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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, December 17, 2004

Celebrities bring cheer to troops

By Emilio MorenattiI
Associated Press

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — As head of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Richard Myers usually doesn't have to take a back seat to anyone — except when U.S. troops make up the audience and comedian Robin Williams is on stage.

Sgt. Ernie Lazos of Delonaga, Ga., gets an autographed photo of football star John Elway in Bagram, Afghanistan. Elway, along with comedian Robin Williams, is part of a group entertaining troops.

Staff Sgt. Monica Garreau • U.S. Army

American forces serving at Bagram air base got a little early Christmas cheer yesterday as Myers and Williams — along with football star John Elway, model/sports commentator Leann Tweeden and comedian Blake Clark — stopped by on a tour of American servicemen serving far from home.

The activities got off to a somber start with a groundbreaking ceremony for a coffee shop to be named after Pat Tillman, who quit the NFL to be an Army Ranger and died in a friendly-fire incident April 22.

Tillman gave up a million-dollar contract and his position as a starting safety for the Arizona Cardinals to enlist after the Sept. 11 attacks.

All except Williams wore white hard hats and fatigues as they shoveled spadefuls of dirt with about 100 soldiers taking pictures.

Elway said he didn't know Tillman, but told the troops: "It had to be a huge thing for Pat to walk away to come over here and join forces with you. I'm totally humbled by the work that you do. In my mind he's a hero. You're all heroes."

Myers said people who claimed that the Afghan people would want American forces to leave quickly had been proven wrong, citing President Hamid Karzai's commitment to a long-term "strategic partnership."

The coffee shop "will probably be here some time, even though we may not be here in large numbers."

On the walk over to a tent for the day's entertainment, troops sought autographs on paper, hats, dollar bills — anything that would hold ink — and photos taken with the celebrities.

Many clutched copies of FHM magazine with a scantily clad Tweeden on the cover. Wolf whistles shrieked as she served as the announcer.

Clark got a number of laughs, particularly with an imitation of "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin trying to track down Osama bin Laden.

That bit of political incorrectness set up Williams' typically X-rated standup act, which had the crowd of more than 1,000 roaring as he bounced around the stage. On an unseasonably warm winter day, he took off his jacket, revealing a Vince Lombardi High School T-shirt that he later tossed into the crowd.

When it was over, Elway and Williams headed to opposite sides of the tent for more autographs and photos. Long lines quickly formed, with many soldiers getting one's autograph before switching to the queue for the other.