Tops In Blue thunders into Arizona

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Nearly every night of the year more than 30 of the most talented performers in the Air Force put on an action-packed show somewhere in the world. Tops In Blue has been bringing crowds to their feet for 53 years.

Thursday night the Tops in Blue team entertained thousands at the Maricopa County Events Center, a facility located near Phoenix's metropolitan area. It is the largest single level venue in the country.

Colonel Randy Meyer, 56th Fighter Wing vice commander, was on hand to welcome the crowd to the performance.

"These folks are the best entertainment talent in the military," he said.

"They bring rooms to their feet night after night and I hear people everywhere say this year's performances are the most exciting and intense shows ever. We're lucky to have them here."

Many people who have seen Tops in Blue before aren't aware of their history. The group is comprised of Air Force individuals from bases all around the world who were performing regular Air Force jobs.

To get to "the tops," they take part in the Air Force Worldwide Talent Contest. Dating back to 1953, this contest was used to recognize talented Airmen in various categories ranging from comedy, drama, vocals, gospel, vocal and instrumental groups, country and western, and several other categories.

The top talent from the competition joined a troupe of the best Air Force entertainers, which ultimately became known as Tops In Blue. The debut tour embarked on a grueling trek of 230 shows in 235 days.

That breakneck pace continues today.

Each team begins their tour with an intense 45 day training period at their training facilities at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. This training consists of a highly accelerated educational process to prepare them to succeed as worldclass entertainers and distinguished Air Force ambassadors during their nine-month tour.

Capt. Sean Carter, operations officer and vocalist, said he is constantly astounded by the resilience of the team.

"These people have good days and bad days just like anyone else," said Captain Carter.

"What really impresses me is what consummate professionals they are under any circumstances. After almost two months of heavy training they go on a year-long road tour and they manage to keep such a high morale.

"I think it's in the nature of our job. Building morale and energy with troops all over the world is pretty contagious."

The performers must not only master instrumental, vocal, choreography and staging requirements of the performance, but also the intricate responsibilities of being their own technical staff. The performing team is responsible for setting up more than 36,000 pounds of staging, lighting, audio and special effects equipment required for each performance under the guidance of five technical personnel.

They must also become a completely selfcontained operational unit. Each member must be responsible for various logistical responsibilities such as ground transportation, airlift, lodging, dining, wardrobe and palletizing throughout the tour.

Tops In Blue has traveled more than four million miles to military bases throughout the world. They have performed at six World Fairs, over 100 state fairs and festivals, and performed at countless air shows, military balls and special events.

The group has also performed on film, produced albums and appeared on national television with such legends as Ed Sullivan, Bob Hope, Alabama and Barbara Mandrell. They performed the entire halftime shows for the 1981 Garden State Bowl and Super Bowl XIX.

Tops In Blue have toured throughout all 50 states and Canada as well as Western, Central and Eastern Europe, the Far East, Middle East and Central America. They have also performed in Taiwan, Iceland, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Cuba.

Beginning in 2002, Tops In Blue continued their expeditionary mission by being among the first entertainment groups in the world to travel into the most forward locations including Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Qatar and Kyrgyzstan.