Entertainers Begin Holiday Tour of Overseas Bases

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Dec. 17, 2007 - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael G. Mullen is bringing United Service Organizations entertainers to visit with troops in seven countries in the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe through the next week

"We want to thank as many servicemembers as we can," Mullen said. "The holidays are a tough time to be away from home, and we do not take their extraordinary sacrifices for granted or those of their families. They all serve so that all Americans can enjoy a safe and secure holiday season."

Then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers began the yearly chairman's holiday tours in 2002. Then, as now, Robin Williams headlined the show. This is the star's fourth USO run through the combat zones. Williams is joined by actor/comedian Lewis Black, singer Kid Rock, Miss USA Rachel Smith, and six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Irish tenor Ronan Tynan will join the tour later in the week.

The USO has been in the business of supporting troops and their families since Congress chartered it in 1941. Bob Hope and a myriad of stars of the 1940s visited combat theaters throughout the world during World War II, setting an example for later performers to follow.

And they have. Each year the USO produces more than 50 entertainment tours, bringing hundreds of individual shows to hundreds of thousands of American servicemembers around the world. The tours visit major military bases and a large number of remote forward operating bases. The entertainers volunteer their time.

The United Service Organizations is more than just performances. The group has 132 USO Centers around the world, including centers in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. Servicemembers and their families visit the centers more than 5 million times a year. The centers offer free Internet access, a quiet place in the hubbub of major airports, and a place to wait for that next flight.

The USO relies on the generosity of the American public. Currently, the USO has more than 1.5 million individual donors who make it possible to deliver services to men and women in uniform. The USO has an operating budget of about $100 million, with 300 full-time employees and 25,000 volunteers, according to USO officials.

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