Armed Forces Amp Up Tours

The war in Iraq recently entered its fourth year. Troops are facing multiple tours of duty, in remote locations, with no assurances that the conflict will reach a conclusion any time soon.

And while the government continues a logistical battle to keep soldiers organized, safe, well supplied and nourished, it also struggles with the imperative matter of maintaining troop morale.

Historically, one of the biggest morale boosters for troops has been entertainment, but according to a recent Wall Street Journal article, the USO is having difficulty recruiting superstars to perform in combat zones.

But a division of the Air Force that organizes troop entertainment recently ramped up its marketing efforts, and has apparently begun recruiting some lesser-known and independent acts that hope to build their fan bases for overseas performances.

In fact, Armed Forces Entertainment even went so far as to send recruiters to this year’s South by Southwest festival, where the agency staged a showcase featuring Americana artist Charlie Robison.

For some acts, going on tour with AFE has proved to be a wise career choice. Cinder Road secured an EMI record deal and an opening slot on American Idol finalist Chris Daughtry’s tour after going out for the division.

And other acts with military followings say they’ve used the tours as a way to reach out and give back to fans who’ve written, e-mailed and messaged their support all the way from the front lines.

Jimmy Perkins, president of 823 Management, recently returned from a 10-day, five-stop tour of Kuwait and Iraq with clients Robison and Kevin Fowler.

Perkins told Pollstar he was approached to help package a Texas tour in early November and his clients were confirmed and given the dates by Christmas from Capt. Trevor Garrett, who works as an AFE coordinator out of the Pentagon.

He explained that while an AFE tour may not be the most luxurious of gigs, he, Fowler and Robison were pleased with how well their trek was coordinated.

"The truth of the matter is that tour is not for everyone. This isn’t the Four Seasons, it’s military billeting," Perkins said. "But the AFE does an incredible job coordinating the logistics in advance so that there’s the least amount of potential problems."

And that also included the equipment and production on the tour, which Perkins said was provided by a company out of Kuwait City.

"We were pleasantly surprised by the equipment because we weren’t sure what we were going to have when we got there," he said. "It was a well-run, professional, organized tour."

And while the tactical coordination of that tour made it a successful one for the artists and Perkins, AFE’s efforts to self-promote appear to be working as well, as the numbers of acts it recruits continues to grow.

The USO put on 37 tours abroad during 2006, according to the WSJ. AFE sent out 118 tours for a total of 1,433 performances.

Although it seems that an AFE tour could indeed help jumpstart the career of a performer, Perkins explained that artists should think about why they want to tour for the division, because in the end it’s really about giving back to troops that are putting forth enormous efforts every day.

"You have to have artists who understand why they’re doing it," he said. "Having done it, we realize how small of a thing it was for us to do when we look at the sacrifices that are over there. It’s very humbling and you get to do some phenomenal things, you get to meet some really outstanding people."