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Patriotic Article

By Airman 1st Class Daniel Phelps

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Life On The Road With Tops In Blue
(March 1, 2010)

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SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (2/24/2010 - AFNS) -- The band crescendos toward the end of the song and suddenly stops.

Senior Airman Jennifer Lynn Frost belts out the final phrase, and the band joins back in for the final chord, holding it out for what seems like an eternity.
Tech. Sgt. Alison Maldonado (left), Staff Sgt. Aisha Smith (middle) and Senior Airman Tarryn Holyfield sing during a performance at the Patriot Hall Auditorium Feb. 3, 2010, in Sumter, S.C. Sergeant Maldonado, Sergeant Smith and Airman Holyfield are members of Tops In Blue.
Tech. Sgt. Alison Maldonado (left), Staff Sgt. Aisha Smith (middle) and Senior Airman Tarryn Holyfield sing during a performance at the Patriot Hall Auditorium Feb. 3, 2010, in Sumter, S.C. Sergeant Maldonado, Sergeant Smith and Airman Holyfield are members of Tops In Blue.
The crowd leaps to their feet in a standing ovation. At the end of the show, the cast of Tops In Blue lines up at the bottom of the stage for a meet-and-greet session with the crowd.

Tops In Blue is the Air Force musical group dedicated to bringing musical entertainment to servicemembers, their families, friends and neighbors.

Each cast serves for one year, visiting every base, said Airman Frost, a soprano for Tops In Blue and a services journeyman for the 78th Force Support Squadron at Robins Air Force Base, Ga. Airman Frost calls Kalamazoo, Mich., home.

Every March, Tops In Blue starts a brand new cast, Airman Frost said. They come from across the Air Force, winners of the service's worldwide talent contest.

The first two months consist of the staging period where they learn the songs and the dance routines, as well as the lighting and sound design. After that, they hit the road.

Life in Tops In Blue is very busy, said Senior Airman Victoria Howard, a trombonist for Tops In Blue and aeromedical evacuation technician for the 459th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Joint Base Andrews, Md., who is from Sweetwater, N.J. They perform every day to every other day and put in 18 to 20 hour days, with two days off per month.

"On top of performing, all Tops In Blue members are also part of the crew," Airman Howard said. "They load and unload all of the equipment, which is between 60,000 to 65,000 pounds."

Tops In Blue is very different in comparison to her regular Air Force job, Airman Howard explained. It requires more attention to detail in communication and time management.

During her normal Air Force job, Airman Howard would generally come in at 8 a.m., have an hour lunch break and get off at 5 p.m. With Tops In Blue, she generally sleeps about five hours a night. Meals will only last about 15 to 20 minutes. As soon as they arrive at their location, they begin to set up all of their equipment.

After the stage is set, they rehearse. Then the night begins with the show at 7 p.m., their meet-and-greet session afterward, tearing down the equipment and doing it all over again the next day.

Even with all the hard work, Airman Frost described Tops In Blue as a wonderful experience and said there is never a boring moment.

"The days are long, but very rewarding," Airman Frost explained. "The hard work and manual labor have caused me to thrive; to become a better Airman."

Airman Howard described being in Tops In Blue as the opportunity of a lifetime.

Tops In Blue visits bases in Germany, Italy, Asia, England, Hawaii, Alaska and the 48 continental states, Airman Frost added. On top of that, they sometimes receive special requests for performances. For example, this past year, they performed at a NASCAR event and had a request from Germany to see their performance.

Airman Frost described her most memorable moment with Tops In Blue as a concert in Montana.

"In high school, I didn't have a lot of friends," Airman Frost said. "We went to Montana this December, and one of the girls I went to high school with decided to contact me. I hadn't seen or spoken to her in seven years. She came to the show and sat in the first row. She absolutely loved it. She was very proud of me. It felt really good to see a member from high school."

Airman Howard said her most memorable moment with Tops In Blue was the worldwide 2010 talent contest they just finished. The contest consisted of 10 days of interviews and auditions for the upcoming Tops In Blue cast. It opened up her eyes to see how much talent there is in the world and to see how the program really gives Airmen a unique opportunity.

Airmen Howard remembered her audition as being very scary at first. She was trying out for something that she hadn't done in three years. She began performing music in high school, originally playing the baritone and tuba, as well as singing in the choir.

"I picked up the trombone toward the end of high school to play in the jazz band, but wasn't very good," Airman Howard added.

She was auditioning for Tops In Blue as a vocalist, but let the staff know about her complete musical background, Airman Howard said.

The staff made the audition very comfortable, she recalled.

"They let you know that you don't have to be perfect, because they're going to train you to be the best that you can be," Airman Howard explained. "They're just looking for potential. That really calmed my nerves a little bit."

They ended up casting her as a trombonist, re-teaching her to play an instrument she hadn't played in three years, Airman Howard said.

The audition process for Tops In Blue consists of 10 days of vocal, instrumental, technical and dance auditions, Airman Frost said. They also have a night for impressions and a dancer spotlight.

Airman Frost advised those who are interested in Tops In Blue to make sure they absolutely want it. It is the hardest thing they will ever do, but it makes them a better person, teaching good leadership skills and team work. She said they should give it their all, putting their heart and soul into it.

Airman Howard said her favorite part of Tops In Blue is the meet-and-greet session at the end of every performance. It lets her see the impact that she makes on the audience. When she is on stage performing, everything she does is for them and she does whatever she can to make the show enjoyable.

As Airman Frost performs, she said she thinks about the audience and what she would want to see if she were watching.

"At the end of the day, when I'm up on that stage, knowing that I helped put this miraculous set together," Airman Frost said. "Performing and getting the opportunity to do this, being on the road is great, I love it. I personally don't want to go back."

Once the meet-and-greet session has finished, Airman Frost and the rest of the cast head back to the dressing rooms to change into their work clothes. After changing, they head back to the stage to tear down the set and hit the road for their next show.
Article by Airman 1st Class Daniel Phelps
USAF photo by Airman 1st Class Neil D. Warner
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Copyright 2010

Reprinted from Air Force News Service

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