MANA — For 11-year-old Kekaha Pop Warner cheerleader Alia Apuna, getting to learn from some of “America’s Sweethearts” was an opportunity like no other.
“I’m excited because I saw them on TV before,” Apuna said. “(I want to learn) new stuff like jumps, cheers, stunts, all that stuff.”
She had that chance Monday when the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders visited Kekaha as part of a United Service Organizations and Armed Forces Entertainment-sponsored tour of military bases.
“It’s great morale for the sailors for tours like this to happen, said Mathew Diendorf, Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class, who has been in the service for 13 years. “Honestly, it doesn’t matter who it is. It could be cheerleaders from any team. It wouldn’t matter. It could be football players from any team. It could be celebrities in general. It’s just somebody showing appreciation for what the sailors, airmen and soldiers do.”
Six Dallas cheerleaders signed autographs and took photos with dozens of servicemen and servicewomen, and their families, as they toured the Pacific Missile Range Facility.
“We travel the world visiting military. Honestly, it’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever done,” said Cowboys cheerleader Jinelle Esther, who is in her second season with the squad. “The last two years have been such a whirlwind experience for me. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would end up here.”
George Hanna, an officer in charge stationed in Okinawa, Japan, is visiting Kauai on business. Hanna said he’s a big Cowboys fan and is happy his trip coincided with the cheerleaders’ visit.
“This is actually my first opportunity to meet the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, really any of the cheerleaders,” he said. “I’ll be the talk of the town, as far as my friends. Nothing better than this, or sweeter than this, to meet some of the cheerleaders.”
Following their tour around PMRF, the cheer squad stopped by the Kekaha Neighborhood Center to do a cheer clinic. About 35 cheerleaders from Kekaha Pop Warner and Waimea High School took part and met some of the NFL’s dancers.
“The people are super friendly — very welcoming,” said Cowboys cheerleader Jacie Veronica, who is in her third season in Dallas. “Getting the chance to talk one-on-one with the guys and girls in the military (is the best thing). I’m all about hearing people’s stories. That’s just what I enjoy, and everyone has their own story.”
Veronica said the cheer clinics became part of the USO tours last year and is glad to see it retained this year, too. On Monday, they taught Zumba, dance and cheer.
“It’s awesome. It’s all about energy,” Veronica said. “You want to put on a show for them so that they’re engaged.”
Apuna, who attends Waimea Canyon Middle School, added she’s going to tell her friends who weren’t able to attend how awesome it was to meet professional cheerleaders.
“They’re pretty amazing,” she said.