The USO's role in Afghanistan: creating a home away from home

For 80 years, the organisation has recruited Robin Williams, Meghan Markle and Bradley Cooper to entertain the military

After a 20-year involvement, US troops are pulling up stakes in Afghanistan, marking the end of America’s longest war.

Thursday's suicide bombing that took the lives of 13 US soldiers and injured 18 is a stark reminder of the sacrifices that men and women in uniform willingly and bravely make for their country.

Founded during the Second World War, the goal of the USO (United Service Organisations) has been to provide a “home away from home” for soldiers and their families.

What started as stress-relieving overseas entertainment has now evolved into high-tech communication uplinks keeping families “close”, reserved airport lounges and non-denominational chapels for peaceful respite during travel and welcoming soldiers as they return home.

Over the years, many American celebrities have forfeited their own holiday and family time to be with the men and women stationed in Afghanistan.

Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, visited the troops at Bagram Air Base for Christmas in 2014 before becoming a royal. Her husband, Prince Harry, served in the British military for 10 years and did two tours of Afghanistan.

“I have always had such a profound respect for our nation’s troops and military families. I cannot thank them enough for everything they do for us,” she said.

“I am delighted and honoured to be visiting the troops to say ‘thank you’ and wish them a happy holiday.”

Funnyman and Oscar-winner Robin Williams went on six USO tours from 2002 to 2013. He visited troops in 12 foreign countries, making three stops in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jon Stewart, former host of The Daily Show, visited the troops in 2018. Stewart is also an advocate for the treatment of those subjected to toxic burn pits in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

Other comedians such as Dave Attell, Iliza Shlesinger, Lewis Black and Rob Riggle also brought laughter to the troops.

“Military service has always been a part of me. As a marine who not only served active duty but also reserves for the vast majority of my life, it is hard for me to see this tour as just a week-long trip,” said Riggle.

“There is definitely comfort in this visit and I am honoured to be a part of it.”

A-listers Bradley Cooper, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Evans, Channing Tatum, Elizabeth Banks and Rose McGowan are only a few of the Hollywood stars who made appearances to show their appreciation and support.

Even tough guys James Gandolfini and Tony Sirico of The Sopranos flew over to sign autographs, pose for selfies and give words of encouragement.

“I always like coming out here to the bases, and being here always makes me appreciate it more,” said Gandolfini.

Kid Rock, Kellie Pickler, Trace Adkins, Billy Ray Cyrus and alt-band Cracker are a handful of the many musicians that also made the long journey to Afghanistan.

Though the war in Afghanistan is over, the USO continues to provide support and entertainment for US troops stationed all over the world.

Updated: September 3rd 2021, 4:19 PM
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