By Danielle DeSimone

Since 1941, the USO has been delivering entertainment to service members around the world to boost morale and remind them that no matter what, we have their backs.

It is what the USO is known for and is one of the things we do best – from full-on productions brought to major military bases to intimate concerts held on tiny forward operating bases in the Middle East.

While the global COVID-19 pandemic has made the delivery of these shows challenging, it has not stopped us from providing top-notch entertainment to service members and their families when they need it the most.

That’s why over the past few weeks, USO entertainers have stepped up to support our nation’s military by connecting virtually with deployed service members around the world.

Virtual USO Tours

Now that celebrities can no longer entertain service members in-person, the USO has shifted to virtual experiences. Normally, these performances would take place below deck on an aircraft carrier, on a stage set up in a sandpit in Kuwait or on any number of bases around the world, where service members can take a break from their daily duties and gather to cheer or sing along with whoever is on stage.

However now, service members are connecting with entertainers through Virtual USO tours, where actors, musicians, comedians and more are livestreaming video Q&As and performances directly to bases and service members’ cell phones.

Photo credit USO Photo

Iliza Shlesinger joined a virtual USO tour during the coronavirus pandemic, livestreaming a Q&A and comedy hour for service members around the world.

The line-up has included Grammy Award-winning musicians The Chainsmokers, who answered questions about their music-writing process from troops in the Middle East, as well as comedian and actress Iliza Shlesinger, who cracked jokes about her time on USO tours with the military community in the Pacific.

Meanwhile, magician Shin Lim performed magic live for military families stationed in Asia and MMA legend Royce Gracie gave workout tips to service members quarantined in Alaska.

Regardless of their talent, each celebrity offered up a moment of distraction – and connection – to our military community by acknowledging their service and sacrifice.

One-On-One Virtual Celebrity Meet-and-Greets

One of the most uplifting parts of the USO’s trademark live celebrity tours for deployed troops is the opportunity for celebrities to meet these service members individually. In these meetings, big-name stars have the chance to shake the hand of a man or woman in uniform, thank them for their service and assure them that they are not forgotten.

David Boreanaz talks via video chat with service members in Iraq. | Photo credit USO Al Asad

Luckily, even without USO live tours traveling the globe, service members are still able to have those moments with some of their favorite entertainers. Earlier this month, “SEAL Team” actor David Boreanaz chatted directly with 10 service members from various Army and Air Force units at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq. “Top Gun: Maverick” actor Miles Teller reached out via the USO to speak directly with service members stationed in Japan, as well as a group of service members deployed to Bahrain. Comedian and actress Sarah Silverman chatted one-on-one with several service members stationed in Italy, providing laughs and a few moments of genuine connection, even from thousands of miles away.

These individual moments of connection between service members and celebrities make a huge difference in boosting the morale of troops who were already deployed or stationed in high-risk locations. Now, with the added stress and isolation of COVID-19, they are even more important.

Virtual Activities with Celebrities

Now that most of the world is restricted to staying home under quarantine or social distancing regulations, many people are searching for ways to occupy their time – and their children’s time. This is especially true of military families, where many military spouses must now tackle single parenting alone, 24/7, while their service member spouse continues to go to work or is on deployment.

The Facebook Live video with Martha Stewart offered service members, military spouses and military children a chance to learn how to spend quality time together in the kitchen. | Photo credit USO Photo

That’s why service members and military families have not only had the opportunity to chat one-on-one with celebrities, but also to join them in doing activities.

Longtime icon of American cooking Martha Stewart guided military families through the process of baking rainbow cookies, a symbol of hope amidst the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, on a Facebook Live video.

Meanwhile, service members and military families in the Middle East got to join the “Fittest Man on Earth/CrossFit Professional,” Mat Fraser, for a live, virtual workout and Q&A.

In these difficult times, the USO and entertainers are still committed to coming together and supporting our military community, regardless of the challenges or distance, through connection, a moment of laughter or even something as simple as a cookie.