Air Force shuts down Tops in Blue program for 2016
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 22, 2015
The curtain is closing on the Air Force’s Tops in Blue entertainment program for the 2016 season, officials announced Monday.
Citing fiscal and resource constraints, as well as lukewarm interest from airmen in attending Tops in Blue shows, the Air Force said it’s canceling the program next year “to reassess its mission, venue, themes and cost.”
Tops in Blue is a traveling troupe of active duty airmen who sing, dance and play instruments, leaving their military jobs for up to a year to perform at bases around the world for airmen and their families.
Considering “a changing demand for entertainment combined with constrained resources, it is important that we take a look at alternatives and ask for a broad base of inputs and opinions,” Brig. Gen. Lenny Richoux, the director of Air Force Services, said in a statement..
The Air Force already has sought opinions from airmen on Tops in Blue. Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said the topic came up repeatedly during base all-calls with airmen.
She sought additional feedback, the Air Force said, and those inputs are partially driving the decision she and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III made to suspend the program.
In an internal survey sent to 4,674 airmen, about half of respondents said they would attend a future Tops in Blue event. But only about 25 percent of all airmen have seen a performance within the past five years, although the Air Force found widespread awareness of the program, the service said.
Of all age groups, the 25-to-34-year old category, which represents a third of the overall active-duty population, was least likely to have a positive opinion of Tops in Blue, the Air Force found.
Bases and major commands also solicited feedback, and those results weren’t favorable, either. About 41 percent recommended divesting the program, 19 percent were in favor of keeping it, and about 17 percent suggested a modified program. Six percent had “other opinions,” according to the Air Force.
“The feedback indicated this was not a cut-and-dry decision,” Richoux said, adding that the Air Force will consider entertainment alternatives to fill the gap, such as increased use of contracted musical, sports-related and other professional acts in both deployed and home station locations.
The temporary halt in the program ends a tradition dating back to 1953, when Air Force entertainers, selected in a then-new Air Force talent program, began performing at bases worldwide. The expeditionary amateur entertainers eventually became known as Tops in Blue.
This year’s tour group comprises 32 airmen, including six officers. The group had 60 performance dates from June 2 to Jan. 15, 2016, on its schedule. The last shows of this season are overseas, with a final event Stateside: Aviano Air Base, Italy, on Jan. 4; Incirlik Air Base, Turkey, Jan. 6; Moron Air Base, Spain, Jan. 9; Lajes Field, Azores, Portugal, Jan. 12; and Scott Air Force, Illinois, Jan. 15.