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Troops' Dedication Astounds Author, TV Host Brad Meltzer

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

By Christian Pelusi 

Brad Meltzer is a guy who has seen and heard a lot. The best-selling novelist moonlights as host of the popular History Channel series “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded,” which investigates and explains legends, myths and conspiracy theories. So when he was informed by peers and USO tour organizers that his first USO tour could be life-altering, he was a bit skeptical.

“It was humbling,” Meltzer said of the Operation Thriller III tour that he and four other authors participated in earlier this month. “Everyone told me this tour will change the way you look at the world and whenever you get hype like that I can’t help but roll my eyes and think it will never live up to it. But it just surpassed everything that everyone had even said to me. It just made me think of the world as an incredible place.”

Meltzer traces much of his amazement to when he was able to sit down and have lunch with many of the troops. There it started to sink in just how much the troops forsake for the mission of serving our country.

“What hit me more than anything was that level of sacrifice and how deep that pool is,” he said. “I think, for most Americans, when you hear the word ‘military’ and the word ‘sacrifice,’ you think you’re talking about death. What you realize is how much else gets sacrificed in there. You see people away from their families and you realize people are away from their kids. And you realize how much what they’re doing is affecting their personal lives, their jobs, their livelihoods, their everything.

“You really get to see what they’re doing in their lives and what they’ve had to give up to be here. And how much it means to them that they’re willing to give those things up for that period of time. I don’t think I’ve ever had the kind of grasp of how deep that sacrifice is.”

The tour also made Meltzer rethink the way he creates the characters in his books, especially the heroes.

“I think in some ways, the word ‘hero’ is just such an overused, cliché term these days. But the sad truth is that we’re a world that’s starving for heroes. … And what’s most amazing to me is just how many are right in front of our face every day. I think for me, coming into the tour, the military was something that you saw in movies and like anything else … you have a cursory dealing with it. What I was blown away by was how human it was. The word military may sound like one big, massive machine, but it’s made up of millions of human parts.”

Meltzer gives the USO credit for making the troops’ sacrifices a little easier to endure.

“There are few organizations I have more respect for as much as I do the USO. They helped me get 40,000 thrillers [novels] to the troops 10 years ago. Everyone kind of knows what the USO does, but one of the things I told my wife when I came home was everyone knows about the troops, but not everyone realizes how much entertainment and pieces of life the USO is bringing over there.

“I had a friend of mine who is in the military, a Marine, when I came back and finally told him where [I went], he said to me, ‘Ah, the USO. Thanks to them, they gave me that one hot meal on such-and-such a day and on another, it was the one place I could watch the Yankees win the World Series.’ And he’s a hard-core, tough guy Marine and he immediately got mushy and remembered that moment when you guys gave him a home.”

When traveling through the five Middle East countries over ten days, Meltzer and his merry band of writers got to see how the USO Centers offer up goodness to the deployed servicemen and women.

“When you see those calling centers and you see those video games and you see those books and libraries … and the one thing that really struck me about the USO was when you see all of those letters from all those kids. My kids wrote letters for the troops in their schools last year and I remember when they wrote them I thought ‘Isn’t that sweet?’ Of course, I love that. But in a strange, odd way the cynic in me thinks it’s like writing to Santa Claus. God knows where they go and they probably put them away and my kid gets a good lesson out of it.

“But what I was so happy to see and I took pictures of them everywhere I went, the letters from kids, all over the USO and all over barracks and all over places that you guys put over there. And the troops kept telling me it meant so much to them. Seeing those letters, seeing those posters, seeing those things that everyone signed. And I just felt like, ‘Gosh, it wasn’t Santa Claus at all. It was reality.’ I love that.”

There also was time to make some memories and Meltzer made sure to leave the biggest mark of all. Last year, journalist and author Mark Bowden was asked to sign a Black Hawk helicopter while on the 2011 Thrill Writers tour in honor of his best-selling book turned Oscar-nominated film “Black Hawk Down.” Bowden happily did so, which gave Meltzer an idea.

“I was determined to one-up that since we were the next tour coming through," Meltzer said, laughing. "So I asked [the troops] what they had that was bigger than a Black Hawk and they said ‘Well, we have a C-17.’ So someone joked: ‘He wrote “Black Hawk Down,” you’re going to write “C-17 Up.’”

* * *

Photo captions: Meltzer poses with fans during his 10-day USO tour. Bottom, Meltzer signs the C-17. (Photos by Michael Connelly) 

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

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