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STUTTGART, Germany — First Lt. Laura Richmond might have known that joining the Air Force would help her to see the world. But from a stage?

“There’s really nothing like it,” said Richmond, a singer and tour director for Tops In Blue. “It’s the satisfaction you get touching people you wouldn’t have the opportunity to otherwise.

“How many people have a chance to fly to the desert and bring a little bit of home to the people who are serving there?”

Tops In Blue, a musical group of active-duty airmen, has performed this year for U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and neighboring countries. In business for more than 50 years, the 2004-2005 edition kicks off the European leg of its tour on Sunday in downtown Stuttgart. The two shows at the Höhenpark Killesberg open air theater, site of the Stuttgarter Burgerfest, start at 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.

After that, the troupe embarks on a tour of U.S. bases in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Balkans, and Italy before ending with two shows in Keflavik, Iceland.

Shows are free and open to whoever has access to them.

The group has 16 singers and a nine-member band that includes a horns section, bassist, guitarist, two keyboardists and a drummer. Seven technicians oversee the 36,000 pounds of staging, lighting, sound and special effects equipment.

Featured tunes include ones by country artists such as Buddy Jewell and Martina McBride, and oldies by Sonny and Cher and Peaches and Herb. Some songs by MC Hammer, Madonna and Tavares can also be expected.

Richmond, a 28-year-old from Pasadena, Texas, joined the Air Force after graduating college and working for four years as a music teacher — three years in the states and the last at Kaiserslautern Middle School in 2001-2002.

“I’ve been a music fanatic my entire life,” she said. “I started singing with an organized choir when I was 4 years old. Then came voice lessons and piano lessons.”

Members are selected from bases around the world. Their assignment with Tops In Blue begins in April with a 45-day training period at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, and concludes a year later after dozens of performances worldwide.

“It’s absolutely exhausting,” said Richmond, a section commander with the 86th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. “But we always say that we’ll sleep when the tour is over.”

Tops in Blue schedule

Most shows are evenings. Check with local services squadrons for exact times and locations:

• Saturday: Patch Barracks, Stuttgart (U.S. European Command Ball)• Sunday: Stuttgart, Höhenpark Killesberg open air theater; 45-minute shows, back-to-back• Wednesday: Garmisch, Germany• Sept. 27: Rhein-Main Air Base, Germany• Sept. 28: Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina• Sept. 30: Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo• Oct. 2: Ramstein Air Base, Germany• Oct. 3: Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany• Oct. 5: Buechel, Germany• Oct. 6: Brunssum, Netherlands• Oct. 7: Geilenkirchen, Germany• Oct. 8: Kleine Brogel, Belgium• Oct. 11: Volkel, Netherlands• Oct. 12: Kalkar, Germany• Oct. 14: SHAPE, Belgium• Oct. 16: RAF Fairford, England• Oct. 18: RAF Croughton, England• Oct. 19: RAF Molesworth, England• Oct. 20-21: RAF Lakenheath/Mildenhall, England• Oct. 23-24: Aviano Air Base, Italy• Oct. 27-28: Keflavik, Iceland

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