The holiday season will start a bit earlier this year at six Air Force bases in Europe.

Operation Season’s Greetings, a free music and entertainment concert series, debuts Nov. 18 at Lajes Field in the Azores and will touch down in four more countries in less than two weeks.

Country music band Restless Heart, which headlined last year’s event, returns to anchor this year’s shows.

It will be joined by comedian Andy Andrews, four cheerleaders from the New England Patriots’ squad and members of the Air Force Reserve and U.S. Air Forces in Europe bands.

Aviano Air Base in Italy is the second stop on Nov. 20, followed by Incirlik Air Base in Turkey on Nov. 22, Spangdahlem and Ramstein air bases in Germany on Nov. 24 and 26, respectively, and RAF Lakenheath, England, on Nov. 29.

The annual event was born in 1995 at Aviano — with comedian and talk show host Jay Leno headlining — “as a way to say thanks to the troops,” said Jay Willis, the USAFE band manager.

Though the shows have included different artists over the years, the purpose has stayed the same, said Willis, participating in his third concert series.

“It’s a big morale booster for the communities,” said Joe Mennit, USAFE entertainment coordinator.

And it’s not a bad one for those participating on stage either.

“They really enjoy getting out and meeting the troops,” Willis said. “All of them do.”

He said acts have been known to stick around after the show, signing autographs and mingling with servicemembers and their families.

“It’s something that everyone could come to see,” said Chief Master Sgt. Steven French of the Air Force Reserve Command.

The combined military band will start the shows off at 7 p.m. The cheerleaders — Kristin Gauvin, Melinda McGrath, Elizabeth Harlow and Alison Preston — and Andrews take the stage next. Andrews is a regular in Las Vegas and also spends time as a corporate speaker.

Restless Heart, named The Academy of Country Music’s top vocal group in 1990, has been nominated for 17 awards and produced four gold albums. Hits include “I’ll Still Be Loving You” and “Why Does it Have to Be (Wrong or Right).”

Mary Therese, a television personality from Macon, Ga., will also be back for a return engagement as emcee.

The Air Force Reserve is sponsoring the tour with help from USAFE and Armed Forces Entertainment.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.

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