Citizen Cher on the Hill

June 15, 2006 — -- She didn't say or sing a word, yet Cher was still center stage on Capitol Hill today.

The entertainer came to help convince lawmakers to provide U.S. troops with upgraded helmets that can protect against explosions and other concussive impacts to the head.

Cher didn't speak, but several members of the House Armed Services committee made note of her presence. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., called her appearance "extremely important."

"If we were having a hearing on this issue without the presence of a celebrity, we would not have the number of photographers that join us today," he said.

Committee chairman Curt Weldon, R-Pa., said that Cher has given "well over $100,000" to the cause.

Throughout the 2½-hour hearing, Cher sat quietly behind Bob Meaders, a retired Navy doctor and founder of Operation Helmet, a non-profit group that provides upgraded helmets for free.

He told the committee that he started Operation Helmet after his grandson -- a Marine serving in Iraq -- called and asked for advice on special foam pads that absorb the shock from concussive impacts, much the way an NFL helmet protects football players.

In regular military helmets, Meaders said, there is nothing that separates the head from the helmet except air and a nylon strap. "This helmet is great at deflecting bullets," he said.

But in a blast or vehicle crash, for example, Meaders said the Kevlar helmet can slam against the head, causing skull fractures, internal bleeding and brain bruising.

"Your head becomes a clanger in a Kevlar bell, and will do significant damage to you," he said.

Meaders said his group has provided about 8,700 of the upgraded helmets to troops in Iraq. "It's a drop in the bucket but I hope it makes some difference," he said.

Meaders said Cher has become a "major contributor and wonderful supporter." "She's been a great PR person and is now our celebrity spokesperson," Meaders said.

Cher Is "Great PR"

It's a cause she is passionate about. On Memorial Day weekend, she even called into C-SPAN to promote the issue. It was 4:20 a.m. Pacific Time on a Sunday morning. During the call, she denounced Congress for sending "the men and women of our armed forces into battle without the proper helmets."

"I know that I am an entertainer and from Hollywood and should have no conscience, but I am an American and I just cannot bear these people for another moment," she told Washington Journal anchor Steve Scully.

Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., widow of the late congressman and entertainer Sonny Bono, also attended today's hearing though she is not a committee member.

Sonny Bono and Cher were married until 1974. Later elected to Congress, Bono died in a 1998 skiing accident.

Mary Bono thanked Cher for her efforts. "I'm glad you watch C-SPAN," Bono said. "You'd think you'd have better things to do with your life than watch boring old us, but thank you very much."

After the hearing, Cher posed for pictures and signed autographs for members of Congress, aides and fans.

Seventeen-year old Jamilka Gonzalez of Falls Church, Va., waited with her Grandmother for 2½ hours outside the hearing room for a glimpse of her idol.

She got the autograph and followed Cher to the elevator shouting, "I love you, Cher!" as the doors closed.

"Oh my god I'm going to die!" Gonzalez said as the singer was whisked away.