By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
Special to American Forces Press Service
May 20, 2008 - Historically speaking, Vikings and Afghanistan don't have much in common, but all that changed yesterday when five cheerleaders from the National Football League's Minnesota Vikings pumped up a standing-room-only crowd of servicemembers here. The event started with songs, dancing and cheers intended to vitalize the troops' spirits, Vikings cheerleader Peyton said. Team policy is to use only cheerleaders' first names.
"We are all very glad to be here, and we are going to put on a great show," Peyton said as she warmed up before the event. "This is our last show in Afghanistan, and we want to make this a night the troops will remember."
With a promise to give the night their all, the cheerleaders went backstage and the event coordinators began letting in the men and women who were anxiously waiting outside.
First through the door was U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Oscar Bruck, 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron phase crew chief. "I've been waiting here since 6:20 (p.m.)," said Bruck, a Marlett, Mich., native deployed from the Royal Air Force base at Lakenheath, England. The event did not start until 8 p.m., but waiting nearly two hours didn't bother Bruck. "I wanted a front-row seat to make sure I got good photos," he said.
Good photos were not all Bruck received. He also got picked to come onstage, meet the cheerleaders and challenge 19 other servicemembers to a push-up contest.
Bruck did not win the contest, as his skills were no match for Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Gilbert Corpuz, who knocked out 103 regulation push-ups in a minute. For his victory, Corpuz was rewarded with a Vikings calendar, autographed by all the cheerleaders.
After the push-up contest was finished, the cheerleaders performed another routine, and then they picked 10 servicemembers to join them on stage for a game of "Cheerleader Says," modelled after the classic children's game "Simon Says."
Once again, the stage was speckled with an array of U.S. uniforms, and a Polish soldier also joined the ranks. The Polish soldier and two U.S. soldiers were eliminated in the first round. Two airmen and two more soldiers fell in the second round. Four rounds later, a tie was called as Army Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Winger and Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Billy Grant refused to be outsmarted.
A fair mix of rivalry and camaraderie added to the evening's excitement, one coalition NCO said. "I like American football; it is tough, yet fun. This is like the feeling of the people here -- keyed up and still having fun," French army Sgt. Domera Phelippon said. "I know the Minnesota Vikings because I saw them on TV. Still, I didn't imagine the cheerleaders would be this pretty. I am glad I came."
What Phelippon may or may not have known was that the cheerleaders were equally as pleased to meet him and the other men and women in attendance.
"My favorite part of the tour is meeting so many people from so many places and hearing all their different stories," said Payton, whose brother serves aboard the world's first nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise. Another cheerleader, Amanda, said her father retired from the Air Force.
The team's captain, Sarah, said that although she doesn't have family in the military, she has spent a great deal of time with servicemembers lately. She volunteered for the Super Sunday Tour in Iraq in February and said she feels blessed to have the opportunity to travel to military bases through the Vikings, she said.
After the performance, a line of men and women stretched around the Morale, Welfare and Recreation clamshell here, as the cheerleaders volunteered to pose for individual photos and sign autographs for the servicemembers.
"I had a blast here," said Pfc. Ryan Clement, a route-clearance soldier and Earlham, Iowa, native. "Not only did I get to see a fine performance, I got to come up on stage and embarrass myself in the 'Cheerleader Says' competition." Clement only made it to the third round, but that did not abate his mood at all.
"I've been out at the [forward operating bases] and on patrols outside the wire since I came here," he said. "To see this event and the energy these ladies put in on our behalf helps out a lot. It really boosts our morale."
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace serves with Combined Joint Task Force 101 Public Affairs.)