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Tops in Blue entertains Bagram troops

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Airman 1st Class Brian Pop sings to Airman 1st Class Ashanti Richardson during the Tops in Blue performance here Oct. 11.  Pop is a Tops in Blue vocalist from the 49th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.  Richardson is deployed here from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Wicke)

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Airman 1st Class Brian Pop sings to Airman 1st Class Ashanti Richardson during the Tops in Blue performance here Oct. 11. Pop is a Tops in Blue vocalist from the 49th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Richardson is deployed here from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Wicke)

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Airman 1st Class Brian Pop (left) and Senior Airman Jamie Coffey, Tops in Blue vocalists, perform a song and dance during their performance here Oct. 11.  Coffey is from the 375th Security Forces Squadron at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.  Pop is from the 49th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Holloman AFB, N.M.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Wicke)

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- Airman 1st Class Brian Pop (left) and Senior Airman Jamie Coffey, Tops in Blue vocalists, perform a song and dance during their performance here Oct. 11. Coffey is from the 375th Security Forces Squadron at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. Pop is from the 49th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Holloman AFB, N.M. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Russell Wicke)

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (AFPN) -- The Air Force’s Tops in Blue team contributed to the war on terrorism when they performed for more than 800 soldiers, airmen and coalition partners here Oct. 11.

This year’s tour celebrates 50 years of performances around the world.

Known as the Air Force’s “expeditionary entertainers,” Tops in Blue is a team made up of 36 vocalists, dancers and musicians, all serving in the Air Force on active duty, said Air Force Services Agency officials.

Although their nine-month tour will take them throughout the United States and more than 27 different countries, totaling nearly 150 performances, Capt. Dee Dee Vasquez, Tops in Blue tour director, said their priority is the troops deployed into combat zones.

“The people here are the heroes we are singing about,” said Vasquez, who is a U.S. Air Forces in Europe communications officer from Ramstein Air Base, Germany. “Bagram is the first location (on this tour) we have been that operates in black-out conditions at night and where everyone has to carry a weapon.”

Performers said it was an honor for them to be here, in more ways than one.

“Tonight was special for us,” said Senior Airman Jamie Coffey, a Tops in Blue vocalist. “When we stepped off the plane and saw pieces of MiG (aircraft) and other evidence of a war-torn country, it made me realize what this is all about.” Coffey is a security forces airman with the 375th Security Forces Squadron deployed from Scott Air Force Base, Ill. She said Tops in Blue reached the highlight of their tour here. Others on the team said they agree with Coffey.

“Tonight was amazing,” said Staff Sgt. Charles Cook, a Tops in Blue vocalist from the 48th SFS at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England. “This is what I joined Tops in Blue for: To bring entertainment to a combat environment.”

“The people here are unbelievable,” said Tech. Sgt. John Link, a Tops in Blue musician from the 16th Electronic Warfare Squadron at Eglin AFB, Fla. “This was one of our best shows because the way the audience received us. This place is giving us a sense of what we really do as expeditionary entertainers.”

The Tops in Blue performers were not the only ones impressed that night.

“I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from all levels on how great it was,” said Col. James Whitmore, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing commander. “The reaction to the show from all servicemembers and coalition partners was incredible. They loved it.”

Those who have seen Tops in Blue perform before said this was a climax performance.

“This was the best show I’ve ever seen them do,” said Tech. Sgt. Mike Boyter, of the 455th Expeditionary Services Squadron. Boyter organized and arranged for the Tops in Blue show here.

“I believe most (airmen) here felt a great sense of pride as they watched their fellow airmen put on a world-class performance,” said Whitmore. “The airmen in Tops in Blue have dedication, professionalism and drive that are second to none. I’m proud to have them on the Air Force team.”

Their performance, however, is not the total of what makes these entertainers so impressive to their deployed audience.

Vasquez said most show productions have set up crews and technicians who build the set and tear it town with each performance on the road. This is not the case for Tops in Blue.

“Each of our performers works hard before and after each show, setting up and tearing down the set,” she said. “When you do more than 140 performances in less than a year, it gets very exhausting.”

Some performers said they believe the extra responsibility sharpens the unity of the group.

“When you have a mission like this where everyone must work hard and close together, you quickly learn to become one entity,” Coffey said. “That is the best part about this to me. Everyone becomes like a family.”

“A lot of us come from a gospel background,” Cook said. “Sometimes at the end of the day, some of us will get together and sing praise to God. It’s an amazing feeling. Tops in Blue has made me a better (noncommissioned officer), person and father.”

Bagram troops said the entertainers’ unity was obvious in their performance, and it resulted in morale boost.

“Any event we can arrange to provide entertainment for the troops is a huge morale boost,” Whitmore said, “particularly here where we don’t get off the compound much. I’d have them back next weekend if I could.”

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