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Cole's Floor Speech Regarding Toby Keith Resolution

September 18, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Congressman Cole (OK-04) offered the following words in support of H.Res.1255 on September 15,2008. 

"Mr. COLE of Oklahoma. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to commend a great Oklahoman and American patriot, whose unceasing support for the men and women in our armed services has been a hallmark of his career. Country music star Toby Keith was born and raised in my hometown of Moore, Oklahoma, and is now a resident just south of us in Norman, Oklahoma, and has made it his mission as an entertainer to keep our troops entertained and to boost their morale as they serve this Nation in some of the most dangerous, remote places on the planet.

This resolution outlines Mr. Keith's commitment to our troops and encourages other entertainers to take into consideration Toby Keith's deep commitment to boosting the morale of our Nation's soldiers when supporting USO operations.

As many of you know, Mr. Speaker, Toby Keith is one of the most successful country music stars of the last two decades. His songs not only appeal to a wide variety of listeners but are also critically acclaimed.

On a personal note, I'll tell my friend on the other side of the aisle, he's actually a very good Democrat. But like all of us, I think he's an American and I'm proud to say an Oklahoman, far ahead of being affiliated with any political party.

Despite his fantastic success as a performer, I'm here to highlight the work Mr. Keith has done for the United Service Organizations. Since the founding of USO in 1941, thousands of celebrities have taken time out of their lives to visit service men and women who sacrifice their lives for the cause of freedom. These shows not only help to boost morale among our troops but also help to connect our Armed Forces to America when they are far from home, Mr. Speaker.

Since before the United States entered the Second World War, the USO has been the bridge between the American public and the U.S. military. These performances also remind the troops that we are all eternally grateful for the work they do.

Today, the USO delivers its programs and services at more than 130 locations around the world. More recently, the USO opened centers in Kuwait, Qatar and Afghanistan to support service members participating in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. The organization relies on over 25,000 volunteers, and servicemembers and their families visit USO centers 5.3 million times a year, Mr. Speaker.

Country music personalities have always been an essential element of the USO's entertainment. In the early years, performers like Gene Autry, another notable Oklahoman--actually Gene Autry, Oklahoma, is in my district as well, Mr. Speaker--Patsy Cline, and many other acts from the Grand Ole Opry have traveled around the world to entertain our troops. Today, performers like Neal McCoy and Lee Ann Womack have all gone to Iraq to entertain our troops. However, few celebrities have visited our troops fighting the war on terror in Iraq and Afghanistan with as much fervor and frequency as Toby Keith.

Mr. Speaker, Toby Keith has made six USO tours, including entertaining over 135,000 U.S. service personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, Germany, Belgium, Kosovo, Italy, and Africa. In fact, he has volunteered to perform at some of the most dangerous and remote locations in the Persian Gulf, including forward operating bases with populations of as few as 50 service members that require Apache escort helicopters to reach. In many of these cases, these places and the garrisons literally haven't had entertainment in many, many months.

The USO also noted in our discussions with them, Mr. Speaker, that Toby's brought back valuable insight from forward deployed troops, including things they would request from the USO and the American public. As a result, the USO has developed a program called USO Delivered, which includes transportable USO centers for remote areas.

On April 28, 2008, while performing in one of these dangerous locations, Kandahar, Afghanistan, mortar fire disrupted one of Mr. Keith's concerts. Instead of packing up and going home, Toby Keith returned to the stage to finish the show. This attitude, that all troops no matter where they are stationed deserve our support, is what makes Toby Keith an exemplary patriot, and all entertainers should, and I'm sure do, take a good lesson from his dedication to our men and women in uniform.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Keith's visits to the USO are not only places where he deserves recognition for supporting our troops. He also freely provides tickets to military personnel for all of his shows in the U.S., and service members showing military ID are allowed to eat and drink for free at his restaurants. Toby Keith also reflects his deep admiration for the troops in his hit song ``American Soldier'' which hails the work that our Armed Forces do to protect us all on a daily basis.

Mr. Speaker, at a time when the thousands of Americans question the merits of our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is essential that our service men and women know that we support their dedication to America, regardless of our political disagreements at home. Toby Keith has been a stalwart supporter of our troops throughout his career and deserves our recognition and our appreciation. Regardless of one's opinion on our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting our men and women overseas is certainly something that all Members of this body encourage and support.

Mr. Speaker, I urge Members to vote ``yes'' on House Resolution 1255 and honor a true patriot.

I reserve the balance of my time."