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Amid attack in Kandahar, Toby Keith doesn't miss a beat

Between a sandstorm and mortar fire, Oklahoma country music star Toby Keith's latest United Service Organizations trip to U.S. war zones is turning into his most harrowing.


Tue April 29, 2008
By Brandy McDonnell
Entertainment Writer

Thursday night, Keith, 46, was playing at a military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when mortar fire disrupted his song "Weed with Willie.” The mortar attack sent Keith and most of the 2,500 soldiers in the crowd into nearby shelters.

Curt Motley, Keith's booking agent, who is accompanying the singer-songwriter on the USO tour, said in an e-mail they ran about 100 yards to a concrete bunker and hunkered down for about an hour. Keith spent the time posing for snapshots and signing autographs, he said.

The "American Soldier” singer returned to the stage once the all-clear was sounded, although against the advice of a coalition military police officer.

"He went right to the verse he was in and finished his show,” said Motley, who also is a member of the USO World Board of Governors.

Sunday morning, a sandstorm stranded Keith's party at Camp Fallujah in Iraq. The storm engulfed much of Iraq, Motley said in an e-mail sent Sunday night.

"We are covered in the fine moon dust-looking powder and we are indoors. The hallways appear to be smoking because there is so much dust and dirt in the air,” Motley said.

The group passed the time playing basketball with Marines there, he said.

Like the troops, the group also had to cope Sunday with the extreme temperatures in Iraq.

"The temp gauge in one of the escort vehicles read 131 degrees in the direct sun,” Motley said.

‘I try to set the standard' to encourage others
Keith, who grew up in Moore, is on his sixth USO tour of the Persian Gulf. He is known for traveling not only to large bases in the safe zones but to smaller, more remote bases.
"I try to set the standard to encourage other entertainers to start to go,” Keith said in an interview last summer with The Oklahoman.

"You don't have to go as extreme as I do. You know, I get pretty high off of putting on the gear and going into those places, ... when I see a soldier come running out there and shaking my hand, going, ‘I can't believe you'd come up here.' These guys might not have seen a soul other than each other ... from America for 18 or 20 months.”

The Norman resident came under mortar fire during his USO tour last year, and he was in Bagram, Afghanistan, when a military helicopter similar to the one he traveled in crashed near there.

"When you've done (almost) 100 shows over there, though, it gets to be like anything else,” he said last summer. "They make sure that we're protected as well as we can be. The last thing they want is to have an incident where we go over there and something happened to us.”