I’ve always thought USO tours downrange to support the troops we’re a big hit. Not only for us service members, but also for the performers. The “troops” have obviously enjoyed getting a taste of entertainment from the good ol’ U.S. of A ever since the USO began doing their shows in 1941. These performances provide the deployed soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and coasties, with something to look forward to besides our departure dates. The USO tours also offer a few hours of time to decompress and think about something besides our mission.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing many USO performances across the globe; the Dallas Cowboy and New England Patriot cheerleaders in South Korea and SW Asia. Radio talker Delilah visited us in 2007 at Doha, Qatar, and I’m positive she enjoyed herself as much as the troops. One of my craziest USO moments was the “live” performance I witnessed by the Fox NFL Sunday cast of Terry Bradshaw, Michael Strahan, Howie Long and Jimmy Johnson at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. Rowdy sports fans all armed to the teeth to support their favorite team.
From a purely entertainment perspective, the most enjoyable USO show I’ve experienced was the Lt. Dan Band, led by Oscar-nominated actor and HUGE military supporter, Gary Sinise. His November 2009 show in Afghanistan, was accompanied by model Leeann Tweeden and the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kristy Swanson. Great music and Sinise told the crowd about visiting Afghan villages in order to bring them school and medical supplies.
The most memorable USO show I’ve seen took place during my last Afghanistan tour in 2010-11. On December 15, 2010, comedian Lewis Black, country music star Kix Brooks (Brooks & Dunn) and others warmed up the audience on a bitter cold, Afghan night. The headliner was Oscar-winning actor and comic Robin Williams.
Most of the air base knew Robin Williams was coming to visit our sandbox; the densely populated location that’s nearly surrounded by mountains and hillside Taliban fighters—who could be counted on like clockwork for twice-weekly mortar rounds over our fence. With prior knowledge that Robin Williams was coming, the squadron flew an American flag in his honor and as a gift to be presented to him. My aircrew was excited to sign the certificate of authentication, (noting the exact date the American flag flew) knowing that it would be for Dr. Patch Adams, aka Robin Williams.
I presented Robin Williams with his American flag just prior to his USO performance (picture attached). He seemed very flattered that the crew would go to such lengths to provide him with a token of appreciation for his visit.
After his USO comedy routine, which featured the unmistakable “Goooooooood morninnnnnnnnng Afghanistaaaaaaaaaaaan!” line, the several hundred audience members were herded onto the stage to take group photos with the entire visiting USO cast: Kathleen Madigan, Lewis Black, Bob DiPiero, Kix Brooks, and yes, Robin Williams. In order to get the 500-700 people through these photos fast and the stars to their next location, the line was kept moving at a very brisk pace.
About 15 troops were ushered up and behind the sitting stars every 30-seconds for the quick pic. As my group approached the stage, I took up a spot standing in the back row to the far right. Just as everyone was ready for the photographer to snap this shot, I heard a “Hey Boss” coming from my left. I looked over and noticed that it was Robin Williams reaching out behind Kix Brooks and Lewis Black with his outstretched right arm ready to shake my hand. The voice and tone of his “Hey Boss” was straight out of the “Good Will Hunting” script. I leaned over and shook his hand as the troops next to me backed up to give us more space. “Thanks again for the American flag,” Williams ended with. And I could tell he meant it. You’re welcome, Sir.
RIP, Robin Williams.
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