Friday, August 15, 2008

Cheerleaders Pay Visit to Troops

Christina Parker and Deryn Derbigny take part in record 66th USO tour.

IRVING, Texas - War is Hell, but occasionally angels visit.

Veteran Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders Christina Parker and Deryn Derbigny recently completed the group's record 66th USO tour. Guests of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, they visited military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cheerleaders joined Adm. Mullen, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, touching down on Air Force Two in Kuwait earlier this month to begin their seven-day stay. Also on the tour were Milo Ventimiglia of NBC's "Heroes" and Jack Lengyel, former coach of Marshall University and rebuilder of the school's football program following the tragic 1970 plane crash.

The group was able to access remote Forward Operating Bases rarely visited by the USO, greeting troops, signing autographs and lending a grateful ear to America's fighting men and women.

"To see our troops all over the world truly is an honor," Parker, a fifth-year cheerleader, said. "To just be there to see what it is they're doing to keep us safe at home, and knowing what they're sacrificing - USO tours are definitely one of the biggest highlights of being a cheerleader. Being able to give back is the greatest honor."

The trip marked the seventh USO tour for Parker and second for Derbigny, a two-year veteran of America's Sweethearts. Derbigny completed a USO holiday tour in South Korea last winter, while Parker has visited South Korea three times, and Guantanamo Bay and the Middle East twice each.

"The outlook that I have on the United States military is completely different now," Derbigny said. "I have a huge amount of respect for what they do. It's a job that not everybody can do and not everybody is willing to do. With the sacrifices that they make day-in and day-out and being away from their families as long as they are - they work 16 hours a day, everyday - to me the job is amazing."

After three days in Iraq the traveling party moved to Afghanistan to visit, among other bases, FOB Tillman, named in honor of former Arizona Cardinal and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan in 2004.

Shortly after the USO group left for home, nine American soldiers were killed in action near a base the tour visited, giving the guests a somber reminder of why they went, and why their hosts fight.

"The difference in going from Iraq to Afghanistan is stark," Derbigny said. "Driving through Kabul, we saw more clearly just how much a reality the war is. Having to ride in a convoy in a Humvee with guards protecting us made me concerned for the first time on this trip. It was my first time going to a war zone. I was anxious and nervous at the same time. I was really excited about going, but also there was the fear of the unknown."

Derbigny and Parker said they were proud to be part of an organization so instrumental in the USO's support of our soldiers.

"Even if they're not Cowboys fans, they're Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders fans," Parker said. "To be able to just bring them an hour of not having to worry about the war, as little as that may seem, it's a huge part of their day. It's something that's a memory they keep with them a very long time."