WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2005 – The devil may have gone down to Georgia, but the Charlie Daniels Band went to the Association of the U. S. Army convention here Oct. 4 to pay a musical tribute to the troops and thank them for their service.
Daniels, a rock-solid supporter of the U. S. military who’s been entertaining troops around the world for some 35 years, dazzled a foot-stomping, hand-clapping crowd in a jam-packed ballroom at a reception hosted by U. S. Army Europe.
Army Gen. B. B. Bell, USAREUR and 7th Army commander, said he invited Daniels to the event after the legendary performer fiddled his way into the hearts of U. S. troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Those visits, as well as the Oct. 4 performance, were part of the “Stars for Stripes” program, which brings top entertainment to U. S. troops, particularly those serving in remote locations not typically visited by United Service Organizations tours.
“He went to the most difficult and dangerous places” in the U. S. Central Command area of operations and entertained deployed military members without accepting a penny for his services, Bell said of Daniels and his band during an interview with the American Forces Press Service.
“He gives of himself selflessly,” Bell said. “He’s got all the qualities of a great soldier. ”
As a tribute to Bell, a Tennessee native, Daniels played a rousing rendition of “Rocky Top,” then slowed the action down with a solemn delivery of “Amazing Grace,” encouraging those in the crowd to sing along.
“You should consider Charlie one of us,” Army Brig. Gen. Russell Frutiger, USAREUR’s deputy chief of staff for personnel, told the group.
Frutiger called Daniels “a relentless morale booster” who not only goes into harm’s way to serenade the troops, but also launched “Operation Heartstrings” in partnership with Stars for Stripes to put musical instruments, recorded music, and DVD and CD players into the hands of deployed troops.
During the concert, retired Army Gen. Gordon Sullivan, former Army chief of staff and now president of AUSA, presented Daniels an award honoring his years of service to the military. “Thank you for what you have given to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines . . . and the American people,” Sullivan said.
Just as during Daniels’ overseas tours, when he typically spent hours following his concerts signing autographs for every deployed servicemember who approached him, Daniels wrapped up his Oct. 4 performance meeting the troops, signing autographs and posing for photos.
Army Staff Sgt. Wendy Cooper from the 200th Theater Distribution Brigade, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany, was among those who stood in line for an opportunity to meet and get photographed with Daniels following the performance.
“He truly shows his support, and that means a lot,” said Cooper, who stationed herself at the front of the group during the performance for a close-up view of Daniels and his band. “It’s great to know that people support us. ”
“He’s absolutely awesome,” agreed Army Capt. Elizabeth Barnaby, an occupational therapist assigned to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, in Germany. “I can’t thank him enough for being that supportive. ”
While signing autographs, Daniels told the American Forces Press Service he remembers the day Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941 and has had a love affair with the military ever since.
“Everyone in uniform is a hero to me,” he said. “I’ve felt that way since I was 5 years old, and nothing has ever changed. ”
In closing his concert, Daniels expressed his ongoing support and hinted that the Charlie Daniels Band will continue to visit troops when they’re deployed.
“Thank you for what you’re doing around the world,” he said. “And wherever you happen to be, don’t be surprised if we show up. ”