America Supports You: USO Night Drives Home Support for Troops
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2007 For some servicemembers of past generations, the USO evokes images of comedian Bob Hope telling jokes while clutching a golf club. But during USO Night yesterday at RFK stadium here, troops on hand were treated to an up-close view of professional baseball players wielding Louisville Sluggers.
Marine Sgt. Justin L. Clough; Army Spc. Marion D. Pettus, III; Air Force Senior Airman Nicole P. O’Hara; Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Samuel S. Jordan; Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel J. Walsh; and Ned Powell, president and chief executive officer of USO, pose with Screech, mascot of the Washington Nationals, before the team’s game against the New York Mets, Sept. 19, 2007 at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. Photo by John J. Kruzel
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
No single image defines the United Service Organizations, which has provided morale and recreational services to military members worldwide since 1941 and boasts a roster of 26,000 volunteers ranging from celebrity entertainers to civilian support groups.
For last night’s game against the New York Mets, the Washington Nationals, in conjunction with USO, hosted 10 injured soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, handpicked five lucky servicemembers -- representing each service branch -- to throw ceremonial first pitches, and offered ticket discounts to military members.
“People ask me, ‘What is your mission?’” said Ned Powell, president and chief executive officer of USO. “It’s very simple: We just say, ‘thank you.’
“We say, ‘thank you’ every day in lots of different ways,” he continued. “‘Thank you’ to make sure our men and women in service understand that the American people know what they’re doing, care about what they’re doing, appreciate what they’re doing, and most importantly, care about them.”
The USO operates more than 130 centers worldwide, including 10 mobile canteens located in the continental United States and overseas. Servicemembers and their families visit USO centers more than 5.3 million times each year, and when they arrive they’re greeted by volunteers like Dave Wilson.
Wilson, a former Air Force airman who hails from Dover, Del., was selected as the USO’s volunteer of the year. He said he felt compelled to join the USO after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“When 9/11 happened, I was looking for a way to get involved, and there was an article in one of the local papers about the USO,” he said. “The next day I went into the office, and the day after that I started working for them as a volunteer.”
For more than six years, Wilson has volunteered at Dover Air Force Base, greeting servicemembers as they return from deployment. He also packs and ships care packages and other items to deployed troops, getting pallets abroad “by any means necessary.”
One Army soldier who has been on the receiving end of such well-wishers’ tidings during his deployment in Iraq is Staff Sgt. Brian Mancini.
While patrolling southern Baghdad on July 23, Mancini’s up-armored Humvee was blasted by an explosively formed penetrator, a shaped charge designed to pierce vehicle and body armor. The staff sergeant was one of 10 injured servicemembers on hand from Walter Reed to watch last night’s game and meet pro baseball players.
Mancini, a native of Phoenix, roots for his home team, the Arizona Diamondbacks. But as he and nine other wounded war veterans stood behind home plate watching the Washington Nationals warm up before the game, he described it as an “awesome experience.”
“You get kind of cooped up going to appointments and hospitals,” said Mancini, whose face bears visible shrapnel wounds. “It’s nice to get out and get back into the real world.
“It helps getting out with the other guys that have been hurt,” the staff sergeant said. “Talking to them, hearing their stories, being able to make some friends is good.”
Other servicemembers here were Army Spc. Marion D. Pettus III, Marine Sgt. Justin L. Clough, Air Force Senior Airman Nicole P. O’Hara, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel J. Walsh, and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Samuel S. Jordan. Before a crowd of roughly 25,000, these five servicemembers threw ceremonial first pitches.
Jordan, who hadn’t played baseball since fifth grade, was honored but slightly anxious to take the pitcher’s mound and throw out the first toss. As a servicemember, he said baseball games and other USO-sponsored events are a more meaningful way to express support for troops than bumper stickers.
“The USO is a great way to raise public awareness for a cause of morale and welfare for the troops, not only here, but overseas too,” he said. “It’s a really important thing they do.”
Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik said U.S. military members are the reason he’s able to live out his dreams on the baseball diamond. Providing discounted tickets to servicemembers and being able to meet and greet troops is just a small measure of the appreciation for those who serve, he said.
“They’re the reason we get to play this game and feel comfortable on the field and just worry about playing the game,” Bacsik said.
“They do so much for us overseas and here in the United States, that we can’t thank them enough,” he said. “They do more for us than we do for them.”