By Mariyah Wojcik
FORT KNOX, KENTUCKY (July 30, 2015) – While cadets at Fort Knox eagerly prepare to be future Army officers, another type of preparation is taking place across the country at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. Soldiers acting as performers and technicians, from duty stations the world over, painstakingly prepare a 90-minute program to raise morale among their fellow Soldiers and Army families: the 2015 U.S. Army Soldier Show.
Tracing its roots back to Sgt. Irving Berlin’s motto, “Entertainment for the Soldier, by the Soldier”, the modern day Soldier Show began in 1983 and has been travelling the country each year for six months ever since.
With stops at major posts, the Soldier Show is designed to raise morale at the time when a Soldier needs it most. Cadets participating in summer training have only a few weeks before they graduate, and this much-needed mental break comes at a critical time.
“The Soldier Show provides a lot of morale,” said Spc. Eric Pendleton, a cast member who currently serves as a medic at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston in Texas. “Especially when we go to AIT (Advanced Individual Training) bases or basic training bases. We usually show up about the time they’re feeling at their lowest, which is usually late phase or the middle where they just want it to be over. Also there’s been many times when we host Gold Star families and they get so impacted by the Gold Star section itself. I think that it provides a much deeper morale source for today’s Army.”
Pendleton, who is originally from Hobart, Indiana, comes from a family with a history of military service. It is by providing this kind of support for his fellow Soldiers that he feels he is making a difference. Fellow cast members shared this sentiment.
“There’s also a big part of it that when “Big Army” wants to put out a message, things like “Not in my Squad” which is a big campaign against sexual assault,” said Spc. Guy Gahungu, a cast member who currently serves at Fort Drum, New York. “Those things are fantastic to be given in a message during a show like this. It makes a whole lot more sense when we plan that out and we’re singing it and it allows everyone to get tuned in to receive the message and remember it because it’s catchy.”
Gahungu embodies the cultural diversity that is a present theme throughout the 2015 Soldier Show. Originally from Burundi, Africa, Gahungu not only performs on stage, but also speaks five languages.
“I liked all of the different cultural performances,” said Cadet Johnathan Desrosiers of John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio. “I thought it tied together the aspect of having a diverse Army and it helped to reinforce that sense of camaraderie.”
The theme of the Soldier Show this year, “We Serve”, has been an undercurrent throughout the duration of Cadet Summer Training (CST), and diversity is celebrated among the future Army officers in the crowd.
“I liked seeing the females on stage performing in the show,” said Cadet Alicia Passmore of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. “The Soldier Show was excellent. It showed different cultures and they put everything together like SHARP (Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention), veterans affairs, and I think it was really fantastic.”
Cadets received a glimpse into the possibilities that today’s Army has to offer them, and received important messages along with a much-needed reprieve from training.
“For me, everybody is equally important,” said Sgt. Julando Samson, the non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of video production as well as an audio technician who serves in the Washington National Guard. “But it is a great privilege and honor to set up for the cadets that will be leading this nation’s Army in the near future.”
While CST is not basic training, the challenges these cadets face are mentally and physically demanding as they prepare to comprehend the complex problems of the world around them as Army officers.
“I thought that the Soldier Show helped to build morale among the Soldiers,” said Desrosiers. “Even if it is not a true deployment show, it had that feel that brought everyone at Fort Knox together.”
Funded through Army Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) funds, as well as through corporate sponsorships, rather than direct taxpayer dollars, the Soldier Show is a vital resource both for its intended audience, as well as the cast members and crew.
Working towards a common goal and viewing the spectacular results brings Fort Knox, as well as every Army post that is touched by this collective effort, together in a unique, familial bond strong enough to withstand the challenges ahead.