News: Hollywood celebrities meet service members
Story by Spc. Margaret Taylor
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – A medical crew stood outside the Warrior’s Way emergency room doors at the Craig Joint-Theater Hospital in watchful anticipation. Orderlies, nurses, doctors, surgeons and administrative staff manned their stations – ready.
Finally, they were here.
After a brief flurry of activity in the emergency bay, the doors burst open and in came celebrities.
Since World War II, performers like Jill Wagner and Romany Malco, both actors, have entertained U.S. military personnel serving overseas, as a way of saying “thank you” to the men and women in uniform. Armed Forces Entertainment, a Department of Defense agency, continues this tradition; the agency puts on an average of 1,200 shows per year worldwide.
Wagner and Malco toured various posts and bases throughout Regional Command-East, Afghanistan, as part of Armed Forces Entertainment’s “Ambassadors of Hollywood II” tour, April 5-10.
Both entertainers have military in their blood. Wagner’s father, grandfather and one uncle served in the U.S. Marine Corps. Malco enlisted in the Marines in 1987 and was honorably discharged in 1991.
According to U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Sobel, superintendent, 455th Expeditionary Medical Group, Task Force Med-East, having celebrities visit service members helps boost morale and breaks up the daily grind for those who work around the clock at the hospital.
“It really means a lot to them because they really get stuck in a rut,” Sobel said.
During the first few days of their tour, the two entertainers had the opportunity to meet service members throughout the area as they traveled to several different posts and bases. On the last full day of their tour, April 9, Wagner and Malco toured Bagram Airfield. Among other places, they paid a visit to the hospital.
Sobel led the entourage through the hospital along the same path an injured service member would take: from the emergency room doors to recovery. Along the way, Wagner and Malco stopped to greet and share a few quick words with staff and patients alike, leaving smiles in their wake.
U.S. Army Spc. Jessica Jones, a dental assistant, 810th Medical Group, TF Med-East, said she was very happy to be remembered. She said not everyone takes the chance to visit deployed service members; when some do, it’s an unforgettable experience.
“It feels great,” said Jones, a native of Rochester, N.Y., with a huge grin. “It makes me feel important; it’s an honor.”
Service members weren’t the only ones in awe.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been as proud as I am now meeting you guys and seeing Americans doing their best,” Wagner said as the hospital visit ended.
That same evening, Malco and Wagner hosted a public meet-and-greet at the Clamshell Gym for everyone serving at Bagram Airfield. Wagner expressed her thanks to those in uniform, and Malco tickled the audience with excerpts from his “Tijuana Jackson” comedy routine. Then the two entertainers mingled with the crowd.
For the rest of the evening, both signed autographs, posed for photos and chatted with everyone in attendance.
“I’m really proud to have served, more now than I ever have been,” Malco said after conversing with service members for several hours. “I came here and witnessed the discipline, the devotion, the strong sense of purpose. People speak with assertion. And I’m like ‘Wow. This is the best – these are the best of the best.’”