From the Desk of John Hanson, Senior Vice President of Communications at the USO:
“First, a statement for the record – or at least that part of the record that includes social media. The president’s announcement that the last combat troops would leave Iraq in August could not have come soon enough. No one wants troops home more than my colleagues and I do. We’ve got friends who have served there, and who have been injured there. And, who have died there. Every day someone here sees what war does to the warriors.
But, there should also be a reminder that tens of thousands of troops will still be in the region – not to mention Afghanistan. Please don’t forget that troops around the world are serving around the world – away from friends and families. They’re missing birthdays and anniversaries and the births of children. Many aren’t in combat, but they’re just as likely to be in lonely isolated places, defending us. Their service counts and it’s important. My father is a World War II veteran who never got closer to overseas than San Francisco. I’m counted as a Vietnam veteran, but I repaired aircraft in Guam and Thailand. I am as proud of my service as my father was of his.
On February 4, the USO will enter the last year of its 7th decade (just a few months before I enter the first year of mine. But, this isn’t about me. At least not ALL about me). The USO’s focus from the beginning was on the simple notion of providing morale services for members of the U.S. military. We do that well, by the way.
Over the years, we’ve seen waves of support during times of war, and just the opposite in times of peace. Our challenge is to ensure that we continue to support troops around the world every day of every year – in times of war or peace.
The current conflicts this country is engaged in are complicated. My guess is that we will be involved in one way or another for the foreseeable future. As a veteran of our last long war, I’ve seen how the public’s patience can cause it to focus its discontent on troops, rather than the government. So far, that hasn’t happened. Regardless of how people view our foreign policy, support for the troops and for the USO remains strong. Maybe it’s because my generation realizes how we lost focus more than a generation ago. I hope so.
One more thing. Earlier this week, I saw a brief mention of an attack at the US base at Camp Phoenix, near Kabul, Afghanistan. I paid attention because I’ve been there a few times. The 5-minute drive from Kabul to Phoenix is an exercise in breath holding. The distance is short, but the atmosphere is extremely tense. I hate to talk about being worried, because when we’re there it’s only for a few days. Our troops do this day in and day out for months at a time.
The report underscored what we already know. The U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan are facing difficulties we can hardly imagine. We can’t forget their service and their sacrifice – or that of their families.“