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Actress Regina King Lauds USO, Military After USO Tour

Thursday, July 12, 2012

By Christian Pelusi 

For some celebrities who go on USO tours, it’s pretty clear cut: Musicians play songs, comedians perform stand-up, etc. So after actress Regina King (“Ray,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Enemy of the State”) jumped at the chance to visit troops in Japan as part of a USO tour she had one question: What am I supposed to do?

“I was wondering if we were going to do a skit or if they were going to ask us to perform,” King said, laughing. “But our [USO] tour rep [Jeremy Wilcox] said they’re just happy to see you and hear any words of encouragement from you. But I was still nervous and once we got there they were just so happy to see and know some people were willing to travel 20-something hours to say ‘thank you.’ It was one of those rare moments to thank them for their sacrifice and dedication so that we can continue to live in the environment that we enjoy [in America].”

King called the opportunity to tour nine U.S. military bases in Japan in nine days last May with some cast members from her TNT drama “Southland” “one of those moments in your life that you’ve been blessed to do at a time and to accomplish.” It also gave her and her co-stars Ben McKenzie and Michael Cudlitz (“we’ve been through some mud together”) a chance to meet “The Big Bang Theory” actor Johnny Galecki and producer Steven Molaro for a Warner Bros. tour of TV stars.

“Steve Molaro and I literally had a cocktail last night,” King said. “And we were texting Ben and Michael and Johnny and they were all jealous they couldn’t be there.

“Sometimes you’re apprehensive when you meet someone. But Johnny was an amazing guy who we discovered comes from the same ideology as we have as acting as an art form. So when you’re appreciating [acting] and you got into it not to be a celebrity but you did it because it evoked some emotion in you. I want to be an actor to create a feeling and emotion that I felt in other people. To meet him and to meet Steve, who is such an interesting story, too. We came away from it with two lifelong friends. And it wouldn’t have happened without the USO tour and having that experience together. A golf tour in Hawaii wouldn’t have done that.”

As for the tour, King came away from the trip amazed at the jobs our troops perform.

“Those Marines were so proud of showing us what it was that they did,” she said. “They showed us different weapons and what it takes to operate them and the fighter jets and what it takes to keep them running at a level to be in combat situations. We get so caught up in what we see on TV and in movies … I didn’t realize how they’re making 25-year-old stuff work. In my mind, we have brand new things and that just didn’t occur to me. They take pride in it and it just made me feel like back home, if we take pride in the little things, we’d be so much better as a whole.”

Another aspect that impressed King was the camaraderie that exists within the ranks and between the branches of the military.

“I always thought each division worked separately. The Marines with the Marines. The Air Force with the Air Force. The Army with the Army. So to watch them work together, seeing how that works on each base, it did your heart well to witness that.”

King also witnessed what the USO brings to troops and their families when stationed abroad and compared the USO’s importance to that of the Parent Teacher Association for schools.

“Without the parents and teachers, when I was a kid, especially for public schools, we wouldn’t have been able to have half the things we had without the PTA,” said King, who grew up in Los Angeles and attended Westchester High School. “Those men and women, coming together to have a book sale, to buy a book for a penny. It made school a little bit better. It made the drop-out rate lower. It made an infrastructure that allowed what was daunting to be more enjoyable … The USO provides that ‘cookies and milk’ when you go to bed. It’s hard to put it into words. You have to experience it.

“When we get there, it’s not that just we were providing ‘thank yous’ for the troops and their service. It goes beyond just the military. It’s their families, too. Their wives and husbands. They just want to take a photo or share a hug or just to lay eyes on you. And the USO is providing that.”

* * *

Photo captions: Top, Regina King poses with Air Force Senior Airman Richard Blackman from Brooklyn, N.Y., at Camp Shields in Okinawa, Japan. Below, King signs an autograph for Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Monique Romero-Flores from Temecula, Calif., at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan. (USO photos by Michael Clifton) 

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