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Musician Lee Greenwood, famous for his hit "God Bless the USA," helps the USO stuff care packages Thursday at Fort Myer, Va. The 3,000 goodie bags are destined for U.S. servicemembers in Iraq.
Musician Lee Greenwood, famous for his hit "God Bless the USA," helps the USO stuff care packages Thursday at Fort Myer, Va. The 3,000 goodie bags are destined for U.S. servicemembers in Iraq. (Lisa Burgess / S&S)

ARLINGTON, Va. — Fort Myer is normally the solemn and sober home of the Army’s 3rd U.S. Infantry, the “Old Guard” responsible for ceremonial duties at Arlington National Cemetery.

But the historic Army post traded that sedate image for merrymaking Thursday, as teams of shouting, singing, cheering servicemembers from all five military branches raced frantically to stuff 3,000 care packages destined for their counterparts in Iraq.

The teams were joined by country music star Lee Greenwood, best known for his hit “God Bless the USA,” and former World Wrestling Entertainment champion Mick Foley.

The first annual “Joint Services Ultimate Stuffing Challenge” was sponsored by the USO as part of the organization’s “Operation Care Package,” a project to collect donations from individuals and corporations and buy comfort items for deployed troops.

Stuffing parties have been held all over the country, and the USO has shipped over 300,000 care packages to date, according to Elaine Rogers, president of the USO of Metropolitan Washington.

Thursday’s stuffing party also served as the Washington launch of a new “Patriotic Country” album released this week by recording label BMG.

The CD is a compilation of music from 18 country music stars, including The Charlie Daniels Band, Randy Travis, Hank Williams, Alabama and Martina McBride. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the CD will be donated to the USO.

The CD also includes a new arrangement of “God Bless the USA,” which Greenwood said he wrote while traveling in his private bus during a concert tour in the early 1980s.

Since 1983, “God Bless the USA” “has been like a roller-coaster — it goes up and down in its popularity,” depending on whether America is engaged in a war at the time, Greenwood said in a Tuesday telephone interview with Stars and Stripes from New York City.

Greenwood didn’t sing his anthem Thursday, but he did pitch in and help the Coast Guard team during the stuffing contest.

The Patriotic Country CD was included in each care package assembled Thursday. The most coveted items include a 100-minute international telephone calling card; a disposable camera; a desert-camouflage patterned toiletry kit; and a high-tech bandana designed to be soaked in cold water and wrapped around the neck.

The bandanas are especially useful for wearing under body armor in Iraq’s blistering summer heat, Rogers said.

But Thursday’s most sought-after prize was Foley, who in between stints helping the Army team stuff bags, was mobbed by servicemembers seeking autographs and snapping photos.

Admitting that he has heard the phrase “I’m a big fan” “more than a few times,” the wrestler, whose career stage names have included “Mankind,” “Cactus Jack” and “Dude Love,” said he doesn’t mind the repetition at all.

In fact, Foley said, he finds it reassuring.

“It reminds me that I don’t have to go out and find a real job,” Foley said.

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