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Dreams come true for two Ellsworth Airmen

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- Tops in Blue, an all-active duty Air Force special unit, selected two Ellsworth Airmen for their upcoming 2015 tour season, making their dreams of playing music and entertaining people around the world a reality.

Airman 1st Class James Pratt, 28th Civil Engineer Squadron pavements and heavy equipment operator, and Senior Airman Trenton Hays, 37th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron sortie support technician, departed Ellsworth in early March for Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, joining almost 40 vocalists, musicians, dancers and technicians to begin training for the year-long duty.

"I've been playing guitar for 13 years, and it is a big deal to be able to serve my country and do something that I love," Hays said. "The whole reason I wanted to audition was so I can travel the world and play music. I'm excited to give back to people."

As the service's premier entertainment source, Tops in Blue's primary mission is to provide quality entertainment to Air Force personnel worldwide, at home station and deployed locations. Tops in Blue also performs for local communities, supports recruiting efforts and serves as ambassadors of the Air Force.

Hays and Pratt had aspirations of attending fine arts colleges, but opted to put their dreams on hold to serve their country - they are both excited for the opportunity to continue performing music as part of that service.

"I have been watching Tops in Blue since I was a kid, and I've only seen a few shows but it was enough to inspire me to want to be a part of it," Pratt said. "It intimidated me and you always get these feelings like you don't have what it takes, but I love music and sharing it with people."

Hays added that since he could not get scholarships to the Berkley College of Music, he chose to join the military.

"It was like I had to give up on music, in a way, when I joined the military," Hays said. "I never thought I'd have an opportunity like this while I was in, so to be able to serve my country and travel the world playing music is a dream come true and something I've always wanted to do."

Hays, who was set to deploy at the end of January, appreciates having had a support system that allowed him to take a road less traveled by finding a fellow Airman who volunteered to take his place.

"I didn't look at it as wanting to get out of a deployment, because I was really excited to go, but I saw it as another opportunity that came up," Hays said.

As part of the application process, Pratt and Hays sent videos showcasing their talent. Once selected, they headed to Lackland where they interviewed and auditioned for 10 days, performing vocal, instrumental and dance routines. Additionally, they put on shows for members of the community, also known as give-backs.

"When I talked to prior Tops in Blue members, their favorite thing was doing give-backs where you go into retirement homes and deployed [locations] and [boost] morale," Hays said. 

Pratt added that he wished he could have stayed at the facility and spent more time taking part in his give-back sessions.

"We performed and when we started to leave, more elderly came in and asked if we could perform again," said Pratt. "I really wanted to just spend the whole day with them, sit down with my guitar and play some songs that they know, have them sing along and share stories."

Pratt said he loves being able to connect with people through music.

"I don't do music for myself," he said. "It's a great way to get your mind away from work and the stressors of life, but it is also a different feeling to be able to share music with other people. Music connects everyone."

Hays' favorite part of the audition process was the give-back performances, whereas Pratt's were the dance auditions.

"The dance auditions were funny," Pratt said. "Everyone was like, 'oh, I suck at dancing,' and they start playing something like Uptown Funk and the confidence comes out of nowhere. I don't think I'm an amazing dancer, but it felt great to be able to go up there and dance and have a good time."

Pratt added that Tops in Blue brings positivity to the Air Force and is designed specifically to boost morale of deployed Airmen.

"... we're an entertainment unit just like [morale programs] are for entertainment," Pratt said. "It's a way to raise people's hopes and morale and to bring people together, even if it is for a short time or show."

Hays and Pratt will be performing with Tops in Blue in various locations across the world during their 2015 tour.

For more information about their schedule or to apply, visit http://tinyurl.com/q7ktysv.