Results tagged ‘ 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour ’

Adam LaRoche wraps up unforgettable USO Tour

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by Amanda Comak

As Adam LaRoche curled himself into a corner table at the Occidental Grill Friday night, it was hard for him to figure out exactly what time it was supposed to be. His day started in Germany. And since he’d embarked on the 2013 Chairman’s USO Holiday Tour with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey a week earlier, LaRoche had visited four countries and three different time zones.

From left to right, Jep Robertson, Adam LaRoche, Willie Robertson and Matt Light at the Occidental Grill on Friday night, after returning from the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour.

From left to right, Jep Robertson, Adam LaRoche, Willie Robertson and Matt Light at the Occidental Grill on Friday night, after returning from the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour.

Flanked by his friends and travel companions, Willie and Jep Robertson from A&E’s hit show Duck Dynasty, and three-time Super Bowl champion Matt Light, the group shared stories from what they all agreed was an unforgettable experience.

“Every time I look at the flag, and I look at it every night when they play the national anthem, I can’t say I ever really looked at the flag and thought, ‘Somebody paid the price for that,” LaRoche said. “I will now. I hope it’s going to be a lot easier to not take those things for granted like we typically do.”

The USO tour took the four companions to multiple bases and through several hospital visits. They met soldiers all over the world –in Greece, Afghanistan, Italy and Germany – and absorbed as much as they could.

It was an exhausting stretch. Time with Chairman Dempsey is calculated down to the second, and they knew little about what was ahead of them when they left the U.S. on Dec. 6 – they were told to pack for weather ranging from 30 degrees to 80 degrees. But they talked with soldiers who were just 72 hours removed from a firefight, and learned about the challenges the troops face in trying to both eliminate the threat of terrorism while at the same time serving to aid the Afghan people.

Here are a few of the stories the group told Friday night as they rehashed their experience for a handful of local media members:

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Adam LaRoche: “I’m thinking, ‘What could I possibly say to relate to these guys?’ It’s not easy for me, for sure. I feel like, and I told them this, ‘We should be sitting down there [in the audience] and some of you guys, specifically some of the older Sergeants and Generals, you guys should be up here [on stage] talking to us. I don’t need to be up here trying to motivate you.’”

Jep Robertson: “I just think they want to forget for a few minutes what they’re actually doing. Just have a good time and relax and not worry about tomorrow, just have time to laugh.”

ALR: “That’s why [Willie and Jep] are such a big hit, because they go up and do their thing together. It kind of caps the whole show off. They did like 20 minutes and it’s not sitting there bringing back memories and all about what they’re going through. They’re just telling jokes, talking about the show, talking about Uncle Si, so you’re right, that’s probably what they want to do: feel like they’re back home.”

Willie Robertson sings "Hairy Christmas" with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

Willie Robertson sings “Hairy Christmas” with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

Willie Robertson:  “We wanted to give them a piece of America, what they had known from the show. We came up with the [performance] on the flight over, of what we would do. We had no idea what we would do. And as it turns out, with our album out, Duck the Halls, Chairman Dempsey said we should sing a song and I said, ‘Well let’s do “Hairy Christmas.”’ He had no idea what the song was. I gave him the CD, he listened to it and he said, ‘Let’s sing that at the end of the show.’ And then all of the USO talent came up at the end and we all sang it together. It was the perfect ending to the whole show.”

ALR: “Dempsey actually came out in the full beard and a USO bandana headband (like Willie).”

Could you get a sense of what it meant to the troops?

WR: “Oh there was no doubt.”

ALR: “They were blown away. They were so blown away that you’d think nobody’s ever been over there. There have been a lot of USO shows that go through, but I think every time they just appreciate it so much.”

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Jep: “You’ve got to hear about the dog and Matt.”

ALR: “This is good.”

Matt Light: “They’ve got these military dogs cruising around all over the base. They were a little bit intimidating. I was talking to one of the guys about their dogs…They are pretty jacked up about these dogs. They talk about the training they do. I’m looking at this dog and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I hear what you’re saying, you all probably work them pretty good, but it’s a 40-lb or 50-lb dog.’ I’m looking at it thinking, ‘That’s probably not going to hold up against a 300-pound man.’ So I smarted off a few times and the following night they arranged to break out the suit, like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story.

ALR: “It’s like 11 o’clock at night because our schedule was packed.”

ML: “So I put this suit on.”

ALR: “So now he’s 400 pounds.”

ML: “They had us stand in these DVQs, Designated Visitors Quarters, which were shipping containers stacked on top of each other with a railing on each of them. There was basically room just to turn around and walk back-and-forth inside of it. That’s where you live if you’re in Afghanistan. In front of it on the base, in the rain, and it’s very dark, there’s a guy holding a dog. Basically, they give you instructions. First of all, they say don’t let your arms come out of it – and I’m two sizes too big for this. So it’s just barely snug up towards the end of my arm, you have to suck your hand [up in the sleeve]. They said, ‘You need to go down there and agitate them and then turn and run, and don’t look back.’”

ALR: “People had come from everywhere because they heard that morning that this was going to go on. So the railings were packed.”

ML: “They wanted me to run like 60 yards, and I told them I hadn’t run like 10 yards in a year-and-a-half. So we cut that distance in half and I got about three-quarters of the way down and I think he jumped up and missed me the first time – I mean, small target – but when he did finally latch on, he latched on consistently like right here on my elbow. And the first round I think I had the upper hand, obviously if I wasn’t in the suit I’d be in a world of trouble. He got thrown around a little bit.”

ALR: “This dog had no chance. The dog never touched the ground. It looked like a helicopter.”

ML: “I got this speech from one guy who was telling me what to do, he was like, ‘Here’s the code word,’ and it was some phrase and I’m like, ‘I’m never going to remember that.’ I said, ‘No, ‘cinnamon.’ If I yell cinnamon, come get this dog off me.’ We did it like four more times. They weren’t going to let me out of the suit. The dog had a pretty good bite. That dog was chompin’. We got some good pictures of teeth snarling mid-air. It was a great experience. I had a mini-heart attack and it was a bit of a monsoon inside the suit. It was like hot yoga inside there.”

JR: “It was really cold, but then he was running.”

ML: “It took about an hour-and-a-half to get back to normal.”

ALR: “But that was so late at night because to squeeze something in [that’s how it had to be]. If Willie were to say, ‘Hey, this guy wants me to come by his barracks and come meet his buddy or see something,’ you would run it by a guy and then he would have to run it by the whole team who’d say, ‘OK, Willie needs security here at this time,’ and then they’d have somebody there before he arrives. This isn’t just like they let you run around and do whatever you want. Because they’re getting IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), even on the big bases we were on. It’s not unusual for the sirens to go off because somebody shot an IED into the base. A week or two before they said they lost two guys, who were asleep in the same type of containers we were sleeping in, and an IED went through and killed two of them. You can’t just stroll around. It was a deal for them to get set-up. So this dog thing took a lot of planning.”

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JR: “We went to (Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan) and they said they’d just been in a 72-hour battle. The troops, you could tell they were happy we were there, but they had just come out of a firefight.”

ALR: “There were a couple guys shot, one guy blown up while we were there, but we didn’t see him until this morning in Germany. We saw him in the hospital in Germany.”

WR: “I met that guy in Afghanistan! I met him, took a picture with him, two days later I’m in Germany, he’s in the hospital bed. I walked in and was like, ‘Ah, good to see you again.’ He actually was way better than when I saw him in Afghanistan. He had a full neck brace and was pretty loopy then. Couldn’t hardly talk. In Germany he was like, ‘Hey there!’ He’d already told his family that he had met me, so the second time he had all these questions about the show.”

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ALR: “The troops said the Afghan people are the toughest people in the world, which I never would’ve guessed.”

WR: “When you see the conditions they live in, you have to be tough.”

ALR: “The problem is, you’re trying to get rid of one group of people and make friends with the other group of people. The local Afghanis, the troops are doing everything they can to help them. They’re giving them food and water, training their cops, training their military guys, rebuilding a lot of their hospitals and communities – on top of fighting. So you’re trying to rebuild a country and protect yourselves at the same time.”

WR: “But the terrorists are like thugs. No different than big American cities where you have drug guys and it’s hard to go in there and extract that one person without condemning the whole neighborhood. Most of the people are good and they’re trying to raise their families but you’ve got a couple people who are bullies. I saw it as similar to that.”

ALR: “They said, ‘This is just a street fight. They come out, they hit, they run, they hide…But the troops, they do surgery for a lot of the locals. They bring them in. Fix ‘em up.”

WR: “I was shocked at how much the American troops care about these people and are trying to make them better. I was amazed.”

Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche meets U.S. Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan.

Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche meets U.S. Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan.

ALR: “What we were told is that our guys are never going out looking for Taliban. The majority of our guys are going out to villages every day to keep training them (the Afghanis).”

WR: “The whole goal is for them to sustain their country to fight off terrorism.”

ML: “Our troops are legitimately invested in their mission, not to go over there and wipe out a people. They’re there to really try to help those people. And they don’t really care what’s going on over here. I think one of the biggest reasons to go over there, especially listening to these knuckleheads in Washington all day every day, you don’t get a sense. They’re not telling the story of any of these young men and women who, each and every day, are waking up and putting themselves in danger. Seeing a little Afghani kid, and 10 minutes later that kid is gone. They’re not looking for trouble. They’re trying to help. They truly care about these people. None of them talk about what we hear over here. They don’t give a damn about that. They literally just want to do their job.”

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ALR: “I was probably most shocked by the fact that there’s like 20–25,000 troops on one base.”

JR: “They had a TGI Fridays.”

WR: “Sadly, my brother was most impressed by the TGI Fridays.”

ALR: “You have no idea how many people are sitting at computers doing stuff, and how many mechanics, and cooks and the guys who sweep the rooms, that’s the majority of the guys – the ones who don’t get recognized, who are behind the scenes, who make the whole thing work.”

WR: “There are a lot of civilians, too.”

ALR: “There are contractors there. Full time electricians, plumbers, so there are civilians staying on base too. They’re building stuff, taking stuff down, sending a lot of stuff home right now.”

The group posed with Marines before leaving Camp Leatherneck.

The group posed with Marines before leaving Camp Leatherneck.

WR: “I was impressed by the amount of organization by the U.S. military to be able to run an operation like that. They build cities that are bases. Airports. Lodging for 30,000 people. That’s what impressed me. How do you come into this country, build things, fight for your life, run troops and in and out? It was unbelievable. It just blew me away. And the spirit of the troops was super impressive, their dedication to it. The general said it best. It’s built on trust. These guys trust each other with their lives.”

ML: “I think one of the big things, too, is you say: what do you do now that you’ve had this experience? What’s next? I think you can really start spreading the word to everybody around. I told the troops, ‘I can at least tell your story and get [people back home] talking about it. I can let them know the things you are doing and what you do go through.’ To some degree, don’t we all owe it to our service men and women to do something? Not if you’re a celebrity, or whatever. If you’re some dude on the street. I think we all should at least take the time to think about that more than just on Veterans Day or something else. Maybe it’s just a mindset or a perception, get people to stop and realize.”

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For more on LaRoche’s time on the 2013 Chairman USO Holiday Tour, you can catch up on the dispatches he sent back while he was overseas here and here, and check out a photo gallery here.

You can also take a look at some of the coverage by local media:

nationals.com

MASNsports.com

CSNWashington.com

The Washington Post

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