Darius Rucker, lead singer for Southern pop rock band Hootie and The Blowfish, rehearses at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Friday afternoon for the evening's concert.

Darius Rucker, lead singer for Southern pop rock band Hootie and The Blowfish, rehearses at Misawa Air Base, Japan, Friday afternoon for the evening's concert. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Operation Pacific Greetings kicked off its Pacific tour with a concert Friday night at Misawa Air Base’s Hangar 949.

The show was to include performances by the New England Patriots cheerleaders, Pacific Air Forces Band of the West and Band of the Air Force Reserve. And, of course, Hootie and The Blowfish.

“Our message is, ‘We’re trying to bring a couple hours of home’ to the troops,” lead singer Darius Rucker said Friday afternoon, prior to rehearsing for the concert.

The band and the rest of the tour entourage have three more performances scheduled over the next week:

Monday, Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, at 7 p.m. in Hangar 3.

Wednesday, Yokota Air Base, Japan, at 7 p.m. in Hangar 15.

Friday, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, at 7:30 p.m. in Freedom Tower.

Sponsored by the Air Force Reserve Command and PACAF, the tour is designed to thank troops and their families by entertaining them, said tour producer Dave Ballengee.

“We hope that people can go to the show, let their hair down and forget that they’re deployed away from their families,” he said. “We want this to be like a concert you go to in the States — it’s a touch of home.”

Ballengee said the Air Force Reserve Command booked Hootie and The Blowfish because of their wide appeal and the fact they’ve previously played for the troops.

The band came to Okinawa and Misawa four years ago, the members said, but this trip holds more meaning because of the current conflict in Iraq.

“One of our transportation guys — we’ve been palling around the last couple days — he let me know he’s going to Iraq in August,” said band member Mark Bryan. “I was like, ‘Whoa.’ The weight of that hit me pretty hard. Here I am hanging out with this guy and he’s getting ready to go right to the front line. He’s got to drive convoys, which is probably the most dangerous mission that’s going right now.”

Band members said they planned a special show for the troops.

“We try to do a couple more covers so everybody can have a good time,” Rucker said. “Everybody isn’t necessarily a Hootie and The Blowfish [fan]. They’re just there because it’s a taste of home and everyone else is going, you know.”

Bryan suggested the band play “I’ll Come Running,” a song from their self-titled album, “Hootie and The Blowfish,” about “post-9/11 America and all of the people who were stationed at home suddenly finding themselves having to go overseas and leaving their families.”

Lyrics include:

“There’s a tear on your cheek where your smile used to be ’cause I’m going away. We’ve had such a good time though we knew this day might come ... And I tell you baby now, I might be long ... I’ll come running home [I’ll come].”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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