Bob Hope-style show a morale booster for troops

By Melissa Hirschl

Bob Hope touched the lives of thousands when he entertained war-weary soldiers during his famous USO tours. His famous comedy routines brought diversion and a much-needed “sense of home” to men who were desperate for recognition, support and love.

Last spring, a team of 15 Hooters employees from around the country did their part to honor Hope’s outstanding legacy of service.

Six women, along with support staff, gave a modern-day tour de force by entertaining and befriending troops in Afghanistan, as well as neighboring countries such as Pakistan, where support bases are located.

As one serviceman is quoted as saying:

“They went the extra mile to ensure that the troops were taken care of. For example, they stayed up late visiting the firefighters and the guards on the gate that couldn’t make the show because of their mission.”

Included in the bevy of beauties was local resident Sarah Coggin, a 25-year-old Corona del Sol High School graduate who works part time at Hooters and is pursuing a modeling career.

Along with the other five high-spirited women, Coggin gave a morale boost to U.S. troops as part of a five-country, 16-day Armed Forces Entertainment Tour dubbed “Let Freedom Wing.” 

The women helped entertain more than 15,000 troops with seven 90-minute variety shows, replete with comedy and upbeat patriotic music from the new girl singing group UC3, which Hooters sponsors.

Coggins previously had been traveling the country as part of the Hooters calendars tours before she got hand-picked for this trip.

“They realized I was easy to work with and I’m not a ‘prima donna’ type,” she says. “I’m a very ‘go-with-the-flow’ kind of person, which was necessary for this kind of tour.

“After all, we ate with the guys, slept in tents and flew in C-130s. We were basically cargo, right along with the soldiers, and even the Hummers! During my time there, I was naturally afraid for my safety, especially since this was around the times of the beheadings. I felt I’d be safe, though, since we wouldn’t be in the civilian population.”

The dazzling variety shows were the highlight of the tour for the war-weary soldiers who endure hardship and sacrifice on a daily basis. Mike McNeil, vice president of Hooters, performed as the master of ceremonies and really got the guys laughing, according to Coggins.

“He’d bring us out to the tune of ‘Girls, Girls, Girls and he’d make jokes about how the only chickens are the ones hiding in the tunnels in the mountains. Cheers and applause would immediately break out, and it was really an uplifting time.”

The glamorous Hooters girls also entertained the soldiers with a fashion show segment where they appeared in black evening gowns, for a touch of sophistication.

The grand finale, according to Coggins, brought tears to the girl’s eyes every night. UC3 performed the song “Anywhere USA”, surrounded by six flag-waving Hooter’s girls. While they were singing, the Hooters women were sporting their own version of military wear: tank tops with the words “Weapons of Mass Distraction imprinted on them, along with camouflage pants. “Toward the end of the show,” says Coggin, “the soldiers all stood up, and some would even sing with us. It was very emotional.”

“Meet-and-greet” time was also on the agenda for the troops and gals. Camera shots were taken, and the girls posed for pictures, calendar and poster signings.

“We just sat there and signed until everybody left,” said Coggin. “Sometimes we were there for three hours; we wanted to make sure that everyone who wanted a picture or souvenir got it.”

The women also distributed a hefty supply of goodies--2,000 Hooters calendars, 20,000 Let Freedom Wing Lapel Pins, 10,000 posters and 10,000 decks of unique Hooters Calendar playing cards that had a sardonic touch: They cleverly depict Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as the two “jokers.”

Another highlight of the trip, according to Coggin, was flying Black Hawks to Jocobabad, Afghanistan, home to a remote base of about 70 troops. The girls signed autographs and took pictures with the local soldiers there as well.

“They were very smitten with us,” says Coggin. “It wasn’t the most comfortable feeling for us, but they were very nice to us.”

Even with the ominous atmosphere, the girls were able to stay focused and remain professional, said Coggin. A patriotic gesture on their part involved American flags they brought from home. “They each got flown on missions, such as refueling or recognizance,” said Coggins, who now boasts certificates saying that her flag was flown on certain missions.

Would she do the “mission” all over again?

“Definitely,” she says. “It was a really life changing and fulfilling experience. It made me feel honored and proud. It also gave me a sense of patriotism, since I knew I was giving back to my country.

“I wanted to let the troops know they were loved and appreciated back home. I felt this was the least I could do as a citizen--most people will never have this type of opportunity.”