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Actress Walsh Recounts 'Life-Changing' USO Entertainment Tour

Monday, June 17, 2013

By Christian Pelusi 

After playing a doctor on television for many years, actress Kate Walsh has always been able to sympathize with the long hours on little sleep that physicians combat. Now Walsh (known by many as Dr. Addison Montgomery from medical dramas “Grey’s Anatomy” and ”Private Practice”) can empathize, as well.

Walsh gamely battled through jet lag for a phone interview to discuss her recent USO Entertainment tour. She and fellow actor Kal Penn embarked upon a barnstorming, three-countries-in-seven-days trip, halfway around the world. But it was quickly apparent that her lack of sleep did not hamper her ability to express what the trip meant to her.

“It was such an overwhelming experience for me. Really kind of life-changing for me,” Walsh said from her Los Angeles home. “Meeting all these different people and that’s why I wanted to do [the tour]. [I always thought] ‘I would love to go on tour but I don’t sing or dance so how was that going to happen?’ I had no idea that I could do meet-and-greet handshake tours … meeting and hanging out with people to tell them how grateful we are and make sure they know that we’re all still thinking about them and have huge gratitude and respect for everything and their service.”

The warmth and appreciation that greeted the pair during stops in the Middle East (specific countries withheld for security purposes) kept them energized and wanting to greet, thank and embrace as many servicemen and women as time would allow.

“We were jumping out of our transports to shake hands or hugs with checkpoint guards or pose for photos with other troops,” Walsh said. “Just being able to talk and listen and hear a little bit about all the people we got to meet. If we wanted anything else [it] was to have more time. I would recommend it to anyone. I will definitely go again and again. It just gives one such perspective.”

Walsh’s father, Joseph Patrick Walsh, served in the Korean War as a decorated sergeant in the Army, but even with that insight, she was still struck by the sacrifices that so many servicemen and women make to defend America’s freedoms and policies.

“From talking with women in the military, for me, trying to imagine being away from their kids … That was a big one,” she said. “I was struck by the openness. I was just amazed at how vibrant and personable and open everyone was. People are just working so hard for just such long hours and they’re doing it for our country and it was really inspiring.”

Walsh also mentioned her respect for those Americans who dedicate their time away from their other professions to lend their skills to the armed forces.

“I think I probably kind of forgot a little bit how many people in the reserves and the National Guard are there doing tours and that’s very inspiring, as well," she said. "To see people who are in the middle of getting their master’s degree or the guy from the fire department in Alaska who came down to, on his reserve time, to be deployed. It’s very humbling and very inspiring.”

And Walsh saved a few words for the USO, as well, after seeing the many services and programs the USO provides for troops and military families.

“I think it’s incredible,” Walsh said. “I guess I really want to emphasize how important [the USO] still is, now more than ever. Two things: One, that [the USO] is still active and people can still go and be of service in many different ways. That you don’t have to be a singer or dancer or stand-up comic. They can go and find lots of different ways to get involved. But also, clearly, how much it does mean to the troops and it’s just a great deal to see how people’s faces light up and talk and be able to give them just a little bit of a respite in their day. But that it’s important now. I think it used to be this idea that the USO was for wartime. Wartime has been redefined and it’s still just as important now as five years ago or 20 years ago or 40 years ago in Korea or Vietnam.

“And also it’s just like anything service-oriented: they get so much out of it but also you get so much out of it. I’ve learned so many things and been so blown away by it.”

And for Walsh, lost hours of sleep well spent.

* * * 

Photo caption: Actress Kate Walsh takes time out to pose for photographs, sign autographs and mingle with troops as part of a USO tour stop in the Middle East. (USO photo by Steve Manuel) 

Visit our tour photo page to see more images of Kate Walsh and Kal Penn. Also, read our interview with USO tour veteran Kal Penn. 

Join the USO to Honor, Salute and Celebrate Our Troops and Their Families during our current campaign. Learn more today. 

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