Misawa star returns with Tops in Blue
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Alone backstage feeling glossy white piano keys beneath her fingertips, she mentally steps into a blissful zone in preparation for the big show.
Every keystroke composes a melody, bringing her closer to serenity as memories of her family jog back and forth through her mind. She hopes what she does on stage makes them proud.
Minutes from the commencement of the Air Force Tops in Blue show, vocalist 1st Lt. Lauren Rogers strikes a last note on the keyboard before heading to the stage, and says a small prayer in thanks of the opportunity to represent the Air Force in such a unique way.
This has become routine for Rogers, 35th Fighter Wing public affairs officer, who returned here to perform at the Misawa Civic Center as part of Tops in Blue 2015, July 16.
"I'm just a small-town Mississippi girl experiencing things I never thought I would," said Rogers. "I get to travel the world and sing, dance and perform for the Air Force -- it means so much to me to be part of this program."
It was only one year ago she found herself at the same venue -- but as a spectator of the Tops in Blue show, amazed at the professionalism of the performance.
"The show was really awesome and incredible," said Rogers. "It looked like a lot of discipline went into it. Every move and every step was perfect."
Rogers' music background began when she was 5 years old during her first play; singing has always been her passion, which naturally sparked her interest in trying out for Tops in Blue.
"My mom always joked and said I could sing before I could talk," Rogers said. "I grew up performing and loving the stage because it's where I feel most at home."
Along the way, she was awarded $1,000 for taking first place after several rounds during the Misawa Stars 2014 competition.
After the base-level competition, Rogers went on to try out for the Air Force expeditionary entertainment unit.
"I thought this would be a really cool opportunity to be a part of something that I didn't think I could do further on in my career," said Rogers. "I asked my boss, and thankfully he said yes."
The tryout process for Tops in Blue was not easy, but good fortune led Rogers to meet a former member of the show, Tech. Sgt. David Weaver, 35th Comptroller Squadron NCO in charge of financial analysis, who was able to help coach her and guide her along the way.
The show is only one and a half hours of a 20-hour workday and the countless hours of practice go beyond that of a typical day at the public affairs office, Weaver said.
Weaver mentored the lieutenant throughout the tryout process.
"I reminded her that when she is tired from the road, remember what the program stands for and the gift she is bringing to each community the tour visits," said Weaver.
Now, as a vocalist touring the world, Rogers thinks back to the professionalism she first saw in the show and is proud she can continue the legacy.
"It's surreal to be back here at the same place where I saw the performance firsthand and know what it feels like to be in this venue watching the show," said Rogers. "We all have one common goal, and that is to make the show great."
When they are not rehearsing, fine-tuning skills, traveling and setting up, the Tops in Blue team finds time to volunteer and meet with different charity institutions throughout the country.
"We do a lot off-stage that I did not know about," said Rogers. "We go to veteran's homes and orphanages to really get intimate and give back to the community."
This is Roger's favorite part about being in Tops in Blue.
"It's not the stage, which is awesome, but seeing the impact that Tops in Blue has on people," said Rogers. "That is what really has meant the most to me."
Rogers still has seven months of the tour to go, and still, at four months in, she has realized the impact the show has had on her as a leader in the Air Force.
"I think that this will make me become a better commander, chief of public affairs and person overall," said Rogers. "Listening and seeing is the best way to communicate with others. You learn about yourself and how you can improve your personality and people skills."
Not only this, but her little sister believes she's famous, and that means a lot to her.
"If I can inspire my little sister to follow her dreams, then it's all worthwhile," said Rogers.