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Sequestration halts Tops in Blue 60th tour

Apr. 9, 2013 - 02:01PM   |  
The Air Force Tops in Blue, pictured here during an August 2012 performance at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., have canceled their Tops in Blue 60th Anniversary Tour for the remainder of the fiscal year because of budget cuts. They will begin to plan another tour in the fall, according to their website.
The Air Force Tops in Blue, pictured here during an August 2012 performance at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., have canceled their Tops in Blue 60th Anniversary Tour for the remainder of the fiscal year because of budget cuts. They will begin to plan another tour in the fall, according to their website. (Margo Wright / Air Force)
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Tops in Blue has canceled its 60th anniversary tour for at least the next six months because of sequestration.

The troupe of about 35 airmen, who perform for airmen, Air Force families and communities around the world, anticipates it will start building the 2013 show Oct. 1, which will be the start of the new fiscal year, according to the Tops in Blue website.

“Although only a small portion of the [Tops in Blue] budget comes from appropriated funds — nonappropriated funds and commercial sponsorships are key to Tops in Blue success — the current fiscal environment requires us to tighten our belt in every area,” Air Force spokeswoman Tonya Racasner said in a statement.

The Air Force anticipates that it will save approximately $200,000 in appropriated funds and $1.2 million in nonappropriated funds, which are generated from morale, welfare and recreation user fees and charges, said Mike Dickerson, spokesman for the Air Force Personnel Center, which operates the entertainment troupe through its services directorate.

Airmen who participate in the program do so while on permissive temporary duty. They receive a personal maintenance expense allowance of about $240 a month, according to the Tops in Blue website.

All lodging, travel, special clothing and equipment needs are taken care of by Air Force Entertainment. Meals are sometimes voluntarily provided by performance locations. Tops in Blue tours usually last for about a year, starting with a 60-day training period at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. They serve as their own “roadies,” hauling their equipment and setting up and breaking down the staging for each performance.

The 2012 Tops in Blue team, which started touring in March 2012, wrapped up its season with a final banquet Feb. 27, according to the program’s Facebook page. The airmen from that tour have since returned to their regular Air Force jobs. Airmen are chosen to participate in the program through competing in the Air Force Worldwide Talent Search, held Feb. 4-11.

The training for the 2013 team was scheduled to start in the first week of April. The canceled months of the 2013 tour included overseas shows, Dickerson said in an email. Airmen selected to participate in the program as part of the 2013 team will remain at their duty stations performing their regular duties until they are released by their unit commander to participate, Dickerson said.

“During the break in tour, we are re-engineering the program, to include a shorter tour schedule and a decrease in overall production costs, although a final decision on tour length has yet to be determined,” Dickerson said. “As in past years, the program will remain predominantly funded [with] nonappropriated funds.”

Besides giving performances on or near Air Force installations throughout the world, Tops in Blue performs for airmen and at special events upon request, such as the Super Bowl. The group also performs in other venues in support of wounded warriors, hospitals and schools.

Tops in Blue grew out of the Air Force Worldwide Talent Contest created by then-Maj. Al Reilly in 1953. Tops in Blue has had only one serious interruption in its touring schedule since 1972: a short delay in the start of the 1990 tour because of Operation Desert Shield/Storm.

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