Story and photo by Spc. Darriel Swatts, Public Affairs, 40th CAB
CAMP TAJI, Iraq – The lights dimmed as the chants grew louder, “Toby… Toby… Toby…”
In a flash of light, country music superstar Toby Keith emerged onto the stage April 26 at the Jon Schoolcraft Pavilion, rocking one of his hit songs as an overflow crowd of Soldiers erupted into cheers. The “Locked and Loaded Tour” had come to Camp Taji, Iraq.
Over the past nine years, Keith has done more than 160 shows in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he feels good about spending time with the troops. His father was in the Army and is now passed, so entertaining troops is a way to honor him, he explained.
“I’m a big fan of Toby Keith, and the fact he came here is awesome,” said Spc. Lindsey Dillman, of Fresno, Calif., an air mission request processor for the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB). “He even played my favorite song ‘Whiskey Girl.’”
The crowd sang along to such patriotic favorites as “American Soldier” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” Before Keith sang his hit “I Love this Bar,” he told the audience that beer and burgers were on him for anyone who shows a military ID at his chain of bar and grill restaurants back in the States. The restaurants are named “I Love this Bar” after the song.
Having a star like Toby Keith come out to perform for the troops is a huge morale boost, said Fresno native Pvt. Claudia Marquez, a radio operator for the 40th CAB.
“The concert was on my birthday,” said Spc. Edgar Zamora, also of Fresno, and a supply specialist for the 40th CAB. “It was an awesome present to get. It’s not every day that one gets to go to a concert for free, especially a Toby Keith concert on their birthday.”
The concert gave Soldiers a chance to relax and come together, and not worry about what is going on around them or about their jobs, Dillman said.
In an interview before the show, Keith said on his first tour in Iraq nine years ago, he enjoyed meeting and entertaining the Soldiers so much that he keeps coming back. He said he was appreciative of the sacrifices Soldiers have made for the freedoms Americans enjoy back home.
Marquez said she thinks Toby Keith is a very patriotic musician who gives back to his country by playing for the troops while they’re deployed.