USO Continues Legacy of Supporting America's Troops, Families
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
MANAMA, Bahrain, Dec. 14, 2012 The USO’s mission hasn't changed after nearly 72 years of serving U.S. troops and their families, and it will continue to adapt to remain relevant, the USO's president said here yesterday.
Sloan D. Gibson, the nonprofit organization's president, has joined Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the annual USO holiday tour for troops deployed and stationed abroad.
“It's a really important this time of year to get over and remind troops and families that the folks back home are thinking about them,” Gibson said. “And that we appreciate them. I'd say, after 11 years of war and what appears to be some winding down, perhaps it becomes more important.”
Gibson said like everything else the USO does, the real purpose of the annual USO holiday tour is to say thanks.
“When I talk to large audiences of troops and families, I point toward the USO logo, that's usually up on a sign or up on a screen somewhere, and … I say … when you see that sign, what you need to think is America's saying, 'thank you,'” he said.
“And we find lots of different ways to say 'thank you,'” Gibson said, “and one way is by bringing some celebrities over to visit.”
The USO president said he usually goes out with the chairman, but missed last year's tour.
“This being a new chairman, I wanted to go out and do one with him,” Gibson said. “I'm guessing right now, I'll probably do the one next year as well.”
“The other opportunity, for me, I needed to get back to into Afghanistan, anyway, to visit [our] centers,” he said. “We're now running nine USO centers in Afghanistan.”
The USO centers in Afghanistan are visited about “170,000 times a month,” Gibson said.
“So I will split off at the end of the tour, and stay in Afghanistan several more days, visit some centers, and then do a little of what we call 'Christmas convoying' while I'm over there,” he said.
“This is the most fun thing I get to do, so nobody needs to wowed by that,” Gibson said. “This is a treat for me, and I can't think of a better way to spend this time of year.”
The USO president said he has been on nearly half a dozen different types of USO tours of different kinds, and “this is the fun stuff.”
“It's hard for me to carve out a week or 10 days to come do this,” Gibson said, because “this is also kind of a busy time of year for us. There's a lot of fundraising that goes on around the end of the year.”
With a lot of programs and entertainment going out, and other USO efforts to “deliver programs to troops and families,” it becomes tough to find time, but “every so often, you need to do that,” he added.
Gibson said the toughest part of putting together USO tours is dealing with scheduling, since “rarely, if ever, do we get a celebrity that says, 'No, I don't want to go and visit with the troops.'”
Celebrities usually say they would love to do a USO tour, Gibson said. Then scheduling becomes the challenge.
“And so, that's really the hard part,” Gibson said. “It's working schedules to be able to put a tour together with the right mix of talent, to go to the right locations.”
“We've got folks that are real pros at both recruiting celebrities as well as producing USO tours,” he added.
Gibson said many of the celebrities participating in USO projects have a military connection in some form or fashion, whether it's a relative, a friend or classmate who has previously served, and “often times, there was that connection at work.”
The USO president said his organization remains committed to taking care of U.S. troops and their loved ones.
“Our mission at the USO is pretty straightforward,” he said. “We [continue to] lift the spirits of America's troops and their families.”