Ann Marie Gardner is on her sixth overseas tour representing the Redskins Cheerleaders. She kept a journal during the trip.
We've just finished the first half of our Pacific tour today. We've had great variety of weather, places, audiences, and activities already. This is my sixth tour with the cheerleaders, my fifth since retiring in 2000 and my first as a married person, which elicits no small amount of "boos" from the male audience when I mention it during the show.
They usually soften when I tell them that I am the only married member of the team and, since I met my husband while on tour in Kosovo in 2002, that when the Redskins cheerleaders say they will keep in touch, we really mean it.
We are touring mostly Naval and Marine bases so they boo again when I mention my husband is in the Army but when the show is over, all kinds of people tell me privately that they hope he comes home safely and soon from Iraq. That just proves that no matter what kind of rivalries do exist between the branches of the military, they are all still on the same team, and they are all, collectively, good guys. It makes a girl proud to enjoy the jet lag in order to bring them a little bit of home.
The Pacific bases are still very much like those in the United States. Active duty personnel have cars, live in their own apartments or homes, and many have their families here with them, so the morale here is a bit higher than that of the folks we usually meet in Kuwait or Djibouti.
Still, no matter how many creature comforts and family members they are allowed to enjoy, there is still something about actually being in the United States that means "home" to almost all of them. They all still want to go back soon. We are at Camp Foster today in Okinawa, and I was walking around probably the largest PX I've ever seen but I overheard a couple of dependents still wishing they had a Walmart.
Our itinerary so far included Camp Fuji, in the shadow of Mount Fuji, Japan's most famous landmark; then Camp Zama, Astugi, and Yokosuka Naval Base. We conducted a few cheer clinics for some of the kids on two of the bases and have done five shows so far.
As always, the service members treat us with such respect and sometimes a few blushes, and we have enjoyed the unusual hospitality of VIP "hotels" on the bases.
Personally, I'm used to tents or C-huts in the forward areas so having cable television and internet hookups is a nice change. We are now in Okinawa for two days (Camp Hansen, Courtney, and Foster) before heading to Guam for one more show then home by next weekend.
Many of the men and women are going to the Middle East shortly after the New Year and there is a mix of emotion attached to the prospect. Many are anxious to test their mettle and prove to themselves and their friends that they have what it takes. Some discuss it in hushed tones because their children or wives are nearby and it's still a touchy subject.
All we can do is thank them again and wish them Godspeed and health on their way--and of course the reassurance that they will likely see the Redskins show again soon because we will continue to travel and entertain until every last one of them comes home.
I have no doubt that the Variety Show will continue to be in great demand in 2006 and we'll be seeing some of these gentlemen again very soon.