Serving the USO: The Honor of My Life

In Features, Magazine by RI Magazine

Another trip around the world with the USO, another humbling experience that puts all of
life in perspective. Why I’ll always serve the USO.

BY ROBERT IRVINE

I’ve done my share of USO Tours, but the one I just completed through Hawaii, Guam, Thailand Diego Garcia, Qatar, Afghanistan, Naples, and the USS George HW Bush probably topped them all. When you’re traveling nearly 26,000 miles and quite literally making your way around the entire world, it helps to be traveling in good company. Was I ever.

I had the distinct honor to travel with General Paul Selva, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and his wife Rikki Selva. Accompanying the Vice Chairman and myself was Olympic gold medal swimmer Katie Meili, two-time UFC champ Dominick Cruz, country singer Craig Morgan, and mentalist Jim Karol. Each of these wonderful folks brought their incredible talent and heart to bear on everything we did, from breakfast with the troops, to casual meet and greets, to the stage performances at night. These fine people take part in USO tours for the same reason I do: it brings joy and meaning to their lives to be able to bring a smile to the faces of the men and women who risk their lives to keep us safe.

We might have travelled the world together, but I didn’t need to go very far to get a sense of how special this particular trip was going to be. At the first stop in Hawaii, we had dinner with Admiral Harris who is in charge of PACOM, which is our entire Pacific Command. The next morning, we went with the Admiral to visit the USS Arizona Memorial (pictured above), which was built over the sunken wreckage of that ship. On the morning of December 7, 1941, most of the Arizona’s 1,177 crewmen died; the water below this memorial is their final resting place. It’s hard for me to put into words what I felt as I stood on the edge of the memorial and dropped a rose into the water. It is a strange mixture of intense sadness at the fate that befell those men, but also pride in the way this nation rose to the occasion in aftermath of that terrible day.

It also gave me a clear sense of purpose as I continued with the USO Tour; every man and woman who serves today—the same men and women that General Selva’s small group would entertain in the following days—knows that the world we live in stands on the edge of a knife. Hostile nations and terrorist groups aim to hurt the United States every day. Those men and women on the front lines are all that stand between anarchy and the peace we live in. Those men and women are also—like those who died at Pearl Harbor—the first to be targeted.

Laughing

And so we made our way around the world to bases big and small—and some I can’t even tell you about. And everywhere we went—if you can even believe this—the faces of those men and women we met didn’t show the outward signs of the immense burdens they carry, and of months or years spent away from their loved ones. They were kind, courteous, upbeat, and professional. Above all, they greeted us like family and cheered loud and clear for what little diversion we could offer. It happens every time I travel with the USO, and every time it’s an experience so humbling it moves me to tears.

The USO is an incredible organization; every day its volunteers commit 30,000 random acts of care all over the world for veterans and active duty servicemen and women and their families. Whatever I bring to the USO, I can tell you I get it back 10-fold. To serve them over the past few years has been the honor of my life. As long as I have life in me and as long as the military will have me, I will tour with the USO.

This Memorial Day, as you’re lighting up your barbecue and enjoying the three-day weekend, think first about why we have this day. Think of the men and women who served and gave their lives—not just in World War II and at Pearl Harbor, but in every conflict throughout this nation’s history. We owe a debt that can never be repaid. The very least we can do is never forget.

Robert Irvine is a member of the board of the directors of The USO’s DC-Metro chapter, the largest chartered chapter of the organization. His charity, The Robert Irvine Foundation, allocates funds to the veterans and veteran causes that need it most through its grant program. Click HERE to learn about the foundation’s giving record. Click HERE to make a donation.

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