It was a mission so ambitious it seemed impossible. Fifteen USO shows in seven nations across Europe, the Middle East and Asia in only six days--with a lineup as manic as the pace.
Comedians Robin Williams and Lewis Black joined musician Kid Rock, cycling champion Lance Armstrong and Miss USA Rachel Smith and traveled relentlessly by jet, ground and helicopter to deliver an hour of music and song to U.S. soldiers deployed far from home.
Kid Rock, on his fourth USO tour in a combat zone, said, "Any of us will do anything--sleep four hours, take cold showers, whatever it takes. I just want to give these guys a good show."
Williams is also on his fourth USO tour. "It is an honor for me," he said. "Every time I come away in awe, and it's something you never forget."
This was Lewis Black's first tour with the USO. In Kabul, he joked with an audience that waited hours through heavy snow at Camp Phoenix for a weather-delayed show.
"I wouldn't perform for anybody in a snowstorm, but you guys," the comedian joked to an upwelling of cheers.
Lance Armstrong took a turn on stage at each show to salute the troops. He said that his own victories over cancer and in the Tour de France were not heroic in relation to the sacrifices made by those serving in the military in wartime.
"We are all humbled by your bravery, and I can't thank you enough for being here and fighting for our freedom," Armstrong said.
The experience was as uplifting for the troops as it was inspiring for the performers. Petty Officer First Class Robin Day is 14 months into an 18-month deployment in Afghanistan. After seeing the show in Kabul, she said, "As soon as I get back to my base, I'm going to call my husband and tell him what I got to do tonight. It's probably the biggest highlight since I've been here."
Though it was hardly A-list travel, the tour had its own reward for the celebrities.
Black choked up describing the experience. "It's hard. I don't have words," he said. "I'm not a crybaby, but it's overwhelming."
One performance was canceled by a sandstorm and another by a blizzard. But through countless delays and missed meals, lost voices and broken guitar strings, show after show went on.
"You meet kids that look like you want to see some ID. You see girls in flack vests on the line. You see nurses taking care of guys that come to the show with them to make sure they can get up the stairs," Williams said. "You get that sense that if it helps for one moment--with the stuff that they go through--it's a good thing."
Williams said he would return to do more shows, and said he hopes to one day perform for troops in remote forward operating bases.
"In a week's time you get back so much. I would recommend it to anybody," Williams said before adding, "if you have an act."