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Finding Her Voice: Son’s memory leads Reservist at Patrick AFB on worldwide entertainment tour

Tech. Sgt. Altrameise Myers, an information management craftsman with the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., poses with a photo of her late son who passed away in 2012. Myers' grief helped to melt away her stage fright, which led to an invitation to audition for the Air Force's Tops in Blue entertainment troupe. (Maj. Cathleen Snow)

Tech. Sgt. Altrameise Myers, an information management craftsman with the 920th Rescue Wing, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., poses with a photo of her late son who passed away in 2012. Myers' grief helped to melt away her stage fright, which led to an invitation to audition for the Air Force's Tops in Blue entertainment troupe. (Maj. Cathleen Snow)

Myers is starting a non-profit organization called AJ’s Peace Project to reach out to other military members and families who have lost loved ones. She is hoping that her Tops in Blue appearances will help her reach families in need of help.

Myers is starting a non-profit organization called AJ’s Peace Project to reach out to other military members and families who have lost loved ones. She is hoping that her Tops in Blue appearances will help her reach families in need of help.

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The song "You Bring Me Joy" by Anita Baker sums up everything for one talented Air Force Reservist who shed her fear and stepped on stage to sing it with all she had for her son AJ, who she lost to suicide last fall.

The memory of her son inspired Tech. Sgt. Altrameise Myers, information management craftsman in the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., to abandon all lingering doubts about herself and sent her on a journey of hope and joy.

The Journey Begins
Myers was a little confused when she received a package in the mail with a lone T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Mission Audition." It came from the Air Force's highly coveted entertainment troupe Tops in Blue, to which she had recently sent an audition video.

Similar to the realty television show "American Idol," Tops in Blue sets out to find the most talented vocalists, musicians and dancers in the Air Force. The group's primary purpose is to entertain military members and their families throughout the world, even those deployed to combat zones.

"At first I thought the T-shirt was a consolation prize; like thanks for auditioning, but no thanks," Myers said.

However, a telephone call revealed that the T-shirt was actually Tops in Blue's way of inviting Myers to participate in its seven-day audition in San Antonio, Texas.

Excited about the opportunity, Myers said she was determined to "put my very best foot forward."

Up until that time, Myers said her only experience performing in public was singing the national anthem. Even then, Myers said she was plagued with terrible stage fright.
"I'd be shaking in my boots every time," she said.

Myers said that all changed with the terrible loss of her beloved 17-year-old son September 30.

When she would sing around the house, Myers said her son "would always tell me, 'You need to do something with that talent, mom.' I think about him, and it takes all of my fear away."

At her son's urging, Myers went to a studio, recorded a song and sent it off to Tops in Blue.

"It (performing) is something I've been afraid of, but lately I have not been afraid," she said.

"We loved your singing! Thank you for participating," she said the voice on the other end of the telephone told her when she called about the T-shirt she received.

Her commander, Col. George Raeder, 920th Mission Support Group, concurred.

"I get goose bumps every time I hear her sing," he said of her soulful rendition of the national anthem.

Myers said sending a T-shirt invitation is one of many of Tops in Blue's longstanding traditions. Its history dates back 59 years, and it's one of the oldest and most widely traveled entertainment groups of its kind.

The group has appeared on national television with such legends as Ed Sullivan, Bob Hope, Alabama, Barbara Mandrell, Boyz II Men, Lee Greenwood and many others.

Myers said if selected she knew she would be one of a few Reservists who make the team, which comprises 35 to 40 of the most talented vocalists, musicians, dancers and technicians in the Air Force.

The Audition
Prior to the audition, Myers said she wasn't very confident.

"There will be a crazy amount of talent. I have no experience, stage presence or anything like that. ... I'm out," she said.

But she went with a photo of AJ close to her heart, the blessing of her 13-year-old daughter, Alexandra, and a positive attitude to have fun.

But, then it wasn't so fun.

"When I got down there, I thought this is not for me," Myers said.

The experience took her back to the regimented routines of Air Force boot camp.

"They said, 'You're gonna walk in a straight line if you're gonna be Tops in Blue. You're going to carry yourself like Tops in Blue. You will carry your bag in your left hand, and, along with your other 11 female teammates, you will walk single file wherever you go together,'" Myers said.

She began doubting her place with the entertainment troupe but stood tall and kept at it.
"On day four, they explained why they do the things they do," Myers said. "They want us to be cohesive; they want us to gel and work as a team."

Tops in Blues members are not only the entertainment on stage, but also the stage hands, Myers said. It's a job that takes its talented members from on stage to backstage and from place to place around the world for 365 days.

"It isn't about you, it's about the team. The more I heard about this, the more positive I became about it," Myers said. "Then my whole thought process changed."

Once she adjusted her thinking, she was ready to be on stage and give the judges everything she had.

"We had to free dance, then we had to show our ability to pick up a (dance) routine. We had to sing a variety of different songs: jazz, pop, rap. Then we had to join in a band and find the harmony. ... I can't find harmony, but I can mimic it."

Myers said being late for any of these events resulted in disqualification.

A Win But Not In
"I'm almost 40, a tech sergeant, so I'm old when you compare me to the group," Myers said. "I'm thinking they're not going to pick me; the other competitors are young, full of energy, and they have elasticity in their skin. ... they are not gonna pick me."

But her emotional rendition of Anita Baker's "You Bring Me Joy" led the judges to a unanimous decision -- she was the best female vocalist.

"I won first place out of 26 women," she said. "But everyone was saying just keep in mind that just because you won does not guarantee you a spot on the Tops in Blues bus.
Myers was told that Tops in Blue was not looking for the best singer; instead, the group was looking for team players who have the whole package: stage presence, dance moves and attitude."

The Call
After the audition, Myers said the first girl got the call, and she started to get a little excited.

"They got to the 10th woman, and I thought, 'That's a wrap!' I was convinced I was not going to be selected."

Then at 2:04 p.m. on Feb. 22, Myers received a phone call from her commander.
"I thought, 'Oh my God! He's calling to tell me that I didn't get selected.'

"He (Raeder) said, 'I just had a nice conversation with a nice lady in DC, and you have been selected'

"I kept saying, 'I'm gonna scream! I'm gonna scream!'

"Colonel Raeder said, 'It's perfectly fine to scream.' And I was like, 'YEAH!' He probably got ear damage.

"Everyone in the building was saying, 'What was that? What's going on?'"

Myers had every reason to scream. She will join the ranks of Tops in Blue's world-class entertainers and distinguished Air Force ambassadors during the 2013 worldwide tour later this year.

AJ's Peace Project
Myers said her news about going on tour was received with mixed reactions at home.

"My mom wasn't so supportive at first. She said, 'What are you doing running away?' But my dad was (very supportive). He said, 'You can either grieve for 12 months right here in Orlando and become a zombie, or you can grieve in a positive way. This is good for you,'" Myers said.

She said Alexandra, her 13-year-old daughter, understands what she's doing and supports her. Both mom and daughter are attending grief counseling and are starting a non-profit organization called AJ's Peace Project to reach out to other military members and families who have lost loved ones.

"I want to be able to tell other parents who are dealing with their troubled teens that maybe they (their teens) are self-medicating to deal with their demons (mental illness). ... Tops in Blue is a platform for me to reach out to them and honor my child."

They are still in the start-up stages of the project, but Myers said AJ's Peace Project will help other teens who are not only dealing with anxiety, depression and hormonal changes, but who have the added layer of a mental illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Since AJ was a sketch artist, Myers said she plans to incorporate art therapy such as painting, poetry, sketch art, sculpture and other forms of artistic expression into the program.

On Tour
With a renewed sense of herself and her talent, Myers said she's ready to go on tour.

"I'm gonna have to run circles around these young puppies," she said with a laugh.
Myers was scheduled to travel to San Antonio April 2, her 40th birthday, to train with former cast members on all aspects of the show. However, training is on hold due to budget constraints.

When she does go, training will consist of a highly accelerated educational process to prepare the candidates to succeed.

Myers said she's excited about the journey and the prospect of working with her new team.

"They really are a family; they are blue through and through," Myers said.

As one of the only Reserve members on the team, Myers will stand tall as an ambassador in blue, but she will also use the stage to talk about AJ's Peace Project to all who'll listen.

More information on Myer's new non-profit organization is available on Facebook.com/AJ's Peace Project.
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