Have you ever seen a sunset so wonderful and inspiring that all you wanted to do was seize the moment and save it forever?
You try to capture its beauty in a picture, but it just doesn't seem do it justice. It doesn't fully provoke the emotion, the smell, the sound or the little memories you created.
That is how I feel as I sit here and try to relay my experiences of our 81st Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders USO tour into a summarizing short story. Italy and the United Kingdom … sounds too good to be true, huh?
Now I don't know about you, but when I think of traveling to Italy, I think of those iconic and ever-so-slightly imaginative movies like Letters To Juliet and Under The Tuscan Sun. I think of the Italian love songs that play in the background of their magical Vespa-riding and spaghetti-eating scenes.
Although these movies accurately show the beautiful culture and opportunities that await in the amazing land of Italy, our spree overseas valued much more than that. This tour was not for the mere opportunity to sightsee and binge on pizza and pasta. Rather, it was to visit and spend time with the men and women who serve our country.
This mission had many factors: 10 days, 11 flights, 12 cheerleaders and a million hopes of positively impacting every person we met.
When I initially heard we would be traveling to Italy, I was overwhelmed with excitement and fulfillment. Italy is not only one of the top destinations on my "Places To See" list, but it is also where part of my family is from. The thought of possibly walking the same streets as my ancestors gave me chills and an even larger desire to get packed and get over to Italy ASAP.
After a few quick hops through New Jersey and Rome, we finally arrived at our first destination in Sicily. We all had a certain excitement, yet nervousness, as we embarked on our initial tour excursion.
Those of us who are USO tour vets took the lead as we entered our first dining facility. I remember saying a little prayer as we walked in to greet the men and women who were taking part in their previously routine lunch break. I prayed that this first encounter would be uplifting and memorable for the service members that we would meet. I prayed that this first meeting would be a great start for the rest of the trip, that each day we could impact and bring joy to more and more people.
Boy, did God answer my prayers. Each conversation I had that day came with a different story, a different viewpoint and a different reason for why that person was there. It was truly amazing to see everyone's path and how it led them to that very table in that very dining facility.
As the days went on, we traveled from base to base, experiencing and learning more and more about what our military goes through and how they serve our country daily. We got to see different aspects and facets of the military. We got so see how each branch works together and how each individual job within the military is so important and crucial.
Get a glimpse at the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders 81st USO Tour including stops at Sigonella (Sicily), Camp Ederle (Vicenza), Del Din (Vicenza), Naval support areas 1+2 (Naples), RAF Molesworth and RAF Alconbury (UK).
It was like a well-operated machine. If one bolt or screw is missing or slacking, the success of the whole machine could be affected. The K-9s, the 173rd Airborne Infantry, the U.S. Navy Firemen in Naples, the people at the Intelligence base in London, the Air Force drones and planes, the Squadron Commander, the resilient generals and admirals … I could truly go on all day about different memories and experiences that touched my heart in different ways.
One of the most memorable and heartwarming encounters that I took away from this trip was with the people who work within MWR, which stands for Morale, Welfare and Recreation. This incredible program basically strives to improve the quality of life of the servicemen and women, and their families, while they are away from home.
Each person who we met that was involved with MWR had such a passion for what they did. They went about their job each and every day with a selfless and love-centered desire to help others. They never once thought a task was too difficult or too much to ask of them. If it meant making a positive change in the lives our military families, they were ready to go the extra mile. That kind of mentality is something that is so powerful and influential that I now strive to go about my days and jobs like that as well.
When we weren't doing unit visits, we were putting on camps for the kids on the bases. We were able to take those amazing kids out of their usual surroundings and give them a day full of Cowboys love and cheers.
Our camp is called "Cheers To Fitness." Not only were these camps fun and physically challenging for the kiddos, but for us as well! Our DCC trainer and former Army Master Sergeant Jay Johnson was the heart and enthusiasm of these events. We taught the children fun dances, great workout routines and healthy nutrition facts to keep them fit.
I think one of the best lessons we try to instill in the campers is our DCC value of being world class. We use the acronym DCC to stand for more than just Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. It has a double meaning: Dedication, Character and Community. These camp days are always some of my favorite tour experiences and seeing the joy on those children's faces is like nothing else.
By the end of the trip, my heart was overflowing with gratitude and awe for our military. I wish I could have kept a diary with me for the entirety of our trip so I could never forget a single moment or feeling. Each conversation I had affected me in a different way and holds a special place in my heart.
Now, after my second USO tour, I have pages and pages of memories and stories I could share. Each one of the 12 DCCs that were lucky enough to experience the tour has a different viewpoint to share: the newness and eye-opening experiences of the rookies; the additional experience and memories of the vets.
There is one thing we will all have in common in our post-tour stories, though. Although we went with the goal of brightening the days of the service members we met, we all have come home feeling brightened and inspired by them.
I will close with a saying that is so commonly quoted, but now has a deeper and more valuable meaning to me: "We are the land of the free because of the brave!"