Been thinking about some deployments and some interesting people I have met over the years. So here we go...
The intensity or frequency of my travels over the past two years brings me to airports around the nation. At each stop, I consider myself lucky to have the privilege of access to USO clubs in each respective airport. They vary in size from small (Newport News) to lounges with sleeping rooms (Miami). Indeed, most serve food, non-alcoholic beverages and offer free wifi to service members passing through. The USO also sponsors tours of celebrities, from athletes to comics, to rock and movie stars.
My favorite Army celebrity story to tell occurred on literally my first day in the Army, and had nothing to do with the USO. The summer between my junior and senior year of high school I attended basic training at Fort. Jackson, South Carolina. A group of about 25 of us departed the New York City MEPS station to JFK airport for our flight to Columbia, South Carolina. While waiting for our flight, another soldier spotted “the old guy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on a pay phone. (This was 1995, before cell phones and smart phones). A group of us decided to approach him as soon as his phone call ended. An hour later, the airline began to boarding our flight. As a group, we approached Mr. Sutherland, who was still on the phone. He waved us off, when another member of our group said “Mr. Sutherland, we are headed to basic training; we just wanted to say hello.” Donald told whoever he was talking to (I like to think it was Kiefer), to “hang on, I am going to talk to some kids on their way to the Army.” He spoke with us for about 10 minutes, and even signed autographs. The only paper I had was a New Testament Bible handed out at the MEPS station. Mr. Sutherland signed it “Dan, Best of Luck in the Army…-Donald Sutherland.” I still have that bible today.
Seeing celebrities continued following my commission from Norwich University in 2000. As a young second lieutenant in Korea, a WWF sponsored wrestling event took place at our Camp. The highlight was the former Intercontinental Champion of the WWF; The Honkey Tonk Man. My photo next to him after the event is one of my most prized positions, although I was disappointed he did not break a guitar over my head.
I have met other celebrities throughout my time in the military, mostly through USO tours. These include in 2003 shaking an in his steroid prime Roger Clemens's hand, and having Wayne Newton serve me Thanksgiving Dinner at the Camp Doha dining hall. On a deployment to Baghdad with the 101st Airborne Division in 2005/2006, I had the chance to speak with Al Franken following a show on FOB Stryker. What I love about comedians and celebrities is the political aspects stay behind, and their genuine humor comes to the forefront. Al Franken was the perfect example of this trait.
As a young second lieutenant in Korea, a WWF sponsored wrestling event took place at our Camp. The highlight was the former Intercontinental Champion of the WWF; The Honkey Tonk Man. My photo next to him after the event is one of my most prized positions. The sad part is, up until he posed for the photo, I still considered him a "bad guy," along with his loudmouthed manager Jimmy Hart.
Within each USO show, there is a visible contrast between athletes and movie/TV stars. The athletes seem to be comfortable with the long travel, the the long hours, and the ability to go off script when interacting with the troops. Actors less so. I attribute this facet to long grinding seasons of professional sports. This observation became clear to me on a recent deployment to Afghanistan. Ray Allen, formally of the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat seemed in he zone while talking to troops on Bagram Air Field, as Olympic Gold Medalist Maya DiRado. Actors Scarlett Johannsson and Chris Evens a bit less so.
I am thankful for the opportunity to meet some interesting people over the years. I am also greatful for the entertainment said individuals brought to various deployments. Often, their travels go unreported, and to an extent I am sure they prefer it that way.