May 5, 2010 2:28 PM by Melissa Canone
The New Orleans Saints' cheerleading and dance team, the Saintsations, special guests of Operation Catch Fish, provided a little piece of home to the Louisiana National Guard's 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), at Victory Base Complex, Iraq, April, 27.
As Soldiers from Louisiana's Tiger Brigade rose with the sun to conduct their routine physical fitness training, the day started out like any other, but quickly found its own way to imprint a memory that would not be forgotten.
The dancers, Erin Buxton of Houma, La., and Jennifer Thomas of Slidell, La., dressed out in the army physical fitness uniform and literally got down and dirty as they completed various exercises to include push-ups, crunches and flutter kicks in the Iraqi dirt. Erin and Jennifer, joined by Soldiers from the 256th, ended the early morning regimen with a two-mile run.
"They were very energetic and excited about doing PT with the Troops," said Sgt. Rebecca A. Farmer of Hineston, La., who was part of the group exercising with the cheerleaders.
"They had no issues hitting the dirt like the rest of us. In fact, I think they handled it better than some of the Soldiers did," the fuel database processer joked. "It was good to see how genuine they were about bringing up the morale."
After incorporating themselves into one of the morning exercise routines, Jennifer and Erin spoke in amazement of the camaraderie of the group during their morning workout.
"Everyone was so supportive of each other," Jennifer explained. "They were constantly encouraging each other, and checking on each other during the run. If one person would have stopped, everyone would have. We all started and ended the run together, and that was great."
Along with conducting the physical fitness training with the Soldiers, Jennifer and Erin toured various places in Iraq and visited as many service members as time would allow while on their tour.
With this being both dancers first trip to Iraq, they took the opportunity to express their appreciation for deployed Soldiers and the sacrifices they make.
"This tour was a huge learning experience for me," Erin said. "I have a newfound love and respect for people in the military. I feel like I just got here, and I'm not ready to leave."
"This has been a life-changing experience. I have been truly inspired and humbled," added Jennifer as she gave her heartfelt appreciation for the armed forces. "Everyone kept thanking us for coming, but we don't deserve the 'thank you'; these guys do. Every time I heard it, I wanted to say it back a million times more."
Erin and Jennifer continued their day's journey with a visit to Soldiers at the 256th IBCT headquarters on Camp Liberty.
Many 256th Soldiers take their Saints' loyalty to the extreme. By doing what they do best, the Saintsations cheered on the Tiger Brigade, reminding them that their favorite sports team has not forgotten Louisiana Troops.
Echoes of "Who Dat!" were repeated across the room by the Louisiana Soldiers, while displaying their own form of team spirit by brandishing a Saints patch on underlying collars of uniforms just for the occasion. "Wow! This is really nice!" expressed Brigade Executive Officer Lt. Col. Scott E. Adams from Hammond, La.
Spc. Lester P. Broussard from Lafayette, La., a logistics specialist with Headquarters and Company, proudly exhibited his Saints tattoo for Erin. "I am the biggest fan ever," exclaimed Broussard. "It was just too much that the ladies came to visit."
The visit from the dancers not only brought familiarity to the deployed Soldiers, but also renewed their passion for the upcoming football season.
"They were so much fun, and really brought with them the 'Who Dat Nation' attitude," said Saints fan and logistics operations officer, CW3 Dale D. Poe of Pineville, La. "I can't wait to watch the first game of the season."