Mullen Kicks Off USO Tour, Troop Visit in Middle East
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Jul. 7, 2008 The top U.S. military officer traveled to Kuwait and Iraq today for the first stops of a seven-day, summer troop visit and United Service Organizations tour.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a USO party of National Football League and television celebrities kicked off their trip showing their support and offering admiration to troops at an air base in Kuwait.
“We’re certainly honored to be here today,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “On behalf of everyone in our party, it’s a privilege to be here with our troops to demonstrate the appreciation and support we have for them.”
The base theater was lined from front to back with soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines getting autographs and taking photographs with the celebrities.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathan Taylor was particularly excited when he found out the USO tour was going to be visiting his base. The aircraft mechanic has been working 12-hour shifts every day for the past couple of months and was looking forward to something to break the usual routine, he said.
“Everything’s the same here,” Taylor said. “You work a 12-hour shift, and nothing’s really different from one day to the next, so we really appreciate the USO tour coming out.”
Taylor, an avid football fan, said he was mostly eager to meet Goodell. “He’s the commissioner of the NFL, and you know he’s an extremely busy guy,” he said. “The fact that [he] and the celebrities came out just to spend a little time with us and sign a few autographs really does means a lot.”
Along with Mullen and Goodell, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders Christina Parker and Deryn Derbigny and television’s “Heroes” actor Milo Ventimiglia are on the trip.
“Special people have taken time out of their summer to come over and visit with our troops, and it means a lot,” Mullen said. “USOs are great assets. They make a big difference in trying to create smiles by spending a little time here and bringing a little home into theater. It makes a big difference in a lot of peoples’ lives.
Brees has visited troops in Japan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates on USO trips over the past few years and said he always looks forward to the next opportunity to visit troops.
“I’m a huge fan of the military, and I believe our troops deserve a lot more credit than what they get,” he said. “Not only are they fighting to restore our freedom, but they’re also helping to gain freedom for people who’ve never really had it.”
Brees said he also enjoys experiencing the culture and circumstance of each region, because it gives him a better understanding of what the troops endure.
“Just the opportunity to go to these places and endure the conditions and get a feel for what these men and women are going through is amazing,” he said. “Just trying to understand what these guys are going through on a daily basis gives you such a greater appreciation for troops.”
From Kuwait, Mullen and the USO team traveled to Baghdad to begin the Iraq leg of the tour.