A pair of RAF Lakenheath airmen are set for a thunderous reception Friday when they return from a prolonged tour of duty that has kept them away from their friends and homes since February.

Senior Airman Danielle Hughes, 23, from the 48th Communications Squadron and Senior Airman Bethany Schwartzkopf, 24, from 48th Contracting Squadron haven’t seen the U.S. fighter base in England where they work since they joined the Air Force’s traveling musical ensemble, Tops in Blue.

The two singers will return to England as part of the Tops fall concert tour through Europe, which started at Lajes Field in Portugal on Sunday and takes the group to military bases around the theater.

The women, speaking by phone from the Tops’ home base in San Antonio, Texas, said they were looking forward to seeing their homes and friends again and swapping out some of the few possessions they were able to take when the left for rehearsals six months ago.

“I just missed all my shoes,” Hughes said with a laugh.

A singer who has performed since age 5, Hughes covers songs by Tina Turner and Beyoncé Knowles as part of the show, titled “What’s Love?,” along with other songs.

Both women said that though working as Tops in Blue performer is an incredible experience, it’s a lot more work than people think.

“It’s very hard work. It’s not a vacation at all,” Hughes said.

Tops performers “live on a bus” and out of a suitcase, and put in very long hours, Schwartzkopf said.

They generally show up the night before a show and spend all day setting up more than $50,000 worth of stage, sound and lighting equipment.

After the performance, they tear down the set and get back on the bus to head to the next town, Schwartzkopf said.

“Not only are we the performers, we are also the stagehands,” Hughes said.

Friday’s show will be the first time Hughes and Schwartzkopf’s local friends at Lakenheath will get to see them perform, which Hughes said would made her slightly more anxious than usual before a regular show.

“I’m nervous,” she said. “For me it’s personally [easier] to perform in front of strangers.”

The Tops performers will see plenty of strangers on the European tour, which calls for shows at 17 bases in seven countries in about six weeks.

European tour schedule

¶Wednesday: Morón Air Base, Spain, parking lot of Frontera Recreation Lounge

¶Friday: RAF Lakenhealth, U.K., location to be announced

¶Saturday: RAF Fairford, U.K., location TBA

¶Sunday: RAF Croughton, U.K., fitness center

¶Sept. 11: RAF Menwith Hill, U.K., location TBA

¶ Sept. 12:RAF Alconbury, U.K., location TBA

¶Sept. 19: Büchel Air Base, Germany, Burgesaal Ulmen

¶Sept. 20: Spangdahlem AB, Germany, Shelton Memorial Fitness Center

¶Sept. 21: Brunssum, Netherlands/Geilenkirchen, Germany location TBA

¶Sept. 23: Kleine Brogel, Belgium, location TBA

¶Sept. 25: SHAPE, Belgium, location TBA

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