Cheerleaders, musicians bring smiles to patients at Landstuhl
LANDSTUHL, Germany — Ira Dean walked out of the intensive care room. Inside, a ventilator making deep-sea sucking sounds was keeping a soldier alive.
“It really hits home with all that’s going on in Iraq,” said Dean, bassist for the country band Trick Pony. “My nephew’s down there.
“But I wouldn’t trade my Thanksgiving to spend it any other way.”
Playing music and cheering at football games while getting paid and being adored, well, it’s a pretty good gig. Standing at the bedside of someone burned head to toe puts it in perspective for celebrities who spent part of their Thanksgiving at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
“It’s pretty tough,” Dean said. “That could be my nephew or brother. That kid had a full life ahead of him. I’m kind of emotionally shut down. He’s probably got a girlfriend back home, probably got a mom and dad. And they give it all up for what we do.”
Trick Pony, John Popper of the band Blues Traveller, and four members of the New England Patriots cheerleading squad passed through Landstuhl on their way to the war zone — they weren’t sure where they were going — as part of a tour sponsored by the Air Force Reserve Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
They brought greetings from the States. A little touch of home, they said, for guys who’d otherwise be lying in a hospital bed all by themselves.
Cheerleader Cara Orazietti, from Seymour, Conn., said that after going to a few more bases and the war zone, she anticipated an education.
“Everybody back home supports them and is thinking of them, especially on the holidays,” Orazietti said. “But you don’t appreciate what these men and women are doing for us until you get to look them in the eye and shake their hand.”
Cpl. Jeff Lovas of Huntington Beach, Calif., was a new arrival. On Sunday, his Humvee was blasted by a roadside bomb in Rawra. Lovas, the driver, was laying in his bed on Thanksgiving, right arm in a sling, when he spotted a familiar silhouette outside his door.
“The colonel had come by and said a cheerleader and somebody from Trick Pony was coming,” said Lovas, who happened to be a fan of the band. “I saw that cowboy hat walk by, and that trademark 5 o’clock beard, and knew it had to be Keith,” as in Burns, the band’s guitarist.
Burns came in a chatted and posed for pictures. Lovas, who was serving his second tour in Iraq when he was wounded, later made his way to the hospital’s dining facility for Thanksgiving chow. Earlier, Lovas said he wasn’t necessarily a fan of the cheerleaders. Now he was saving two seats and had pom-poms on his table. A fan was born.
“This is definitely not the Thanksgiving I thought I was going to have,” he said.
Popper, leader of one of the U.S.’s most loved jam bands, is a veteran of USO tours. He said he was amazed that all the patients he visited were most concerned about returning to their units downrange. And Popper was humbled, saying his job was “silly” compared with the troops.
“In America, we get to dream about how the world should be,” Popper said. “In the military, you have to deal with how it is.”
Dean, whose band played a concert at Ramstein Air Base on Wednesday, showed awe and appreciation on his face after the trip to ICU. When he jams downrange in a few days, he said, maybe the burned soldier would inspire him to pluck his bass with a special feeling.
“I’ll definitely have him in mind when I’m playing,” Dean said. “That’s for sure.”