By Amanda Kim Stairrett
The Cove Herald
FORT HOOD - When news that comedian and actor Dane Cook was to perform a free show at Fort Hood was announced Dec. 9, local fans were ready.
Before the doors to Howze Theater opened the next evening, a crowd of excited soldiers, families and civilians were gathered outside. The theater was filled within minutes.
Cook's appearance at Fort Hood was made possible by ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," which was in the area last week to tape an episode featuring Staff Sgt. Patrick Zeigler and his now-wife, Jessica. An ABC camera crew shot Cook's performances, scenes of the crowd and a special announcement that will be revealed when the show is aired in February.
Also speaking before Cook's performance was J.R. Martinez, a former soldier and actor in ABC's "All My Children." Martinez was injured - 40 percent of his body burned - in 2003 by a roadside bomb attack in Iraq. He talked about returning to his small hometown after his injury and being surprised to see cheering people lining the streets late at night to welcome him back. That community support showed Martinez he could be who he was. He may have physically and mentally changed, but "(I am) still who I am," he said.
Aside from acting - he portrays a wounded veteran on the show - Martinez also travels the country and, with his blend of humor and inspiration, talks to the public about soldiers' stories and not giving up. He appreciated talking to a military audience Friday because he could tell his story without having to explain every detail and those in the audience knew what he was talking about, he said.
Cook said after his performance, which focused on his issues with the holiday season, that it meant the world to him to be part of the Zeiglers' "Home Makeover" experience.
He's seen the show on television before, he said, but visiting the build site in Salado, he couldn't explain what he felt seeing the synergy, respect and buzz surrounding the project. Watching a unit of people creating what they did was like nothing Cook said he's ever experienced.
Looking at the front row and seeing Zeigler sitting there, enjoying the show, was a moment Cook said he'd never forget.
Cook, the son of a Korean War veteran, has performed for U.S. troops around the world and he enjoys making them laugh and - if only for a brief moment - making them feel like they're at home.
He had a message for deployed Fort Hood soldiers who couldn't attend the show: "We missed you tonight. You were in our thoughts and prayers. ... You are here in spirit. ... I will do everything I can to keep you entertained."