February 4th is USO Day, the date on the calendar in which we salute the United Service Organization which strengthens America’s military service members by keeping them connected to family, home and country. The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders have proudly supported the organization by performing/appearing at military bases around the globe on a world record 80 USO Tours.
No other entertainer, not even Bob Hope himself, has appeared on more tours than our DCC. For the past 37 years, in more than 50 different countries, “America’s Sweethearts” have represented the Cowboys and their fans as part of the DCC’s salute to service.
The most recent USO Tours, the 79th and 80th in DCC history, took place this past holiday season. In December, half of the DCC Show Group traveled to South Korea, an annual destination. But the other half of Show Group headed in a different direction entirely, namely to Turkey, then Kuwait, spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the Middle East.
The DCC-USO tradition began in 1979 when the U.S. Department of Defense requested the DCC’s presence on a USO Christmas Tour of military installations in Korea. The DCC dance performances were very enthusiastically received by troops far from home. Visits also included autograph signings, events with families on military bases, and nightly dinners with the troops.
To recognize the special bond between the DCC and the U.S. military, the USO presented the squad with the first ever “Spirit of Hope” Award back in 1997. In 2013, the USO invited the DCC to the USO Gala in Washington to help the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Congress, and the Secretary of Defense to honor the Service Members of the Year.
“The most rewarding part of that trip was our visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center,” recalls former DCC member Sydney Durso, a veteran of many USO Tours during her seven years on the squad. “From my previous USO Tours I thought I had an appreciation for our military. But after visiting the military hospital, it’s an even greater level of appreciation for their sacrifice.
“When we go on tours overseas, we see soldiers who are in one piece and they’re healthy, for the most part. But seeing soldiers who’re back after horrific injuries and who’ve lost friends, it put so much in perspective because there heroes are in tough situations. We would fight back tears because we didn’t want to cry in front of them.
“But for a few minutes they could forget about their pain and just smile and laugh. We would share stories. One guy was wearing a shirt that said ‘I had a blast in Afghanistan’. They used humor to try and stay positive.”
For current DCC veteran, Jennifer, the opportunity on USO Tours to work with families of service members is particularly rewarding. Tours include DCC Cheer Camps for kids, as well as youth fitness camps.
“Working with the families definitely hits home harder for the soldiers than just meeting them in person,” Jennifer said of December’s trip to Camp Casey in South Korea. “They feel their career is a sacrifice for their families, so anything that brings joy to their families is ten times greater for them. Working with those kids is one of my favorite experiences.
“If you were to ask any DCC what some of her favorites parts of the organization are, they would all be service experiences. We have chance to work with charities and to visit hospitals, but by far our favorite opportunities are to work with military members. We find they are huge football enthusiasts so they’re super-excited to meet anyone associated with the NFL.”