the audience and Landon.

“It’s really awesome that they came out and visited us,” Landon said. “It gives us something to look forward to.”

The chairman and the USO tour will continue with additional shows in Iraq through the holiday season.

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