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Human Interest

How the Rockettes Are Lifting Soldiers’ Spirits This 4th of July

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Courtesy The Rockettes

Those eye-high kicks are raising spirits higher.

Partners since World War II began in the 1940s, the Radio City Rockettes are reinvigorating their relationship with the USO this year, high kicking at a series of “patriotic season” events this summer.

The women kicked things off (no pun intended) with a “Rock the Fleet” party for sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen during New York City Fleet Week in May, and danced for military members at Sail Boston in June. At July 4th’s Washington Nationals vs. New York Mets baseball game in Washington, D.C., they’ll perform as a part of the home team’s Patriotic Series honoring service members and their families.

But it’s not just about those public performances — there’s a personal connection there, too. While many of the dance troupe’s members have family members in the military, Rockette Lauren Renck is engaged to U.S. Army Captain Jack Manning, who recently completed his first tour of duty in Iraq.

Courtesy Lauren Renck

“I know for him, the presence of the USO gave him a comfort knowing the men and women he’s in charge of had a resource connecting them to home,” Renck tells PEOPLE of the organization’s work. “They boost morale with visits from different celebrities and comedians. It’s just an overall wonderful organization for deployed service members. And on the flip side, for the families, just knowing the USO is there gives you a sense of reassurance that your loved one is being taken care of. It helps fill that void that nothing else can when your loved one is deployed. It’s so special to me to now be a part of it.”

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Renck says response to the Rockettes from service members has been “general excitement.” And for the Rockettes, “participating in these events feels like a page out of history books come to life,” she adds.

Though there aren’t Rockettes performances at USO events planned past the summer, Renck hopes the organizations expand into the fall and possibly abroad, too. In the ’40s, the troupe traveled the world in support of the wartime effort at home, and even held a war bond rally with Eleanor Roosevelt at Madison Square Garden.

“It’s been more than 70 years,” Renck says of the groups’ partnership, “and we’re excited to get this started again.”