Send in the Troupers
Fact is, Roberts could have wrecked the thing and still won the hearts of the 1,600 permanently assigned troops and their families based at Incirlik. "I got a chance to hug Julia Roberts!" bragged 17-year-old Mark Johnson, the son of Air Force parents who attends high school at the base, where F-15, F-16, Jaguar and C-17 planes fly out every night to patrol the skies over Iraq. The female troops had something to be excited about too: Clooney's other cohorts included Ocean's stars Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Andy Garcia. Given all the emotions of the times, some soldiers even got a little misty. "Soldiers were crying, their dependents were crying," producer Jerry Weintraub says of the 13-hour visit during which they showed their film, signed autographs and mingled. "The kids were hugging the actors, the actors were hugging the kids. It was very emotional."
Such scenes have been repeated at bases across Europe and the U.S. since Sept. 11, as celebs, patriotically donning the Bob Hope mantle, have mobilized to toast the troops. The United Service Organizations, or USO, has sponsored 46 such trips so far this year -- double the number from 2000 -- with six more planned before the end of the year. While the Gulf War had Hope, Marie Osmond and the Pointer Sisters, the war against terrorism has attracted everyone from small-caliber stars to Hollywood's big guns, many of whom have opened up their wallets to support post-Sept. 11 charities as well. In addition to the Ocean's gang, Tom Cruise pressed the flesh on a reserve base in Fort Worth; Mariah Carey warbled in Kosovo; Jennifer Lopez, Kid Rock and rapper Ja Rule performed in Germany; Garth Brooks rocked on an aircraft carrier in Norfolk, Va.; and Wayne Newton, Bo Derek, Rob Schneider, Shaggy and Jessica Simpson cut a swath through Italy and Bosnia. "We're getting more requests from celebrities than we did before, no doubt about that," says retired Army Gen. John H. Tilelli Jr., president of the 60-year-old nonprofit USO, which helped organize most of the visits. "The fact that terrorists directly attacked New York and Washington has an impact."
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