Air Force Entertainment unit Tops in Blue appeared on the base theater stage Nov. 14 as more than a band.
They were an opportunity for Team Edwards families to leave their worries at the door and just enjoy being free.
This year’s show “Freedom’s Song” travelled through American time and culture to bring music from all genres and decades to the audience. The show opened with a patriotic feel and then moved into Top 40 hits like “Uptown Funk” and “Like I’m Gonna Lose You.”
Then the clock turns back to the start of the 1900s and moves through the decades with gospel, country, pop and even a disco song.
“What we want you to walk away with is feeling the diversity of our Air Force and the diversity of our families,” said 1st Lt. Lauren Rogers, public affairs officer, Misawa Air Base, Japan. “We’ve been to Japan, Korea and Italy, and music is something that is universal. Even when we don’t really understand what each other are saying we can still be touched by music so that is really what is so special about Tops in Blue.”
At one point in the show, Hercules, Spiderman, Superman and other super heroes took the stage. Then they announce that another hero, who has earned his place among them, will join them — an American Airman. The song they perform is a tribute to all of the real heroes in the room and their families.
Tops in Blue is made up of active duty, reserve and guardsmen in the Air Force that serve for one season that’s treated like a year-long temporary duty. Applications are collected annually and then potential members are selected for live tryouts in San Antonio, Texas.
“In the beginning it’s kind of like American Idol,” said vocalist Staff Sgt. Brooke Hairston, 743rd Intelligence Support Squadron, Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.
Thirty-five members were selected for this year’s Tops in Blue; 20 vocalists, 10 band members and five technicians. There are members from all career fields ranking from airman first class to major. The group starts with 60 days of rehearsal and then they’re on the road from March 16, 2015, to January 2016. This year, they will put on 75 shows and the final leg of the tour, starting in December, is dedicated to deployed locations.
“We get to go to veteran’s homes, community centers, CDCs, and of course our main performances at various bases and the holidays are spent at all the deployed locations,” said Hairston. “My favorite part is going to the veterans homes and hearing their stories.”
Tops in Blue is a self-sufficient unit, with each person taking responsibility for multiple aspects of the show. Putting each show together requires wardrobe, lights, audio support, dance floor staging and transportation.
Staff Sgt. Ronald Brooks, 56th Logistic Readiness Squadron, Luke AFB, Ariz., is the NCOIC of Transportation. He is responsible for maintenance of the vehicles, planning routes and coordinating rest and food stops. His extra duty is running the spotlight.
“I’ve always told my Airmen, a lot of people go through their career, trying to get something, but they never actually think of giving back to the Air Force. The 10 years that I’ve been in, I’ve been given awards, I’ve been presented opportunities, but to me this is my gift back to the Air Force,” said Brooks.
Brooks is from New Orleans and comes from a family with no military background. He wanted to do something meaningful with his life and find a better path for himself.
“The war had just kicked off in Iraq and that’s when I signed up. I’m looking out at all the folks in the news that are fighting for freedom and I just wanted to support that,” he recalled. “It was a bit of patriotism and a bit of opportunity for myself.”
Tops in Blue is nearly as old as the Air Force, founded 62 years ago in 1953.
According to Rogers, the show always ends on a patriotic note.
“My favorite song is the end song ‘God Bless the U.S.A.’ because I literally get chills,” said Hairston. “Sometimes the whole audience will stand up and it really reminds you why you’re here and why you’re serving.”