DARKE COUNTY – Craig Stammen’s USO trip exceeded all his expectations and will be something he’ll never forget, even if many of the soldiers didn’t know who he was.
The Versailles High School graduate went on a seven-day, five-country USO trip in December along with fellow Washington National pitcher Ross Detwiler, Washington Capitals forward Matt Hendricks, comedian Iliza Shlesinger and musician Kellie Pickler. The group entertained American military troops on a trip that went from the United States to Ireland, Bahrain, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Germany.
It was the trip of a lifetime, Stammen said, and greatly exceeded his expectations.
“It exceeded them very greatly,” he said. “It was definitely life-changing, eye-opening experience.’
Detwiler, Stammen’s teammate with the Nationals, was invited on the USO holiday tour, Stammen said. That ended up resulting in Detwiler inviting Stammen to join him.
Even though Stammen said he’s not a big celebrity, the troops were excited to see him and the others on the USO trip.
“They were definitely excited,” Stammen said. “I don’t know if it was us, but to see anybody. They were very excited to see Kellie.”
The group made a stop in Ireland for about an hour to refuel the plane on its way to the Middle East, Stammen said. Its first show then was on the USS John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. Then there were four more shows on military bases — one in Kyrgyzstan, two in Afghanistan and one in Germany.
Shlesinger opened the shows with her comedy, which was followed by the athletes going on stage to tell stories and relay messages to the service members.
“It’s not like we can play a baseball game in front of those guys,” Stammen said about his role. “I think we relayed some good messages.”
After the athletes’ turn, Pickler would perform.
Stammen’s part of the tour also included throwing baseballs, hats and posters to the crowd in addition to signing autographs and taking pictures with the service members.
The group was with the troops pretty much the entire trip, and there wasn’t much downtime, Stammen said. With the constant traveling plus the changes in timezones, it was a taxing trip, he said.
“I was a pretty worn out person because we were busy doing stuff at all times,” the North Star product said.
Pickler, who has been on six USO trips, basically was the leader of the group, Stammen said. She, Shlesinger and Hendricks all were very down to earth and made it a great trip, he said.
Stammen also said there isn’t anyone he would prefer to go on the trip with then Detwiler.
“It was really fun,” he said. “We got to enjoy the experience together.” Among the best experiences of the trip were riding in a Blackhawk helicopter and flying off the aircraft carrier, which is something many military members don’t even get to experience, Stammen said.
He also enjoyed getting to meet the military members and seeing how much they are like him, Stammen said.
“Just seeing them and putting a smile on their face is very rewarding,”he said.
Stammen always has appreciated the military, but the USO trip brought his appreciation to a new level, he said.
“It gave me an even better appreciation of what they go through on a daily basis,” he said.
Stammen said he doubts he’ll get asked back on another USO trip as he’s not the biggest star, but he hopes to get to do it again.
“I’d be willing to do it 100 times over,” he said. “It’s not something I would even consider passing up if I get asked again.”
Craig Stammen blogged about his USO trip. You can read about parts of his trip at http://curlyw.mlblogs.com/2012/12/19/ross-craigs-uso-tour-show-on-the-road/ and http://curlyw.mlblogs.com/2012/12/16/ross-craigs-uso-tour-taking-off/.