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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part IV

Sustaining the Campaign

Chapter 13
Taking Care of Soldiers


United Service Organizations

Occasionally, Soldiering in Iraq afforded some troops an opportunity to attend one of the many variety shows that toured the country. Leading the way in entertainment for Soldiers stationed there was the 65-year old USO. Originally formed in 1941 in response to a request from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for on-leave recreational facilities that could serve a burgeoning US military establishment, the USO reached its high point in 1944 with a system of 3,000 clubs worldwide. The organization all but disbanded in 1947, but revived in 1950 with the outbreak of the Korean war. After supporting the roughly one million Soldiers deployed overseas during that conflict, the USO continued its tradition of providing entertainment throughout the 1950s and early 1960s. In 1963 the USO opened its first center to operate within a combat zone in Saigon, Republic of Vietnam. In 1964 Bob Hope staged his first USO Christmas show in Vietnam, returning again and again for as long as US forces remained in theater. Throughout the closing decades of the Cold War, the USO continued to entertain troops stationed around the world. During Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM, the USO established Mobile Canteen programs using all-terrain vehicles that USO workers drove to forward-deployed troops.93

In December 2003 the USO opened a center in Kuwait, and then opened one in Qatar in 2006.94 Although safety, security, and logistics concerns precluded opening a full-time USO center in the Iraqi theater of operations, entertainers nonetheless brought their tours to Iraq.95 Celebrities and entertainers who visited Soldiers in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 included the professional football cheerleaders for the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos; comedians Robin Williams, Drew Carey, and Kathy Griffin; music stars Kid Rock, Jessica Simpson, Nick Lachey, Toby Keith, and Montgomery Gentry; entertainers from the World Wrestling Entertainment and Wayne Newton; actors Gary Sinise, James Gandolfini, Brian Dennehy, and Sean Penn; and many more. The first group, including actors Robert DeNiro and Alyssa Milano, visited Iraq with General Tommy Franks in May 2003.

Chapter 13. Taking Care of Soldiers

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