Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Dixie Chicks Have Never Bought Me Dinner

As you may or may not know, I've been in the US Air Force for a number of years.  As a result, I've had experiences most people will never get to have. 
Like hanging out in a bunker reading Heinlein during a rocket attack
In 2009 I was deployed to Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan to open a clinic for US Air Force members.  It was my first deployment in nearly 8 years of service and was nothing like what my training had prepared me for.  For one, it was a NATO base with a large population of Canadian, British, Dutch, and a dozen more European countries.

The Brits had the best coffee house.  You could get chocolate cake that tasted just like back at home.  The Dutch had a bar where the US forces were only allowed to drink near beer.  The German Post Exchange was everything you would expect from a German military shop...full of knives and other military gear.  The Canadians, of course, had Tim Horton's.  And the French...they had an amazing bakery where you could get a latte and croissant when you got tired of eating breakfast in the chow hall.
Afghanistan has one color...dust

On a deployment like that, one day starts to look just like another, so you look for things to break the routine and give you something to look forward to besides another day just like the previous weeks.  USO tours are great for this.  Personally, I was hoping to see my future husband, Henry Rollins, in Afghanistan on a USO tour, but he's been playing hard to get for years.  So when Toby Keith came to KAF that summer, a large percentage of Americans on base turned out to see the show.

Now I know that the popular thing to do is dismiss Toby Keith as an ignorant redneck.  What pisses me off about this is that this perception didn't start until he started publicly supporting the troops.  Before 9/11 Toby Keith was just like any other popular country artist, writing songs about drinking, cowboys, trucks, and women.  After 9/11, however, when all those other country stars (and rock and pop stars) were standing on stage in cushy air-conditioned venues professing their support for the troops, Toby Keith got on a plane to the sandbox to tell us to our faces.
Not pictured: Blistering heat and random rocket attacks
The show he did while I was in Kandahar opened with our US forces commander directing us what to do if a rocket attack happened during the performance.  That wasn't just a long-shot what-if scenario either.  At the time, we were getting rocket attacks about 3 times a week and Keith's last show at KAF was interrupted by an attack. 

Once the show started, he played all his songs about drinking, cowboys, trucks, and women...and for a little while it was like I wasn't in some shit hole in Afghanistan.  Then, there was a quiet moment, broken only by the sound of a single guitar before Toby Keith came in with the opening lyrics to "American Soldier."  The crowd was full of US Soldiers, Marines, Seamen, and Airmen.  Some joined in, "I will always do my duty, no matter what the price." Some gathered their friends, arms around their shoulders.  Some stood quietly, eyes filling with tears.  One of the most moving experiences of that deployment was standing in that crowd full of people singing, "I don't want to die for you, but if dying's asked of me, I'll bear that cross with honor, 'cause freedom don't come free," because I knew we all meant it and because I knew that some of those in that crowd would have to prove it.

For the final song of the night, Toby Keith played a song that he wrote after 9/11 and for months only played for the troops.  It was only recorded at the request of the Marine corps Commandant..."Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (the Angry American)."  The entire crowd raised a fist in the air as we all sung along at full volume.  I briefly wondered if he would censor "we'll put a boot in your ass; it's the American way," since we were on a NATO base, but I later realized how silly that was to think Toby Keith cared about being politically correct while performing for US troops.  That line was probably the loudest part of the show.

As the event concluded, Toby Keith addressed the crowd and told us how much he respects us and how much our service means to him.  Then he offered to buy us all burgers and beers when we got home.  He said if we went to any of his I Love This Bar & Grills and showed our military ID, we'd get a burger and beer on the house.  I got mine in Vegas the following November.

Rule #4: Celebrities should put up or shut up.

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