Retired General Works for Better Military QOL
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 21, 2000 After 37 years in the Army, you would think John H. Tilelli, Jr., would have had enough of the military. Not so, says the retired general.
Tilelli is now using his leadership skills to drum up support for service members and their families from the civilian community. As president of the United Services Organization, Tilelli is a vocal advocate for improving military quality of life.
"You can take the man out of the Army, but you can't take the Army out of the man," William S. Cohen recently said of the former commander of U.S. forces in Korea. The defense secretary saluted Tilelli and the USO in early November, dedicating a Pentagon corridor to the organization for its nearly 60 years of support.
"Gen. Tilelli has retired from the military, but he hasn't retired from public service," Cohen said. "He brings the same kind of talent, dedication, discipline and leadership to the USO that he did as a four-star Army general."
Tilelli said he joined the USO for one reason -- to serve those who once served him throughout his long, successful career. "I had thousands and thousands of young men and women who carried me forward," he told a group of Pentagon officials, celebrities, and USO governors.
"When I look at the USO logo," Tilelli said, "in my mind's eye, I don't see the USO logo, I see some young man or woman serving their country in places that we can't even spell or know how to find on a map."
Every American should understand the sacrifices service members make, Tilelli said. Each night, "there is some soldier, sailor, airman, Marine or coast guardsman, in some God-awful place of the world," he said, "who thinks they're going to bed and will wake up tomorrow morning -- and some who may not. They're willing to die for this country and for all Americans."
The USO represents the American people and acts as a conduit to the men and women in uniform, he said. The congressionally chartered organization runs family centers, cyber cafes, airport centers and sponsors celebrity tours to provide quality of life support, as well as morale, welfare and recreation.
On Feb. 4, 2001, the USO will celebrate it's 60th anniversary. Over the years, Tilelli said, the group has expanded its original charter to reflect the changing needs of the military.
The military recruits individuals but retains families, he noted. Since more than 50 percent of today's force is married, the USO has expanded its scope to include support for family members. "We are a small organization -- 600 paid workers around the world and 12,000 volunteers working day and night to carry our mission," he said. "We try to tailor ourselves to what the troops need and what the commanders want.
"We don't cater to generals and colonels, lieutenant colonels and majors," he stressed. "We try to cater to the 19- to 24-year-old soldier, sailor, airman and Marine and their family members who need us the most at the end of the month when they're trying to rub two nickels together to get something done."
After nearly four decades in the military, Tilelli said he believes the young people who serve America "are underpaid, underhoused and underappreciated by most Americans.
That's what the USO is all about, he declared, "to show appreciation to these kids."