Every year, USO (United Service Organizations) teams up with troops of celebrities to produce concerts, comedy shows, meet-and-greets, Q&A and other interactive events to cheer up our service members and their families who are away from home, especially during the holidays. The effort is to boost our military’s morale and holiday spirits and for them to know that we greatly appreciate their services. The USO’s tradition of supporting service members stretches back to our beginnings in 1941.
Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans observe a demonstration from service members during a troop engagement at Al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar, Dec. 6, 2016. Photo Source: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, licensed under CC BY 2.0
This year, the USO Holiday tour group spent a week visiting thousands of service members in Afghanistan, Turkey, Qatar and Germany. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford teamed with the USO to bring actors Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans, retired NBA star Ray Allen, Olympic gold medalist swimmer Maya DiRado, country star Craig Campbell and mentalist and tour MC Jim Karol to the service members.
This is the second time actress Scarlett Johansson joined the USO holiday tour. She felt a special connection with our service men and women even though they are complete strangers. Just to hear their stories, she could feel their yearning to be home with their loved ones. Johansson expressed her gratitude, she said: “It’s a real gift to be able to come here and meet all of you and just let you guys know that we really appreciate what you do. I know a lot of you are obviously far from home, far away from your families, and we love you and we appreciate you.”
Scarlett Johansson ran out to stage and was greeted by servicemen and servicewomen currently stationed in Turkey, Qatar and Afghanistan. When Johansson was on stage, someone asked her if she was a natural redhead, she jokingly replied back: “I had a really naughty answer to that, but this is clearly the wrong crowd for that.”
The “Avenger” Captain America actor Chris Evans challenged a service member to an arm-wrestling match. Who won?
This year was Evans’ first time to join the USO holiday tour. He felt incredibly grateful for the men and women who sacrifice their time, their life and serve our country. Evans hosted a 20-minute Q&A talk with the troops. He told them that “I play a soldier, but I've never actually spent real time with people who are stationed far from their homes to understand the sacrifices made. So for me, not only is it fulfilling as an actor, but as a man it really is a wonderful thing.”
You would think having Captain America, one of the most celebrated comic heroes, showed up at an event like this would be a thrill for the audiences, especially kids. But not to all of them! A kid at Forward Operation Base Gamberi, Afghanistan was so disappointed to see Captain America on stage because he was hoping to see Batman instead. Chris Evans teased the boy by telling him that Batman was not really a superhero. Batman’s extraordinary power came from the “gadgets” he put on. Luckily the boy didn’t cry to hear his superhero being “whooped” by Captain America.
This was his first USO holiday tour. Ray Allen was one of the best shooters among professional basketball players. He announced his retirement in November 2016. He also won an Olympic gold medal as a member of the 2000 United States men's basketball team. Allen was a military child himself, was born at Castle Air Force Base near Merced, California and grew up moving around places to places.
He shared his experience growing up in a military family: “A lot of who I am today is because of my military upbringing. Even though I frequently moved and always had to make new friends, I always felt comfortable on a military base. We dressed the same, we spoke the same and we shared a lot of the same experiences. Many of my friends then are considered my good friends today and I'm honored to be out visiting troops and military families with the Chairman and the USO this holiday. It really feels like I am at home.”
The American swimmer and 4-time Olympic Maya DiRado humbly expressed her gratitude to the servicemen and women and their families: “This year has been a real whirlwind experience, from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio to being invited by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to visit troops and their families around the world on this year's USO holiday tour. It's hard to think that anything could really top these last few months but just being here and getting the opportunity to hear about all the important work our servicemen and women do, to listen to their stories and to see their sacrifice up close is truly life-changing. I've learned a great deal and can't thank everyone enough for having me.”
Maya DiRado meets with service members during this year’s United Services Organizations (USO) Holiday Tour at the Tower Barracks Dining Facility, Grafenwoehr, Germany, December 8th, 2016. Photo source 7th Army Training Command, licensed under CC BY 2.0
For Craig Campbell, this is his second time joining USO Holiday Tour. The singer explained the reason for his returning to the USO tour: “The idea that some of our military isn’t going to be with their families over Christmas, it saddens me. So for me to be able to go to where they are and bring a little home to them is very important to me. I love doing it and am honored to do it.”
Country Music Singer Craig Campbell and band entertain U.S. Soldiers and families during the United Services Organizations (USO) Holiday Tour Show on Tower Barracks Grafenwoehr, Germany, Dec. 8, 2016. Photo Source: 7th Army Training Command, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Although this was Karol’s first USO tour but locally he has been supporting USO local chapters like the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore. He shared his appreciation to the troops:”I so grateful to have been invited by General Dunford to travel on this year's trip and visit troops and military families all over the world this holiday.”
Illusionist Jim Karol met and performed card tricks for service members during this year’s United Services Organizations (USO) Holiday Tour at the Tower Barracks Dining Facility, Grafenwoehr, Germany, December 8th, 2016. Photo source: 7th Army Training Command, licensed under CC BY 2.0