CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Country music superstar Toby Keith performed a Memorial Day concert here for nearly 4,000 service members in the Fallujah Chapel and via the internal computer-based broadcast system here May 29.
The fans cheers erupted into a roar as the patriotic songwriter and performer stepped onto the small stage at the chapel. Keith opened the hour-long acoustic show with his crowd pleasing hit “I Love This Bar,” bringing the Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen a little piece of America. He played new songs, as well as a few classics like “Should’ve Been A Cowboy” and “Beer For My Horses.”
This is Keith’s second visit here; the first was in 2004 just after Marines took over the camp. He played two other venues on Memorial Day as part of the USO’s Toby Keith Tour.
“You can’t appreciate what (service members) do until you see it,” said Keith. “Everybody is so good at what they do and when you come here, you can really understand why America is the number one fighting force in the world.”
The country singer expressed a special satisfaction in lifting troop morale and honoring his father, a Vietnam veteran.
The Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Michael W. Hagee was in the front row for the concert and sang along as Keith sang “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” from his 2003 album “Unleashed.”
Hagee said he enjoyed the concert and was happy to welcome the superstar known as the bad boy of country music to the headquarters for Marines operating in Al Anbar province.
Longtime fans might consider the performance a way to take their minds of the serious business of war fighting.
“It was an honor to meet him,” said Sgt. Cassie L. Lucero, 28, from Phoenix, an administrative clerk with I Marine Expeditionary Force’s command element.
“I am a huge fan of anyone that supports us,” Lucero said. “The morale boost he just gave everyone here makes me proud to be out here serving my country.”
Lance Cpl. Joseph W. Hanson, of Greybull, Wyo., also a self-proclaimed “big fan,” was elated with Keith’s performance.
“I think it is awesome that he would come out to the middle of Iraq to give us a concert,” said Hanson, a weather observer with I MEF. “If he is spending his Memorial Day out here with us, it means a lot,” adding, Keith could be anywhere this weekend.
Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, commanding general of Multi-National Forces West, presented Keith with a Ka-bar fighting knife and a personalized guitar strap made from a desert-digital camouflage pattern as a token of gratitude for his time and effort. Zilmer jokingly told Keith that he hopes to see the guitar strap in one of Keith’s upcoming music videos. The crowd laughed as Keith smiled, shaking Zilmer’s hand and agreeing to his request.
Keith and his crew are on a five-day tour of Iraq, entertaining troops at several forward operating bases in the next few days, demonstrating their continuing pride and support for service members here.