Robin Williams Created Lasting Moments on 2007 USO Tour

Comedian Robin Williams greets troops during a 2007 USO Chairman's Holiday Tour stop at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Dec. 17, 2007. Photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Courtesy of the Department of Defense

Comedian Robin Williams greets troops during a 2007 USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour stop at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Dec. 17, 2007. Photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Courtesy of the Department of Defense

Robin Williams’ personality is too big to fit into one story.

Here are two moments from the 2007 USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour we couldn’t fit into yesterday’s tribute to Williams’ service to the military.

‘You Gave Me Yours, I’ll Give You Mine’

The December 2007 tour – which also included Kid Rock, comedian Lewis Black, cyclist Lance Armstrong, Miss USA 2007 Rachel Smith, Irish tenor Ronan Tynan and was led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen – was a bit of a rough ride. There were travel delays and crazy weather – everything you’d expect when hopping in and out of remote locations in war zones.

At one point on the tour, Williams lost his voice.

“We got on a plane and flew to Afghanistan,” said John Hanson, a USO senior vice president who was on the 2007 tour. “Long flight – got there after the show was supposed to start and the audience had been standing outside in this wet, heavy snow. [Williams] could hardly speak. But he did the show. …

“The next morning … we got on a C-130 with body armor and it was stacked in front of us. … His manager said, ‘Sit next to Robin and whenever he starts talking, tell him to shut up cause he needs his voice this afternoon.’ …

“For some reason, we had to give up our body armor. These troops were coming on and offloading it. It was either a soldier or an airman – I don’t remember – but he said ‘Mr. Williams, I didn’t get to see your show last night, but thank you for coming. It means a lot to us.’ And Robin nodded. And the guy came back on later and said ‘You know, I’ve had this for a while and it’s protected me,’ and he pulled off a St. Christopher medal. And Robin [said] ‘I can’t take that.’

“[And the service member said] ‘It’s done well for me, please take it,’ and he took a couple of the [body armor] vests and walked off. So Robin sat there and he looked at it, and he looked at his manager and me and was puzzled [and] moved.

“The guy came back on to get the last batch of [body armor], and Williams said ‘Wait, you gave me yours,’ and unbuttoned his shirt and pulled out this huge silver cross and said ‘I’ll give you mine.’

“And the [service member] said ‘I can’t take this.’ And [Williams] said ‘if you don’t take that, I won’t take this.’ And so the guy walked off with it.”

Mork at War

Part of the 2007 Chairman’s tour involved officially opening the USO center at Joint Base Balad in Iraq, with some peculiar furniture.

“When we walked in, in the computer room, there was a gaming chair,” Hanson said. “It was a big, white plastic oval. Looked like a gigantic egg.

“And [Williams] ran across, jumped in it and spun around. And it was a weird cultural reference for a lot of the young guys because they didn’t really quite get it.

“And [Williams] said ‘I better stop this [or somebody’s going to get the idea for a TV series.’”

(For everyone under the age of 40, Williams’ breakout role on “Mork and Mindy” – a sitcom that ran from 1978 to 1982 where he played an alien named Mork who came to Earth in an egg-shaped spaceship.)

This Week’s Quiz: What do Steven Spielberg and Alaska have to do With the USO?

It’s time for installment No. 3 of the USO quiz. Try your luck with these five questions, and check your answers at the bottom.

1. The USO opened its 25th airport center on June 6, 1983, in:
A. Boston
B. Indianapolis
C. Baltimore
D. Orlando

2. When did USO headquarters move to Washington?
A. 1974
B. 1976
C. 1977
D. 1979

(via Flickr Creative Commons user smithsonian)

(via Flickr Creative Commons user smithsonian)

3. One of the more popular activities sponsored by the Fairbanks, Alaska, USO in the early 1950s was …
A. dog-sled races
B. igloo construction
C. panning for gold
D. ice skating dances

4. What popular program did the Communications Workers of America help USO with in the 1960s?
A. USO Mail Call
B. “Hi Mom” Christmas Calls
C. USO Calling
D. USO-Vietnam Hotline

5. Among the highlights of Director Steven Spielberg’s 1979 film “1941” were USO dances and entertainment sequences. Where was the USO facility in the movie located?
A. Manhattan
B. San Franscisco
C. Miami
D. Los Angeles

Highlight the line below to see the answers:
1. B; 2. C; 3. C; 4. B; 5. D

USO and Team Red, White, and Blue Help Troops and Veterans Scale New Heights at Rock-Climbing Camp

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ESTES PARK, Colo.—For many people — especially those scared of heights — scaling a 50-foot mountain wall is the last thing they’d want to do on a warm August afternoon.

But for a group of adventurous transitioning troops and veterans who attended a special three-day rock climbing camp in Colorado, climbing along the steep peaks of the Rocky Mountains seemed like the perfect way to spend a long summer weekend.

The camp, hosted by the USO and Team Red, White, and Blue, taught leadership skills and built confidence among attendees while scaling new heights. The two organizations began partnering last year to deliver an environment for troops, civilians and veterans to come together, share their stories and to build a foundation for healthy, active living.

The camp was led by climber and Wheaties athlete Tommy Caldwell and his father, Mike Caldwell, a climbing guide with over 30 years of experience. For the second year in a row, the pair helped participants scale 50-foot-plus tall mountain walls in Jurassic Park and Lumpy Ridge.

“I didn’t have people to keep in touch with when I got out,” said camp participant and veteran Antonio Ruiz. “I wish this situation was available for me back then. It would have made a big difference in my life.”

(Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the Department of Defense)

Climbers receive instruction during the weekend camp. Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the
Department of Defense

During the three-day session, Tommy Caldwell shared his personal story of overcoming a traumatic experience with the camp participants in hopes of inspiring them to conquer life’s challenges.

In 2000, while on a climbing expedition in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, his group was held hostage at gunpoint for six days before Caldwell seized an opportunity to overpower the kidnappers, allowing for their escape. Once home, he struggled to cope with the memories of his captivity. One day, while doing home repairs, Caldwell accidentally sawed off his finger. Unable to reattach it, doctors prepped him for the possibility that he’d never climb professionally again.

“At one point a doctor told me I should really think about what I wanted to do,” Caldwell said during his speech to attendees. “I got mad because how could he not believe in me? And that inspired me even more. I left the hospital and immediately went to the gym to train.”

(Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the Department of Defense)

Climbers gather during the weekend camp. Photo by Tyrone Marshall/Courtesy of the
Department of Defense

In addition to learning the ins-and-outs of outdoor climbing, campers participated in a leadership seminar lead by Team Red, White, and Blue Director of Operations J.J. Pinter.

“Think about all that leadership experience,” Pinter said, according to a Department of Defense story on the seminar. “There’s no reason that you can’t go back in your communities and be the leaders that our country is drastically needing.”

USO Communications Manager Sharee Posey contributed to this post from Estes Park, Colorado, and USO Multimedia Journalist Sandi Moynihan contributed to this post from Arlington, Virginia.

24 Things You Should Know About the Coast Guard for Its 224th Birthday

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Today marks the 224th birthday of the United States Coast Guard. To celebrate, here’s 24 facts about one of the federal government’s oldest organizations.

  1. The Coast Guard was founded on August 4, 1790, after Congress commissioned the construction of ten ships to help enforce federal tariffs and prevent smuggling.
  2. The Coast Guard has two official flags: The Coast Guard standard and the Coast Guard ensign.
  3. Walt Disney created a special logo for the Coast Guard’s Corsair Fleet during World War II, featuring Donald Duck.

    Donald Duck photo via US Coast Guard.

    Donald Duck photo via U.S. Coast Guard.

  4. Members of the Coast Guard have served in 17 wars and conflicts throughout U.S. history.
  5. Anthony Christy was the oldest active serving Coast Guard member. The keeper of the Christiana Lighthouse in Delaware, Christy died on duty in September 1862 at the age of 105.
  6. Since 2003, the Coast Guard has been operating as part of the Department of Homeland Security.
  7. In 1791, the Coast Guard launched its first cutter Vigilant.
  8. The first permanent Coast Guard Air Station was in Cape May, New Jersey, in 1926.
  9. In 1967, the Coast Guard adopted the trademark red slash design – or racing stripe – that appears on its vessels.
  10. In 1941, the Coast Guard hired its first civilian women to serve in secretarial and clerical positions.
  11. 241,093 Coast Guard members served during World War II.
  12. “Semper Paratus” is the Coast Guard motto.
  13. While many animals have served as mascots aboard Coast Guard vessels, Sinbad, a dog, is one of the service’s most famous. He served on board the cutter Campbell during World War II, keeping troops company during their voyages.
  14. The Coast Guard was referred to as the Revenue Marine and the Revenue Cutter Service throughout the late 18th and the 19th centuries.
  15. The Coast Guard has authorized a total of 43 battle streamers, which are attached to the Coast Guard standard, replacing cords and tassels.  They are carried in all ceremonies representing heroic actions in all naval encounters from 1798 to today.  Any Coast Guard unit may display the battle streamers.
  16. The Coast Guard refers to a vessel as a “cutter” if it’s over 65-feet long.
  17. From 1942-1944, the Coast Guard had a championship hockey team called the Cutters that played in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League, considered to be one of the most competitive leagues of its time.

    Team photo via via US Coast Guard.

    Team photo via via U.S. Coast Guard.

  18. Until the Navy was re-established in 1797, the Coast Guard was the only naval service in the country.
  19. In 1918, sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker were the first uniformed women to serve in the Coast Guard.
  20. President George Washington commissioned the first Coast Guard officer, Captain Hopley Yeaton, on March 21, 1791.
  21. The Coast Guard was featured in the 1996 featured film “White Squall” starring Jeff Bridges.
  22. The oldest Coast Guard boat station is in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
  23. In 1967, the Coast Guard icebreaker Eastwind became the first cutter to ever sail around Antarctica. Eastwind was also the first ship to circumnavigate Antarctica since 1843.
  24. The Coast Guard core values are honor, respect and devotion to duty.

–Information from uscg.mil and other sources.

This Week’s Quiz: A Marilyn Monroe Tour, USO Month and More …

How well do you know your USO history? Take this week’s USO quiz. (Answers at the bottom.)

1. In the mid-to-late 1950s what month was designated “USO Month”?
A. April
B. July
C. November
D. February

2. What was the first USO center to bear the name of an individual, dedicated on April 15, 1967?
A. Bob Hope USO in Los Angeles
B. Gen. Douglas MacArthur USO in New York City
C. Joe Barr USO in Fayetteville, North Carolina
D. Edwin E. Bond Memorial USO in Ayer, Massachusetts

3. What entertainer canceled contracts worth upwards of $100,000 in 1968 in order to perform USO shows in Vietnam?
A. Bob Hope
B. Sammy Davis, Jr.
C. James Brown
D. Wayne Newton

(via Flickr Creative Commons user mtaphotos)

(via Flickr Creative Commons user mtaphotos)

4. When and where was Marilyn Monroe’s USO tour?
A. 1955 in Guam
B. 1956 in Japan
C. 1954 in England
D. 1954 in Korea

5. What was USO’s promotional campaign theme in 1970?
A. When You Say Goodbye, USO Says Hello
B. Someone You Know Needs USO
C. USO Is There Only If You Care
D. You Help Someone You Know, When You Give to USO

Highlight the line below to see the answers:
1. A; 2. D; 3. C; 4. D; 5. A