‘A Break From the Grind’: USO Tour Visits NAS Whidbey Island

July 1, 2021Mac Caltrider
USO Tour Whidbey Island

A record-breaking heat wave couldn’t stop LoCash from performing for service members and their families during the 2021 Vice Chairman’s USO Tour. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die Magazine.

The 2021 Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff USO Tour has been moving at a breakneck pace to visit as many service members as possible during its weeklong tour. On Tuesday, the tour members landed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island off the coast of Washington. In the midst of a record-breaking heat wave, the team put on a great show and visited several units on the island.

Vice Chairman and Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, along with Ramon Colon-Lopez, the senior enlisted adviser to the chairman, took tour members to meet the sailors who keep the Navy’s EA-18G Growlers in the sky. Carrier-based electronic-warfare craft, the Growlers are essentially F-18s that have been designed for electronic warfare.

Whidbey Island
Preston Brust, left, and Chris Lucas, right, of LoCash visit with aviation mechanics during the USO tour aboard Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Comedian Taylor Williamson wasted no time making the aviation mechanics of the VAQ-135 “Black Ravens” laugh while LoCash singers Chris Lucas and Preston Brust took photos with fans. 

“It’s just nice to get a break from the grind and see the USO out again and able to do these tours,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. AJ Dierks, an aviator, said.

Because the pandemic stopped in-person events, the 2021 tour marks the first time since March 2020 that the USO has been able to conduct visits to bases.

Comedian Taylor Williamson, left, visits with aviation mechanics on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island as part of the USO tour, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die Magazine.

After exploring the Growler squadron, the tour moved on to NAS Whidbey Island’s Fire Search and Rescue hangar, where Navy firefighters demonstrated the capabilities of their custom vehicles. The firefighters on base are not part of a typical urban fire department; they’re prepared to respond to fires or crashes anywhere on the island, thanks to their Oshkosh Striker firetruck. The Striker holds more than 3,000 gallons of water, so it can put out fires without needing to tap into a fire hydrant.

Before leaving the base, the tour stopped by the Whidbey School-Age Care facility. As the tour bus pulled up in front of the school, a mob of children with signs welcoming Miss America and LoCash stood chanting “USA, USA!”

Whidbey Island
The USO tour stopped by the Whidbey School-Age Care facility to visit with children living on the Naval Air Station, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die Magazine.

Miss America, Camille Schrier, was swarmed by young girls as soon as she stepped off the bus, but where others would have been overwhelmed, Schrier thrived. When the cheering kids announced that science was the class’s favorite subject, Miss America melted more hearts, telling them it was her favorite subject too. Schrier holds bachelor’s degrees in both biochemistry and systems biology and is just three years away from becoming a doctor of pharmacy.

As LoCash took selfies and played basketball with the kids, Hyten and Colon-Lopez got on their hands and knees to make chalk art. But despite the students’ being an enthusiastic crowd, the focus of the stop was to put on a good show for the base.

Whidbey Island
Miss America, Camille Schrier, takes photos with service members stationed aboard NAS Whidbey Island, Tuesday, June 29, 2021. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die Magazine.

An outdoor stage facing the islands in Puget Sound provided the most beautiful backdrop of the tour so far. Service members and families brought blankets and folding chairs to brave the heat and enjoy the show. LoCash again put on a great performance and was joined on stage by Hyten and Colon-Lopez.

After wrapping up the visit to the isolated naval air base, tour members boarded their C-17 and headed south to their next destination: naval bases Coronado and San Diego.

Read Next: Coffee or Die Joins USO on Whirlwind Tour of Military Bases

Mac Caltrider
Mac Caltrider

Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.

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