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New USO President Wants to Deliver More Resources to Troops

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany, Dec. 17, 2008 – The USO’s new president and chief executive officer told troops here that the organization is doing its best to bring a touch of home to them.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Sloan D. Gibson, president and CEO of the United Service Organization, talks with a reporter, Dec. 17, during the 2008 USO Holiday Tour in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Gibson is leading the show tour which includes comedians John Bowman, Kathleen Madigan and Lewis Black; actress Tichina Arnold; American Idol contestant and country musician Kellie Pickler and Grammy award winning musician Kid Rock. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Sloan D. Gibson traveled here with Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to kick off a Holiday USO Tour featuring entertainers Kid Rock, Lewis Black and Kellie Pickler.

Gibson took over the position in September and, since then has spent a lot of time in Southwest Asia seeing what more the USO can do for servicemembers.

Before the USO, Gibson was a West Point graduate who served in the Army. After his service, he became a banker. He retired from that career when the USO contacted him about the position.

“I was flattered to even be considered,” he said. “These are the best people in the world to work with, in a cause that’s so easy to be proud of.”

Even before taking the job, Gibson traveled to Southwest Asia to visit all of the USO centers and to meet with servicemembers and commanders. “I wanted to get a feel for what people need,” he said.

He also worked as a volunteer at the USO center in Atlanta.

“I tell you, after working there, if there had been any doubts about pursuing this opportunity, they would have been erased by my experiences down there,” he said. Atlanta is a hub for leave travel by Americans serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The work of helping servicemembers is at the core of every mission the USO performs, and the organization performs that mission day in and day out, Gibson said. The latest addition to the organization is the USO Warrior Center, which opened in October at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Mullen, Gibson and the entertainers visited the facility and met with the servicemembers using it.

“It’s a place that allows people well enough to get up and around, but not well enough to go back to their units, to use a telephone, to get out of the barracks, to play a video game or watch a movie,” the USO chief said. “It’s a touch of home.”

The USO’s mission of aiding servicemembers dates back to 1941, when Congress chartered the USO to focus civilian goodwill for American soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. At the time, America was gearing up for war. The United States had instituted a peacetime draft and called up thousands of National Guardsmen. Service organizations were tripping over each other and duplicating efforts. The USO -- United Service Organizations -- was the answer.

Thanks to Bob Hope and countless other entertainers over the years, when people think of the USO, they think of entertainment. The hangar packed with people here attested to the importance of that part of the mission. “But it’s only a small part of what we do every day all over the world,” Gibson said.

Worldwide, 135 USO centers –operate with almost 500 employees and more than 40,000 volunteers.

“The organization itself is proof to servicemembers that America has not forgotten about them,” Gibson said. “The American people care for them and will do everything they can to make their lives and the lives of their families better.”

In the future, Gibson said he wants to push the USO out to more remote areas, and the organization is investing money into speeding up Internet connections.

“We want to reach everyone who needs us,” Gibson said.

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