Reservist shares center stage with country music star

  • Published
  • By Holly L. Birchfield
  • 78th ABW/PA
Senior Master Sgt. Wendell Peacock is used to working behind the scenes. But his recent tour with the United Services Organization's Operation Season's Greetings landed him in the spotlight.

Sergeant Peacock, chief of installation security in the Air Force Reserve Command's A7 Security Operations and an Air Force reservist at Robins for eight years, served as a security escort to Capitol Records recording artist Jamie O'Neal. The headliner was one of many music artists who performed for thousands of servicemembers in forward deployed locations Nov. 19 through Dec. 2 as part of the 2006 Operation Season's Greetings tour.

The 47-year-old Tallahassee, Fla., native's backstage presence took center stage when the award-winning country singer, who is known for music hits like "There Is No Arizona" and "When I Think About Angels," decided she needed a singing partner. Ms. O'Neal said she knew her security escort could carry a tune after overhearing him for a short time backstage.

"I had heard him just kind of singing around and I said, 'Hey, you've got a really good voice', and he said, 'Yeah, I sing in the choir' and I immediately had my next victim."

And the senior noncommissioned officer was totally oblivious to her plan.

"She was going to do a dedication so I thought she might want the letter (from one of the servicemembers there)," he said. "So I'm standing there with the letter and all, and then she gets to the chorus of the song, which at the time she was singing, 'You're No Good,' by Linda Ronstadt. So, she brought me out to help get the crowd to sing along on the chorus."

Sergeant Peacock said the experience was a once in a life-time opportunity.

"During the course of all the events, she and her manager, Shawn McSpadden, thought it would be neat to bring me up on stage to sing," he said. "Of course, I didn't know anything about this. I thought I was going up for something else that was going on. Then, they got me up there and they surprised me."

Sergeant Peacock wasn't the only one surprised by the experience. Senior Master Sgt. Bill Goben, public affairs superintendent for the 10th Air Force at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas, who has worked with Sergeant Peacock on several occasions and roomed with the amateur singer throughout most of the tour, said discovering his friend's hidden talent was a real treat.

"Wendell's not one of those guys you would see out front," he said. "He is very much a behind-the-scenes kind of individual. It was a total surprise for him (to sing on stage). I actually was shocked because Wendell can sing."

The Air Force discovered the senior NCO's talent long before his first-ever tour with Operation Season's Greetings. In the mid-1980s, while stationed on active-duty service at Robins, Sergeant Peacock earned a spot on the world-renown Tops In Blue team. His recent marriage to wife, Janet, and other personal and professional reasons caused him to turn down the opportunity.

More than 20 years later, the Air Force reservist said his moment of stardom on the Operation Season's Greeting tour led to an even greater opportunity.

"It was meant to be a fun thing and then she found out that I actually could sing and (she) said, 'Hey, we've got to get you up to Nashville and let you sing with me at the Grand Ole Opry.' I was like, 'Okay, that'll be neat.'"

The father of two, who got his start in singing at his hometown church at 12, will perform with Ms. O'Neal along with other musicians, such as Mel Tillis, Bill Anderson, and Marty Stuart, at the Ryman Grand Ole Opry Saturday.

"He's actually going to sing a verse of (Johnny Cash's) 'Why Me Lord?' on the Opry," Ms. O'Neal said.

The country singer said she has always wanted to follow in the footsteps of her parents who performed for servicemembers in Vietnam years ago.

"It was my second Operation Season's Greetings tour, and for obvious reasons, I wanted to go back and do it again, especially seeing as though we are at war," she said. "I think it's more important to entertain the troops when they're doing so much and sacrificing so much for us on a daily basis."

Ms. O'Neal said she is looking forward to sharing the stage with her new friend again.

"He's just such a great person and he treated me so well," she said. "That's the feeling you get from the military. It's that respect factor. They treat each other with respect and they treat everybody that way. It's just a great feeling to be among that type of people."