By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr., AFPS, BAGRAM, Afghanistan, Dec. 17, 2012 - Country music star Kellie Pickler is among the celebrity entertainers taking part in Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey's annual USO holiday show tour, which entertained Afghanistan-deployed U.S. troops posted here and at Kandahar Airfield.On this trip, the USO troupe also has entertained service members aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and at the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan.
Kellie Pickler, a country singer addresses the audience before she begins her USO holiday tour show performance at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Dec. 16, 2012. DOD photo
Pickler, an Albemarle, N.C., native, is traveling on her sixth USO tour and she's keenly aware of the difficulties troops and their families endure during the holiday season.
"It's always different coming here this time of the year," she said. "[During] the holidays -- Thanksgiving has already passed -- everyone wants to be home with their families and loved ones.
"Then, Christmas is right around the corner," Pickler continued. "It's a hard time for all of you."
The country music singer said she enjoys touring with the USO and has done so for quite some time.
"I love it," Pickler said. "My very first trip was in  ... and it's by far the most life-changing thing I've ever been a part of."
Pickler performed with her husband, Kyle Jacobs, and with David Michael Baker, who provided the musical backdrop for her vocal performances.
"We look forward to doing shows, but I think that the small intimate moments -- just having breakfast together, lunch together, dinner together ... [are] where we can just sit, talk and listen to one another," Pickler said.
The singer, who said she comes from a military family, "gets" how hard it is for troops being away from their loved ones.
"I know it's just as hard for your families back home, so they're making a sacrifice as well," Pickler said.
Pickler said she always looks forward to USO trips.
"I always take a little something from each place when we go to each base," she said. "I always have a little special memory that I cherish and I never forget about it."
She said the USO tour's visit to a hospital was one example of those special moments.
"We were able to go to the hospital and try to take a little piece of home in there," she said. "[And] that's our goal coming out here. We just want to bring a little piece of home to you all."
Pickler was accompanied on the tour by Washington Nationals Major League Baseball players Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen; Matt Hendricks from the National Hockey League's Washington Capitals; comedian Iliza Schlesinger, winner of NBC's Last Comic Standing.
Sloan D. Gibson, president of the USO, and Shane Hudella, of "Defending the Blue Line," an organization that donates hockey equipment to military families, also joined the celebrities.
Pickler praised U.S. troops and their families for their sacrifices, and wished them all happy holidays as she joined Dempsey in serenading the troops with Bing Crosby's "A White Christmas."
"I just want to say thanks so much for all that you do," she said. "Thank you to your families -- we know that they make a huge sacrifice."
"This time of the year is really hard so I hope that you know that we love you," Picker said. "The USO, all of us, we are praying for a safe return home for you all. We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."