When Col. Martha Brooks found out she was heading to California she had no idea of the adventures she had in store. Brooks, the U.S. Army Expeditionary Contracting Command public affairs officer, was asked to assist during the 85th Annual Academy Awards. "I was contacted by a Soldier that used to work for me at Third Army. He is now working at the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs Los Angeles and was in charge of the program this year. He said he needed someone that would not be intimidated by the stars or be star struck and he thought of me." Originally, Brooks was headed to Tinsel Town as an official temporary duty with the Army covering the costs. Due to money constraints in a tight fiscal environment the Army decided not to fund the trip. Undeterred, Brooks volunteered to perform the mission and pay for the trip herself. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Brooks said. "Not many people can say they were able to represent the military at the Oscars and on the red carpet." The servicemembers were on hand to gather photos, videos and sound bites to be used by the local Military Public Affairs Detachment and the Armed Forces Network. Travelling with her sister, Lela, Brooks' adventures began on her plane ride to Los Angeles Feb. 23. "I was getting on the plane and boys kept coming up to the man in front of me and asking for pictures with him. I wasn't sure who he was but later we chatted and it turns out he's some sort of football star," Brooks joked. That "football star" was none other than Terrell Suggs, linebacker for the recent Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens. During their trip, the sisters stayed with their cousin, Corey Sales, who lives in California. On her first day in L.A., Brooks was at the Dolby Theatre, home of the Academy Awards ceremony, bright and early. "Although I had press credentials, Lela and Corey had to be there really early to get their seats in the fan box," recalled Brooks. She explained that getting there early ended up being a good thing. "Before the show the local and smaller press organizations were allowed to go behind the scenes inside the theater and get photos and videos before it got crazy." Brooks said being on hand in her mess dress was quite the show-stopper. "No one had ever seen the formal Army uniform, because we only wear it for special occasions and most Soldiers don't buy one," said Brooks. "The uniform presented the opportunity to explain the Army to civilians who had never been exposed before." Once the program began, the press was sectioned off behind ropes. As the stars began to arrive on the red carpet, Brooks competed with much larger television and print media to get the passing celebrities on camera. "I just grabbed folks," Brooks laughed. "Once I told them we were there to share their messages with the Soldiers they were happy to stop and chat with us." When asked to recall her favorite interview, Brooks said it was a tie between Robin Roberts and Halle Berry. "I was barely able to get Halle," Brooks recollects. "The red carpet was so crazy and the stars were being pulled in a million different directions. But once I told her what huge fans the Soldiers were of her movies she jumped right in and gave them a shout-out. "Robin was probably the most moving. I didn't realize her father was one of the famous Tuskegee Airmen so that was really interesting to hear about," said Brooks. After about two hours of working the red carpet, Brooks and her family went across the street to a theater where they ate and watched the awards show on a giant screen. But her busy week didn't stop there. Brooks went on to attend the Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres and Jay Leno shows. "Kimmel was neat because during commercial breaks they would ask the audience to give factoids or questions and the rest of the audience would try and get the correct answer. I got up every time to give facts about the Army and really got them interested. There were even a couple of other Soldiers in the audience so they jumped in as well. At the end of the show I was awarded $150 for having the best questions," Brooks said. "But Ellen was probably my favorite! They played music during the breaks and had a dance contest, which I won, and when the show was over Ellen invited the entire audience back for her special '12 days of Christmas' show." After all the shows, Brooks decided to take in a few sites with her family. During a bike ride along the beach they stopped to admire the multi-million dollar mansions. During one such stop she met one of the home owners, producer Paul Abbott. He invited Brooks and her family in for a tour and then had them back for a sunset dinner. "Paul and his family were so generous, I couldn't believe the hospitality. And of course his home was amazing," said Brooks. But that wasn't the end of her chance meetings, her last night in L.A. proved to be eventful as well. "During the week I went to my cousin's office, he's an Air Force contractor, and they briefed me on their current projects. After the briefing they invited us to dinner. Since it was our last night in town they insisted we go to a famous, exclusive restaurant." Once at the restaurant, the group was met by another business associate who looked strangely familiar. "We were waiting for our table and my cousin's co-worker came in and everyone started swarming him yelling 'Kobe, Kobe' but he was saying 'I'm not Kobe'." Turns out, the co-worker was Kobe Bryant's cousin and they bear a striking similarity. Soon, Kobe arrived and joined the table. "The camera flashes and attention were insane," recalled Brooks. "And I didn't even think to get my camera out because there were so many people already bothering him. He couldn't stay long but it was cool to meet him." With her whirlwind trip behind her, Brooks says she's grateful for the opportunity. "I will definitely go back for Ellen's Christmas show, so this isn't my last trip to California. But the access and red carpet experience was a lifetime memory that I'll never forget. I'm just glad I got to represent the Army and help spread our message."
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