FORT LEE, Va. – Recalling the first Army Soldier Show performance he attended during advanced individual training at Fort Lee in 2011, and the thought he had then – “yeah, I can see myself doing that” – Spc. Phillip Morris from Fort Bragg, N.C., said he’s excited about returning July 8 as a cast member in the 2015 tour.
“I want to show other advanced individual training Soldiers there what can be accomplished if you’re determined to do it,” said the 21-year-old automated logistical specialist. “Earning a spot in the Soldier’s Show is a dream come true, and it all started at Fort Lee where I saw it and decided I was going to do it. Achieving this goal feels outstanding. The show brings pride and joy to so many people. I hope I can impact the Soldiers there the way the show impacted me.”
Morris is touring with 23 other cast members representing Army active duty, reserve and National Guard units across the country, including Hawaii and Alaska. Their 90-minute performance at Fort Lee’s Williams Stadium starts at 7:30 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public. All access control procedures will remain in effect for this event.
The theme of the 2015 show is “We Serve,” and the production pays tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Ia Drang Valley, one of the bloodiest conflicts in the Vietnam War. The battle was documented in the book “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young,” by retired Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and reporter Joe Galloway.
In 2002, director Randall Wallace depicted the first part of the battle in the movie, “We Were Soldiers,” starring Mel Gibson and Barry Pepper, playing the roles of Moore and Galloway, respectively. Patrick Stephenson, an American Soldier in that battle, is the narrator of this year’s Soldier Show.
“The backstory (about Stephenson’s character) is his family’s tradition of military service – a grandfather who served in World War I, his dad who served in World War II, him serving in Vietnam, his son serving in the first Gulf War, and his grandson serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom,” said Soldier Show producer Tim Higdon. “We acknowledge who he is as a real person, but he plays a character for the show, and the character is this ‘Soldier for Life’ veteran.”
The show includes an introduction by Gibson. Stephenson helped Soldier Show artistic director Victor Hurtado persuade the well-known actor to add a taste of Hollywood to the Army Entertainment production.
“Mel will talk about the men and women who were involved in the battle,” Hurtado said. “As an actor in the ‘We Were Soldiers’ movie, he knows them very well.”
Once the premise of the show is set in the audience’s mind, the cast is turned loose to perform its traditional showcase of song and dance. The understandably melancholy moments associated with topics like the 50th anniversary of a Vietnam War battle and the tragedies of war will be balanced by uplifting moments that celebrate the strength and resiliency of America’s Army.
“We chose several popular songs like ‘Uptown Funk,’ ‘Bang Bang’ and ‘Turn Down for What,’ and made them work for the messages we want to deliver,” said Soldier Show music director Joey Beebe. “We even have some opera this year (performed by Spc. Elise Baldwin from Fort Polk, La.). It’s been a long time since we’ve had somebody who could do that.”
Amy Lynn Miles, who has choreographed every step of the Soldier Show since 2012, said she appreciates the symmetry of this year’s production. “What I really like about this show is the way we have someone telling the story from start to end,” she said. “We’re following a specific person throughout the performance. We’ve never done that before as far as I know.”
Hurtado emphasized the key elements of the script he wrote for the 2015 performance. The messaging raises awareness of Army campaigns like “Soldier for Life” and Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey’s new “Not in My Squad” initiative to eliminate sexual harassment and assault in the ranks. The show also touches on the support of wounded warriors and their families, and transition assistance as troops leave the Army and join the civilian workforce.
“The show is entertaining, but it also is very message-driven,” Hurtado said. “We want to make sure the audiences we play for are actually absorbing the messaging while being inspired at the same time.”
The Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation program, and its corporate sponsors who bring the show to troops year after year, tout the “We Serve” production as being one of its best to date with a powerful patriotic punch, a touch of cultural diversity, and a wide range of chart-topping tunes.
“You have my promise that it’s going to be a great show,” Beebe said. “Come and watch … it is Army entertainment like you’ve never experienced before.”
Army-mandated access control measures now in effect at Fort Lee require a background check for any visitor who does have a DOD identification card or previously issued post pass. Those who fall into that category will need to stop at the Visitor Control Center, adjacent to the Lee Avenue Gate, for screening and issue of a temporary pass in order to enter the installation. For details on this requirement, go to www.lee.army.mil/pmo/access.aspx.
Guests of the Soldier Show may bring lawn chairs or blankets for seating. Bleachers also are available and food vendors will be on-site. In the event of inclement weather, the show will be postponed to the following evening. For other details, call (804) 765-3176.