Art Works Blog

NEA Arts: "Lifting the Spirits: The USO Brings the Arts to the Troops"

BNA recording artist Kellie Pickler joined the USO in honoring our nation's real heroes with a week-long Memorial Day USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour to the Middle East. Paying homage to those who have fallen, as well as those currently serving on the front lines, Pickler dined with troops and performed USO shows on Memorial Day. In the region on her fifth USO tour, Pickler visited two countries in eight days performing a total of five shows. (USO Photo by Steve Manuel)

"We always look forward to planning the next trip. As soon as we get back from one, we're planning the next one!" --- recording artist Kellie Pickler on touring with the USO

Did you know that in its first seven years the USO's entertainment division presented 7,000 entertainers and 428,521 live performances to troops both at home and overseas? Founded in 1941 as the U.S. prepared to enter the Second World War, today the organization still works tirelessly to lift the spirits of U.S. troops and their families stationed all over the globe. In fact, in 2011, the USO was recognized for its indefatigable service with the National Medal in the Arts, the nation's highest federal award for artists and arts patrons.

American Idol alum Kellie Pickler, now a chart-topping Country singer, has taken part in five USO tours. We caught up with Pickler as she returned from her most recent USO trip to Kuwait and Afghanistan. In her own words, here are Pickler's thoughts on why it's important to bring the arts to the troops.

"I've always been a supporter of our military, and I came from a military family. It's important for [service members] to know that we're back home supporting them, and that we love them and that we're praying for them. They need to know that we don't take what they do for granted.

I think that through music, you can escape where you are. And with the USO show... that's an hour that they can break up the monotony, and escape where they are... feel like they're back home. That's the goal, to take a little piece of home to them.

[On tour with the USO] we performed two to three shows a day. We’d have meet-and-greets, and take pictures, and sign [autographs]. We travel on military air-crafts from camp to camp, base to base, and it's pretty busy, but it's really great. We get a lot done---all the shows are special in their own way, and I really enjoy hearing people's stories, and where they came from, and why they joined [the military].

I love working with the USO. They've been so great: to all of our servicemen and women, and all of the veterans, and they've been good to me. Their goal is to take entertainment to the servicemen and women, and they do that. They're great people to work with. I've worked with them for a few years now and they've been such a pleasure, and I really admire what they do. We always look forward to planning the next trip. As soon as we get back from one, we're planning the next one!"

Visit arts.gov to read Lifting the Spirits: The USO Brings the Arts to the Troops in the new issue of NEA Arts. Don't forget to check out some of the online-only features. And keep checking back on the blog---we're featuring arts and the military themed stories throughout the month of August!

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