Spc. Lee Elder, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
BAQUABAH, Iraq – Toby Keith kicked off his 12-day tour of Iraq playing for members of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team during a mid-morning concert that was hampered by 100-degree heat, a blown fuse and a couple of broken guitar strings.
The country singer best known for his songs “I Love This Bar,” “American Soldier” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” drew a crowd of more than 500 Soldiers. They jammed into an open hangar on Forward Operating Base Warhorse to listen to the Oklahoma-born Keith.
Soldiers saw a scaled-down performance with only Keith and longtime collaborator Scotty Emerick playing guitars. For much of the show, it was just Emerick playing as Keith twice had guitar strings break on him.
“Anybody got a guitar?” Keith asked at one point during the performance.
Undeterred, Keith belted out hit after hit. He performed some of his lesser-known songs as audience members shouted out requests for numbers like “The Taliban Song,” “I’ll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again” and “Shoulda Been A Cowboy.”
Members of the base’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation team found two guitar strings for Keith and were able to replace a blown fuse in his sound mixing board. The base’s MWR supervisor, Chad Stroud, said his staff tried to plan for every contingency.
“It was a top-notch operation for everybody involved both military and civilian,” Stroud said. “We wanted to do everything we could to make it run smoothly and it did.”
Keith was the biggest name to appear at the post since it was opened more than three years ago, Stroud said. He said it was gratifying to host Keith’s initial Iraqi appearance.
“All we keep hearing about is the great shows at the other posts,” Stroud said. “The Soldiers here will be talking about this show for months. It was great!”
While they were impressed by his music, Soldiers seemed equally pleased with Keith’s demeanor. After the show, he stayed around, shook hands and posed for pictures despite the soaring early afternoon temperatures. He also signed everything Soldiers brought to him, ranging from CDs to Army Combat Uniform caps and even some pieces of body armor.
“I liked his down-to-earth attitude,” said Sgt. Bryson Sane, a carpenter with Company B, 505th Engineer Battalion. “He is straightforward in how much he cares for the American way and the Soldiers.”
Another Soldier, Sgt. Scott Reynolds, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Special Troops Battalion, 3rd HBCT, said he was not a country music fan. However, he still enjoyed seeing the larger-than-life Keith, a former pro football player.
“He was alright,” Reynolds said. “Even though I’m not a big country fan, I know he took his time to come out here so I wanted to pay my respects and come see him.”
Soldiers and civilians knew the words to many of Keith’s songs and often sang along. He invited them to join in during his finale performance of “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)” which was written in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.
“I know it’s a lot of planning for him to come over here and perform for us,” Reynolds said. “The fact that he would give up so much of his valuable time is impressive.”
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