CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq – A plate of stir-fry and burgers wasn't the only thing drawing servicemembers and civilians to the North Dining Facility at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, June 5.
The eager crowd lined up for a chance to meet and greet five New Orleans Saints cheerleaders. The cheerleaders, named the "Saintsations," have toured many different military bases to provide entertainment for the U.S. military stationed overseas.
"We're here to entertain troops and bring smiles to faces and check out the scenery," said Saintsations cheerleader Amanda Thompson. "The troops sacrifice a lot being over here, and I think that it's important for entertainers to come over and show support and bring a little taste of back home."
The cheerleaders visited the South Dining Facility and took a tour around the base. They ended their tour of COB Speicher at the North Dining Facility, just in time for dinner.
Servicemembers lined up to take photos with the fiery ladies and get signed autographs. Individuals also brought in their own paraphenelia, such as a New Orleans Saints football jersey and even a reflective belt.
After the meet and greet with the troops, the cheerleaders performed sideline routines, to the beat of crowd-pumping music.
"This is great," said Capt. Ryan Frye, a logistician with 1st Infantry Division and native of Orlando, Fla. "Getting National Football League cheerleaders here gets us away from work and is a good stress reliever."
Courtney Harper, a Saintsations cheerleader, agreed that having entertainers visit troops in warzones helps keep morale up.
"Soldiers lose touch with what's in their own country, so you come over here to boost that morale up and to give them back that confidence and something to look forward to," she said. "These performances are extra special to me because I know that I can walk into a room with thousands of Soldiers and it puts a smile on every single one of their faces. I know how it affects your mood and it just improves your day."
It gets the Soldiers away from the same run-of-the-mill operations, said Capt. Gustavo Madrigal, an electronic warfare officer with 1st Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade. Just by them being here, it builds up morale and shows that they care.
After making their mark for the troops, both on paper and in their hearts, the girls took the time to reflect on how the visits to the troops affect them and why they're worthwhile.
To Thompson, performing for the troops in a different country is an honor and makes her realize how small the world is.
"I ran into a Soldier in Kuwait that went to school with a couple of girls that are on our team back at home, and he knew them personally," she said. "I've run into a lot of people from Louisiana, Alabama, so it's really interesting because you're halfway around the world, and you get to talk to people who are from your hometown and get to share stories."
For Harper, her trip to meet the troops on this side of the world hit closer to home than expected.
"I have family in the military, so it's good to give back to those who serve our country," she said. "It just brings back memories of all the stories that were told to me when I was younger. [My family members] are so proud of what we do now over here, supporting you all."