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Blues Traveler brings part of U.S. to Pacific forces
by Cindy York
Air Force Print News, National
Jan 19th, 1999

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- After just a week of touring the Pacific, members of the musical group Blues Traveler said their lives - and their perspectives on life - were changed, thanks to the U.S. military.

The band, on its first United Services Organizations Inc. tour, was diverted to the Pacific from the Persian Gulf region, where it had originally planned to tour because of Desert Fox action.

The band performed four concerts in Korea and Japan Jan. 5 through 9. Stops included Kunsan Air Base, Korea; Camp Casey, Korea; Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan; and Yokota Air Base, Japan.

At one point during its trip to Korea, the band found itself face to face with North Korean soldiers at the two countries' demilitarized zone. Such experiences helped make Blues Traveler lead singer and harmonica player John Popper feel "more complete as an American."

"Going to the DMZ really gave me an insight into where I stand in the scheme of things. I think (the American people) can forget about that," Popper said. "(Blues Traveler) just wanted to let everyone here know we haven't forgotten about them. We're really psyched about the job they're doing and we're happy to help."

Having grown up together, the band members realize the importance of family and staying in touch with loved ones and said they understand it is tough to be away from home, especially during the holidays. They said they were happy to be able to bring a bit of home to the military overseas.

"This is a great opportunity for us to give back to everyone in the military. We have a lot of respect for you guys ... some of our family members were in the service," said lead guitarist Chan Kinchla. "Plus, it is a chance for us to see all kinds of neat toys!"

One of the "toys" referred to included an F-16 Fighting Falcon, which drummer Brendan Hill got to sit in.

"It was a lifelong dream for me," Hill said.

The band members were also impressed by the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk.

"I sat in the captain's chair on the Kitty Hawk and said 'Make it so.' Of course, nothing happened, but how many people like me can say they have done that," Popper said.

"We even got to cruise over mountains in a Black Hawk helicopter," added bass guitar player Bobby Sheehan.

Despite the differences in the "toys" - and the branches of service the toys belonged to - the band said it was impressed by a clear similarity.

"We really noticed a sense of pride with each unit. Every helicopter we rode in was 'the best helicopter in the armed forces,'" Popper said. "Pride gets contagious and really makes you want to do the best you can do. It was awe-inspiring."

Popper said he was very proud of every one in the military.

"My father escaped from Budapest (Hungary) in the '50s, so I knew growing up what the non-free world was like. I always knew the role the U.S. military played, but when you come here and see it ... and you see kids 10 years younger than you doing such important jobs, you really start to understand in a much deeper way," he said.

"When they were showing us the missiles in Korea, I thought, 'Man, when I was a kid, I would have loved to have had one of those - or something like that to blow things up,'" Popper said. "But, then I realized, as an American, I do have one. That missile right there is mine. These are just the kids who know how to operate it and where to use it. It's kinda cool to realize that."

The USO and the Department of Defense Overseas Shows sponsored the concerts. The USO is a private, nonprofit organization that started during World War II. USO performers donate their time and talents to provide armed forces people free entertainment.