The Gatlinburg tourist t-shirt for sale in Afghanistan at an outdoor market was just one moment captured in hours of video and hundreds of pictures recorded by East Tennessee musician, singer, and USO road manager Doug Shock.
"On that tour we started out with a large cardboard box and with thousands of miles of travel its name changed into 'The Thing' because at the end of the tour it was all duck taped," said Mr. Shock recalling the two United Service Organizations tours he took with his own band and the East Tennessee group Jag Star during a few weeks in both 2003 and 2006.
Shock's mission during the three months on tour and visiting military bases in close to a half-dozen countries boiled down to four things: "Entertain the troops, see the world, get paid to do, and expand our audience," said Mr. Shock.
At every stop Shock said the troops stationed overseas offered the band a warm welcome and gave them a backstage view of life on a military base abroad.
"They allowed us to walk into an area and look at the stealth fighters but they said, 'do not raise a camera lens' or you will understand what security is all about very quickly," recalled Mr. Shock.
The United Service Organizations tours date back to the 1940s. For the last 70 years the nonprofit USO has helped bring a slice of home to US troops stationed overseas. Famous faces from music, movies, and all across the entertainment industry have made stops overseas to boost troop morale.
A decade after he took his first tour, Mr. Shock says what still stands out about the experience was all the thanks he received from men and women in uniform.
"It was an honor to be able to go play music for them and for them to be thanking us for something that was truly an honor. It was an amazing situation," said Mr. Shock.