By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
The women swooned when they saw him. The men swooned when they saw his car.
NASCAR's Kasey Kahne made an appearance Friday at Fort Hood to unveil the paint job on his new car, meet fans and announce a renewed partnership and new program between USO and his sponsor, Budweiser.
"He is dreamy," said Robin Crouse, USO Fort Hood director. "Anyone who loves my soldiers is dreamy."
Operation Enduring Care
USO and Budweiser are teaming for Operation Enduring Care.
More than 33,000 troops have been wounded since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, according to information from USO. Operation Enduring Care, which was created in 2006, helps "meet the recovery needs of injured service members and their families as well as support the medical personnel who care for the wounded, funeral escorts, mortuary personnel and honor guards serving fallen troops."
According to USO, Operation Enduring Care includes six outreach programs:
USO Day Rooms that provide lounge areas at military hospitals and medical facilities throughout the world;
Operation USO Comfort Kits that gives duffle bags filled with clothing and toiletries to injured troops returning directly from the battlefield;
Operation Connect with Care, which allows the wounded to check out DVD players, movies, CDs, video game systems and games and other entertainment items;
Operation USO Outing, which provides day trips to local sporting events and concerts;
USO Grant Fund, which provides special items that do not fit into other Operation Enduring Care categories; and
USO Emergency Fund, which provides emergency financial assistance for troops and their families to cover transportation, hotel and travel accommodations and other emergency needs.
Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center at Fort Hood and the Warrior Family Support Center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio are just two locations that benefit from Operation Enduring Care.
To learn more about USO programs, go to www.uso.org/whatwedo/.
Friday's announcement was part of Budweiser's "Proud to Serve Those Who Serve" program. The company and its wholesalers are set to donate $250,000 in proceeds in May and June to Operation Enduring Care, said Henry Dominguez, a Budweiser regional representative.
The funds will go to build two state-of-the-art Wounded Warrior Centers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Fort Belvoir, Va., where wounded troops and their families can gather outside of hospital rooms, said John Hanson, USO's senior vice president of marketing and communications.
"It's an ambitious effort, and when a national sponsor steps forward to offer us what might be $250,000, I'm going to show up," Hanson later wrote on the organization's blog, http://blog.uso.org/.
Big night at Fort Hood
Friday's event not only included an unveiling of the No. 9 car's new paint job and a question-and-answer session with Kahne and ESPN's Marty Smith, but a free concert with Texas country artist Kevin Fowler.
Three thousand free tickets were made available to anyone with a military ID and officials from Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation said they went fast. About 100 were left Friday, but were gone by noon.
Representatives from USO Dallas/Fort Worth walked through the crowd and handed out more than 500 free tickets to the weekend races at Texas Motor Speedway in Forth Worth. Rain postponed the Sprint Cup Series' Samsung Mobile 500 to Monday.
"We're all behind you," Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, III Corps and Fort Hood senior mission commander, told Kahne Friday night while presenting him with a gift after the question-and-answer session.
Kahne placed fifth in Monday's race behind Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch, according to www.nascar.com.
Friday was Kahne's first visit to Fort Hood and he said he enjoyed interacting with the fans. He wanted them to enjoy the night because he appreciated what they did, Kahne said.
Kahne's appearance caused a stir among stalwart fans, men and women alike. One soldier presented Kahne with a coin while others asked for hugs, photos and autographs.
Raquel Montoya was the first in line outside Abrams Physical Fitness Center Friday. She and her husband, retired Staff Sgt. Leo Montoya, arrived at 5:15 p.m. to ensure they got a good spot in the gym when doors opened at 7.
Montoya likes Kahne. A lot. When Leo was stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., Raquel even visited Kahne's hometown of Enumclaw.
Raquel's goal Friday was to get Kahne's autograph on a photo of the family's German shepherd, named Kasey K9. Kasey K9 died in December and Raquel thought it would be a nice tribute, "'cause I love them both," she said.
Raquel was able to maneuver herself through the crowd later for an autograph, and Kahne told her he was sorry for her loss. Raquel said she felt "wonderful" after the meeting with her favorite NASCAR driver and even managed to snag a few free tickets for the race in Fort Worth from USO.
Texas country artist Kevin Fowler fired up an already-excited crowd after Kahne's appearance.
Fowler, an Amarillo native, often performs in Central Texas and his hits include "Hard Man to Love" and "Best Mistake I Ever Made." He also wrote hits like "Beer, Bait and Ammo," "The Lord Loves the Drinkin' Man" and "Long Line of Losers."
Fowler came to Fort Hood because he wanted to show his thanks to those in the military, he said after the concert. It's the band's way of giving back a little, he added.
Fowler and Charlie Robison went to Iraq 2½ years ago for the Downhome Range Tour, according to Texas Music magazine. Fowler said Friday that the troops were the most appreciative audience for whom he has ever played. It was a little taste of home for them, he said.
He likes to play free shows for the fans, especially his military fans.
"They need some love," Fowler said.
Fowler wears a metal tribute bracelet on his left wrist, given to him by the family of Sgt. Mitchel Mutz, a Falls City native. Mutz died Nov. 15, 2006, after a roadside bomb explosion in Baquba, Iraq, while serving with the 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, according to information from the Defense Department. He was 23.
Mutz's family members were fans of Fowler and he has worn the bracelet at every show for the last few years.
Watching news on TV doesn't make the war and loss seem real, but it really hits home when its someone you know, Fowler said. The rest of America is numb to it, but it's real, he added.
"Thank you for what you do," Fowler said to the men and women serving. "Thank you for doing our dirty work every day."
New fans and old
Friday night was Sgt. Jesse Rosales' first Kevin Fowler concert. He attended with another native Texan, Spc. Kevin Smith. Both are both indirect fire infantryman in the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry's Headquarters and Headquarters Company.
Rosales, a Corpus Christi native, heard Fowler's music and wanted to see him perform live, he said after the show while standing in line to meet Fowler and get an autograph.
Rosales has attended several events at Fort Hood, including Ron White's January show, and said Fowler's was the best so far. His favorite Fowler song was "Hard Man to Love," with which he said he could identify.
Smith is from Odessa and wore a T-shirt already signed by Fowler. Smith started listening to Fowler four years ago and has been a fan ever since. The show was "pretty damn good," he said before getting his T-shirt autographed again.
Friday's event was a night for every one to have fun and let their hair down, Crouse said, and it was also a great day for USO, NASCAR and Budweiser.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.