Thursday, July 13, 2006


Cher visits wounded servicemembers at Landstuhl

By Steve Mraz, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Thursday, July 13, 2006

LANDSTUHL, Germany — An overflow crowd gathered in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s Heaton Auditorium late Wednesday afternoon to see a living legend in entertainment.

Cher, the singer/actress whose popularity and looks have spanned generations, spent hours Wednesday afternoon visiting with wounded troops and thanking the Landstuhl staff for the job they perform.

“I’ve been to Walter Reed (Army Medical Center),” she said. “I’ve been to Bethesda (home to the National Naval Medical Center). Now coming here, I have to tell you something ... You guys are unbelievable. I see the best care, the most heartfelt care.”

Cher, who says she is against the war in Iraq but supports the troops, has long been a morale booster for troops. Seventeen years ago, she recorded the video for “If I Could Turn Back Time” on the deck of the USS Missouri, while wearing a barely-there outfit surrounded by throngs of sailors.

Recently, she donated $130,000 to Operation Helmet, an organization that buys troops helmet linings that protect against concussive blasts. Just last month, Cher appeared before the House Armed Services Committee supporting an effort for better military helmets.

The Oscar-winning actress told Wednesday’s crowd that she was ordered to visit the hospital by Landstuhl Commander Col. Bryan Gamble when the two met recently at Walter Reed. She decided to make the trip and traveled from France on Wednesday to the hospital.

She spent roughly an hour visiting seriously wounded troops in the intensive care unit before going to the hospital’s other wings. Once outside the ICU, nearly everywhere she went fans armed with digital cameras and pens pleaded for photos and autographs.

Maj. Sylvia Garcia, a head nurse of two wings at Landstuhl, managed to snap a few pictures of Cher.

“She is a high-power woman,” Garcia said. “We’re very fortunate that she’s speaking out for us. These sorts of things, people coming here, have such a big impact on all the soldiers — not only on the workers and staff, but the patients as well.”

Cher’s visit made a big impact on Spc. Hollis Richardson, who is recovering from rocket-propelled grenade injuries suffered in a July 9 attack north of Baghdad. The svelte singer slid into bed with Richardson, to snap a photo, which Cher then signed.

“It’s kind of nice to have supporters and have people come by who actually care,” said Richardson, 22, of Fort Worth, Texas. “She’s just trying to cheer people up in a situation that’s not too cheerful.”

Asked if he had any favorite Cher song, Richardson said he’d have to work on that.

“She’s a little bit before my time,” he said. “I may have to go pick up a CD or two now.”

On Thursday, Cher planned to visit the medical holding facility for the walking wounded at Kleber Kaserne and the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility at Ramstein Air Base.

Steve Mraz / S&S
Cher stops to pose for a photo in a hallway at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center on Wednesday. She spent hours visiting wounded troops and thanking staff at the largest American hospital outside the U.S., and plans to visit other areas in the Kaiserslautern military community on Thursday.

Steve Mraz / S&S
Cher visits with Spc. Hollis Richardson at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Richardson is recovering from a wound to his right leg he suffered when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded north of Baghdad on Sunday.

Steve Mraz / S&S
Spc. Hollis Richardson displays a signed photograph from Cher taken moments before at his hospital bed at Landstuhl.

Steve Mraz / S&S
Cher speaks to hundreds of troops Wednesday afternoon at Landstuhl’s Heaton auditorium.

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