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'Jeopardy!' Host Trebek Eagerly Awaits 'Lucky' 13th USO Tour

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

By Christian Pelusi 

“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek humbly attributes much of his success to good fortune. So coincidentally, this upcoming USO tour will be Trebek’s 13th with the USO.

“Hopefully this will be a ‘lucky 13’ USO trip,” Trebek said, laughing from Los Angeles. This tour will feature Trebek and the clues crew shooting video "answers" and searching for contestants on four bases in Germany and Italy Oct. 6-13 for their 2013 Military Week. “We will be featuring military personnel for the entire week and on the Friday show, the champion will be able to come back the following week to compete against civilians,” Trebek said of Military Week. “It’ll be a lot of fun. We could wind up with one champion who runs the table and wins every game that week and wins a pot full of money. It’ll be exciting so we’re looking forward to it. … It’ll be fun.”

While his primary goal is to let troops and families know that citizens appreciate their dedication and excellence, he also feels an obligation to educate people on what the USO is all about. He believes that many Americans do not realize the full scope of the USO’s services and programs.

“Most Americans think of the USO as primarily an entertainment organization, providing shows for our military during wars and times of combat and that’s only a small part of that,” he said. “The USO’s main mission is in times of peace when we are bringing a touch of home to our personnel who are on posts all over the world. … It’s important to let them know that the folks at home are aware of them. So the USO sets up facilities in some of these foreign locations. We set up communications with AT&T so that they can stay in touch with their families back home. It’s really trying to make it as easy an assignment as possible in these foreign locations.

“They work with young people, particularly the young men who are often reluctant to get out in the local communities because they don’t speak the language, they feel uncomfortable and they’d tend stay at the post with their buddies instead of getting out and absorbing the culture of the locale. They provide vacations. They arrange tours and cultural things for the personnel and families abroad. So it’s a multifaceted operation from the USO’s point of view. And they make the transition a lot easier when the guys leave or come home.”

Trebek also has an affinity to the USO Centers located in air terminals that provide important pit stops to troops transitioning into and out of theatre.

“A lot of our major airports … the USO has set-ups for military personnel to say ‘Hey, you can take time out here. Here’s a place your children can park for a little while. We’ll keep an eye on them.’ So the USO is so multifaceted and the basic message is: ‘We care about you.’ And if you’re serving abroad we’ll bring a touch of home to you. If you’re here, we’re going to help you deal with whatever problems may arise.”

Trebek may chock it up to luck, but the ease, warmth and wit that he displays on the show come through just as naturally in interviews, revealing the real secret to his prolonged success: His big heart and a soft, deft touch to make it all look easy. Many years ago, he chose two charities to devote his time and passion to – the USO and World Vision – and since 1987, Trebek has taken part in those 12 tours with the USO to help share the common mission of lifting the spirits of troops and their families.

“What my success has enabled me to do is [to] reflect a little more on the world and help foster a desire to give back in areas that are important to me. … They’re both extremely fulfilling in how they make me feel when I get out there and try to assist in their work. There’s no downside to my involvement with the USO. It makes me feel good and hopefully it makes the people feel good that I am visiting and spending time with.”

A few memories stuck out in Trebek’s mind when recalling some past tours. He remembers visiting an Army post about 10 to 15 miles from the Albanian border in Macedonia. The show’s testing procedure isn’t what he remembered most; it was the time he got to “schmooze with the guys and just sit there, sip tea and let them know that ‘Hey, you’re not forgotten’ even though you’re out here all by yourselves. We’re here to let you know that your work is appreciated.”

The other involved a European base visit and a trip to the post’s hospital.

“I was in the maternity ward and a woman had just given birth to a baby and [due to the surgery] she had not yet seen her baby and her husband said to me, ‘Why don’t you bring the baby in? It’ll just blow her mind.’ So I picked the baby up and carried it in and she was kind of torn. She didn’t know whether to react to ‘Here’s Alex Trebek, the host of ‘Jeopardy!’’ or ‘Here’s my baby.’ Maybe she had had a few babies before and that wasn’t such a big deal but Trebek was. And it just blew her mind. Really amazing.”

He doesn’t recall if they named the baby Alex or not, but the impact he has on troops and their families is lasting. And the reverse is true for Trebek, whose television career is based around knowledge, as he shared what he has learned from the servicemen and women.

“Commitment. Service to country. Dedication. A belief in the mission. A steadfastness,” Trebek said. “There’s not a lot of room for doubt, if you will. They believe in the mission and they’re willing to make sacrifices to accomplish the mission. And we don’t see that to that extent in our civilian society in all walks of life.”

To give an example, Trebek talked about one of his visits to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“Somebody asked me, ‘What do you come away with after visiting, what strikes you?’ And I said, it didn’t matter if a soldier lost a leg or both legs, he was still eager to get those prostheses on and get back into duty. They have a great commitment to service to their country and I think that is something that most Americans don’t fully realize or grasp and that is the level of commitment to service to country that our personnel have. If we can get that message across, that would be great.”

* * *

Photo caption: Alex Trebek poses with Navy sailors during a 2007 USO tour. (Photo: USO) 

Federal employees can help the USO fulfill its mission to support troops and their families through the 2012 Combined Federal Campaign. Please designate #11381.  

 

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