Politics

USO A-Go-Go

The price of the military's cheesecake ration keeps going up.

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It's getting more and more expensive for the beautiful people to keep our troops' morale — and presumably other things — up.

Funding for the Defense Department's entertainment office — Armed Forces Entertainment (AFE) — stands at $6.1 million. And the Air Force, which serves as the AFE's agent, wants more.

Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee on March 12, Arthur Myers, director of services for the U.S. Air Force, testified, "The demands from increased deployments in FY02 have outpaced our current funding levels. This year's funding will support a total of 132 tours, but field commanders have already identified requirements for 168 — with more requests still coming in support of Operation Enduring Freedom deployments."

That was the windup. Here's the pitch: "We continue to seek additional funding through corporate Air Force and Defense channels and hope to be able to support these additional requirements."

How much additional funding? Lieutenant Gen. Michael Zettler, Deputy Chief of Staff for Installations and Logistics for the Air Force, told the committee, "with the contingency funding that comes in during the course of the year, we should get close to $10 million, and we think that's adequate."

Obviously, $10 million is a drop in the budget bucket for a great cause. But just being curious here, whom do we actually send over as entertainers? Myers testified that, "In partnership with the United Service Organizations (USO), we have entertained the troops with high caliber celebrities like Wayne Newton, Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, Jennifer Lopez, Kid Rock, Ja Rule, Drew Carey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jay Leno, to name just a few."

Wayne Newton?

Forget the budget for a second. All those names make me feel sorry for the poor Afghan people. They didn't have food, so we dropped in meals. They didn't have a sense of humor, so we dropped in Drew Carey. Another Carey, bombshell Mariah Carey, even agreed to cut short her nervous breakdown to entertain the troops.

Of course, everyone appreciates the dedication of these entertainers and wannabe household names to support our troops. The AFE's stated purpose "is to lift the spirits and morale of our troops and maintain their readiness and effectiveness while serving in defense of our country."

I've got no problem with that. I'm just wondering why it costs $10 million? Betty Grable, Bob Hope, George Burns, Rita Hayworth, even all three Andrew Sisters — were they ever this expensive?

And were they ever this regulated?

The following is a direct quote from the information letter that Armed Services Entertainment provides prospective entertainers:

"Since you are being sent to "bring a little bit of America" to troops overseas, 75-80% of your show must be cover songs. All performers must be at least 18 years of age. You will be expected to perform for a minimum of 2 hours, plus breaks, and you will perform an average of 5-6 days per week. Restrictions apply regarding appropriate conduct and customs. You cannot perform on the local economy, pass the hat, consume alcohol on stage or while performing, or sell any promotional materials including autographs, pictures, CDs, tapes, souvenirs, hats, etc. All shows are free of charge and open to all military and DoD personnel and their families. Military clubs are not permitted to charge for entertainment" (emphasis in original).

Gracious! 75 percent to 80 percent of the show must be cover songs? Only Wayne Newton can operate that way.

Still, we keep sending over the beautiful people.

The Miami Dolphins cheerleaders entertained the troops. So did the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. We even sent over the Baltimore Ravens cheerleading team, which for some reason is co-ed. Hey, don't ask, don't tell.

Entertainment is everywhere, and it's getting mighty expensive. Soon after September 11, President George W. Bush, the nation's commander-in-chief, said we should get back to normal.

And we did. So move over Osama bin Laden. The title of craziest person in the world returns to Anne Heche.

Now, book her for the war.