By Eric Brandner
Jeffrey Ross has played USO shows at one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces in Iraq and in a parking garage in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
So when the USO called about a special one-off performance, he did what came naturally.
“It’s just one of those things: When the USO calls, I just say yes and then I ask what it is afterwards because it makes me feel good,“ Ross said. "I don’t think I even understood the full meaning of being a comedian until I started doing shows for the troops.
“When you get asked to do something for your country to honor those who volunteer to serve – those people who are braver than me – and to be able to give them a taste of home or relief for the stress of the day, I love it.”
Ross is part of a substantial comedy lineup that will entertain military families Thursday night at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, to mark both the USO’s 75th anniversary and the fifth anniversary of Joining Forces. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are scheduled to attend, along with Joining Forces co-founders First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden.
The show – titled A Celebration of Service – will be emceed by former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart and also feature an appearance by former CBS “Late Show” host David Letterman. Comedians Judd Apatow, Mike Birbiglia, Kristen Schaal, Hasan Minhaj and John Mulaney will also take the stage.
Ross has been a USO supporter for more than a decade, starting with a 2003 tour to the Middle East. Two years later, he signed up for a USO tour entertaining service members who were doing humanitarian work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“It was eye-opening. There was death all around us,“ Ross said of the post-Katrina shows. "One of our shows we just did on basically a ramp leading into a parking garage. Wherever there was dry land and [service members], we just set up shows.”
“Those Katrina shows were very intense. It was mostly the Seabees that we were performing for – the construction battalions. They were very tired. Very overworked. It was a little bit that I could give back when the country was in crisis.“
You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.