By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
Country music star Trace Adkins was in Iraq last month, performing for and meeting with U.S. troops. Those troops included the deployed III Corps headquarters, led by Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, who also serves as deputy commander for operations, U.S. Forces-Iraq.
Adkins said Saturday he saw Cone in Iraq and it was a little weird, but great, to be at Fort Hood performing for the rest of III Corps.
Adkins was just one of the stars to visit Fort Hood and a crowd of 50,000 last week as part of the WWE Tribute to the Troops.
The yearly World Wrestling Entertainment special was taped last week. It is set to air at 8 p.m. Saturday on NBC.
This is the show's eighth year, and the first time it was recorded stateside. The show is typically produced at military bases in Iraq or Afghanistan, but "due to heightened military activity in Afghanistan and logistical considerations, WWE chose Fort Hood this year to perform its annual holiday show," according to information from the organization.
Deployed Fort Hood soldiers have appeared in past shows.
WWE's biggest stars, including Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon, John Cena, Randy Orton, The Big Show, The Miz, Kane, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Chavo Guerrero, Hornswoggle, Sheamus and several WWE Divas.
The View's Sherri Shepherd, Cedric the Entertainer and Miss USA Rima Fakih appeared at the tribute, and Diddy-Dirty Money, Ariel Winter from "Modern Family" and Adkins were among the musicians to perform.
Adkins said he was proud to be a part of this year's show at Fort Hood and his recent tour in Iraq. It wasn't his first trip to visit deployed troops and he said he could sense a change in Iraq. He felt less tension in the air, he said, and the troops' dedication and hard work there paid off.
A handful of the stars appearing Saturday are also set to visit deployed troops in Afghanistan in early December, according to information from WWE. One of those is Eve, a WWE Diva. Visiting deployed troops is a reminder of the luxuries Americans have at home, she said.
She and others from WWE have made visits overseas before and she talked about the troops' appreciation, saying she was happy to bring a piece of home to some of the more remote bases. Not all they met were wrestling fans, Eve said, but they were just happy to get a reminder of home.
Eve was also one of many WWE stars to visit with Gold Star families and units ranging from the Warrior Transition Brigade to those training at North Fort Hood.
She said meeting with Gold Star families was an incredible experience because they all sacrificed more than she would ever know. It was her goal to put smiles on their faces while understanding how much each of them sacrificed for her.
Service members get on the front lines and fight, so the least the wrestlers can do is pay tribute to them, The Big Show said Saturday after his match. His interactions with soldiers are some of the most overwhelming moments he experiences, he said, and he just wants to see them have a good time.
It's hard to think of himself as a star when he is in their presence, The Big Show said.
During his travels to visit deployed troops, The Big Show said they often remind him of things he did early in his career and point out they grew up watching him wrestle.
Hearing young men and women in uniform say that is humbling, and seeing the responsibility they have "hits me right in the heart."
Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, Fort Hood senior commander, was a part of the action Saturday, engaging in an arm wrestling match with Kane in the ring.
Kane looked to have an upper hand on Grimsley, who did a fair share of trash talking, but Edge busted into the ring and helped him out.
Grimsley was in Iraq two years ago with the 4th Infantry Division and saw the special. It is a great show and wonderful tribute, he said.
Cena is known for his support of troops, giving a salute every time he begins a wrestling appearance. He's wrestled in seven of the eight tributes and met many deployed troops, but Saturday was the first time he got to see soldiers enjoy the show with their loved ones.
He said Saturday before the show that he looked forward to the tribute every year, and he encouraged deployed soldiers to keep their heads up and their hearts strong.
Sgt. 1st Class Dameon Vassar, of Alpha Company, Brigade Troops Battalion, 4th Sustainment Brigade, 13th Sustainment Command, brought his three children, 15-year-old Sidney, 13-year-old Dameon and 11-year-old Joshua, to the tribute. Dameon and Joshua are John Cena fans and wanted to see him in action. He didn't disappoint.
"It was awesome," Joshua said.
Dameon was deployed to Camp Taji, Iraq, last year and got Cena's autograph. He sent it home as a Christmas gift and was able to call as the boys opened the present. They were more excited about that than any other present, the sergeant said.
Joshua is a fan because of Cena's signature move and the way he acts in the ring.
The teenage Dameon also liked Cedric the Entertainer's appearance and Sidney's favorite part was Diddy's performance.
The sergeant has been at Fort Hood since 2000. He said Saturday's tribute was one of the best shows he's seen.
He appreciated the WWE because it has shown a lot of heart and appreciation for the military, he said.