USO Supporter and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno Retires

Gen. Ray Odierno, center, retired from the Army after 39 years of service. DOD photo

Gen. Ray Odierno, center, retired from the Army after 39 years of service. DOD photo

The USO is bidding fond farewell to Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s outgoing chief of staff, who retired Friday after nearly four decades of service to the United States.

Odierno has been a strong backer of the USO’s mission to support the troops he commanded and their families. He spoke about his experiences with the USO on the red carpet of the 2013 USO Gala in Washington.

Gen. Ray Odierno and Stephen Colbert in 2009.

Gen. Ray Odierno and Stephen Colbert in 2009.

The general played a big role in the 2009 USO tour featuring then-Comedy Central personality Stephen Colbert, where President Barack Obama famously ordered Odierno to shave Colbert’s head on stage in front of an audience of service members.

And Odierno also had a hand in boosting the morale of USO employees and volunteers behind the scenes. You can read USO Vice President of Entertainment Rachel Tischler’s account of being coined by Odierno during one of her trips to produce USO entertainment tours in Iraq.

 

Former USO Volunteer of the Year Retires After Sending Off and Welcoming More than 300,000 Troops

Mary Nelson Adams is congratulated during her farewell ceremony on Friday in Georgia. Photo courtesy of Steve Hart

Mary Nelson Adams is congratulated during her farewell ceremony on Friday in Georgia. Photo courtesy of Steve Hart

Mary Nelson Adams added one more milestone to her USO volunteer career on Friday. But before she said goodbye to everyone else, she needed to see off a few more service members.

Adams, 79,  waved goodbye to nearly two dozen Iraq-bound soldiers at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia, before receiving her own ceremonial sendoff. She retired from 12 years of volunteering for the USO of Georgia after a career of bidding farewell or welcoming home nearly 300,000 service members from the recent wars. Her dedication led her to be named the first worldwide USO Volunteer of the Year in 2008.

“Each man and woman in a uniform is our freedom,” Adams told the Savannah News. “I can go home and get in a clean, warm bed each night and they can’t.”

Adams also received citations from military officials on site at the base’s Truscott Air Terminal.

“She has really [helped service members] in a tangible way,” USO of Georgia CEO Mary Lou Austin said.

The Stories Behind the Modern Military Salute

Navy photo

Photo courtesy of the Navy

When it comes to the hand salute, everyone seems to agree on two things: (1) it’s always a sign of camaraderie and (2) no one knows its exact origin.

But everyone has a theory.

Let’s start with the practical application. Raising the right hand to one’s cap or forehead is not only a gesture of respect, but also a signal that you’re not wielding a weapon (which was far more important information a few centuries ago than it is in today’s military settings). Some believe the salute is the evolution of a gesture dating back a few thousand years when assassins were more prevalent in both military and government circles.

There are other theories, too, dating back to medieval times. The most popular involves knights lifting their visors to identify themselves to superiors.

Whatever ancient customs are to be believed, it’s also reasonable to infer the modern salute is a replacement for removing one’s hat in the presence of a superior. According to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Center and School, a British order book from 1745 dictates “men are ordered not to pull off their hats when they pass an officer, or to speak to them, but only to clap up their hands and bow as they pass.” A page on the Quartermasters’ website explains military headgear had become so complicated and cumbersome by the time of the American Revolution, saluting was just an expedient change to protocol.

Department of Defense photo

Department of Defense photo

Today’s Salute

According to the Armed Forces History Museum, today’s standard salute – right hand touching the brim of the head cover with the palm down – was in place by 1820. The museum says the palm down portion of the salute may have been influenced by the salute style of the British Navy at the time. A sailor’s hands were often dirty, and exposing a dirty palm – especially to a superior – would have been deemed disrespectful. A correlating legend has it that Queen Victoria was once saluted with a dirty hand and declared thereafter that British sailors would salute with their hands at a 90-degree angle.

So who is always entitled to a salute?

  • The President of the United States
  • Commissioned and warrant officers
  • Medal of Honor recipients
  • Officers of allied foreign countries

What occasions should a service member give a salute?

Civilians have probably seen some of these instances in daily life (especially at a ceremony or a high-profile sporting event). But with rare exception, service members should render salutes in these circumstances:

  • During the playing of any national anthem
  • When the colors of the United States are presented
  • During official ceremonies
  • At a ceremonial reveal or retreat
  • During the raising or lowering of the American flag
  • During the Pledge of Allegiance
  • When reporting to a superior
  • When changing control of a formation

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When can service members skip a salute?

There’s protocol, and then there’s practicality. Salutes are not required when addressing a prisoner, when someone is in civilian clothing or when it would be tough or inappropriate to execute (for example, when someone is carrying equipment in both hands or at a crucial point of performing a complex task). Also, salutes are not usually required indoors, unless reporting to an officer while on guard duty, participating in an official ceremony or reporting to a commander or a military board. For a more nuanced look at salute rules, you can search out each individual service’s regulations on honors and salutes online (the Army’s can be found here).

Should civilians perform a hand salute when they see a service member?

Service members don’t expect salutes from civilians, even if those civilians are military employees or contractors. In fact, it could create an awkward moment unless the service member knows the civilian doing the saluting or recognizes the civilian to be a veteran. However, there aren’t any restrictions against saluting, either. The United States Constitution’s First Amendment protection for free speech and expression gives civilians the ability to do what they want when greeting anyone.

Our advice? Smile. Maybe say “hello.” And if you’re so inclined, shake their hand and thank them for their service.

23 Facts for the Army’s 240th Birthday

Department of Defense photo

Department of Defense photo

1. First, the basics: The United States Army as we know it today was founded June 14, 1775, when the First Continental Congress OK’d the enlistment of soldiers to serve the united American colonies.

2. Nearly 70 percent of all Medals of Honor have been awarded to soldiers. And 1,198 of the Army’s 2,403 Medals of Honor were awarded for actions in the Civil War.

3. Hungry, soldier? Well, the Army is looking into 3D printing food.

4. The USO has been helping soldiers since its inception. Here’s one Tuskegee Airman’s story of how a USO tour director helped him in the face of racism.

5. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey is the ninth Army general to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. That’s more than double any other branch. Dempsey is retiring in 2015.

6. Francis Marion – known as “The Swamp Fox” – headed a group of Revolutionary War-era Army Rangers known as Marion’s Partisans. He is also credited with creating modern guerrilla warfare, which was key to the American victory against the British.

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7. More than half of the men elected President of the United States – 24 to be exact – have worn the Army’s uniform.

8. Pvt. James Buchanan was the only president who served in the Army who didn’t become an officer.

8. June 14 is also Flag Day. Officially adopted in 1916, the first iteration of the American flag was actually authorized by the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777.

9. The Army is marginally responsible for inventing the microwave. A World War II engineer at Raytheon realized radiation from radar – which the Army was using to scan for enemy missiles – could be used to heat products, too.

10. Galusha Pennypacker is widely recognized as the youngest general in Army history, earning a promotion to brevet brigadier general at the age of 20 during the Civil War.

11. The Army was the last branch to adopt an official song, declaring “The Army Goes Rolling Along” as its official tune in 1956. (You can download it here.)

12. The USO helps out modern soldiers in a host of ways beyond snacks and a place to snooze. Here’s the story of Army Spc. Austin Hunsinger, who needed help fast to get to his father’s funeral.

An Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Bagram, Afghanistan, in 2004. U.S. Army photo

An Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter in Bagram, Afghanistan, in 2004. U.S. Army photo

13. The Army likes to name its helicopters in honor of Native American tribes. Here’s why.

14. The Air Force was part of the Army until 1947.

15. Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold is the only person to be promoted to the rank of five-star general in two different branches — the Army and the Air Force.

16. The Lewis and Clark Expedition was actually an Army campaign to map and discover the geographic secrets of the continent.

17. Robert E. Lee famously graduated from West Point in 1829 with zero demerits. He’s often given credit for being the only person to pull off the feat. But according to at least one researched column in the Topeka Capital-Journal, Lee actually graduated second in his class behind a man named Charles Mason, who also equaled Lee’s zero demerits feat.

Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Dwight D. Eisenhower.

18. For the sake of comparison, Gen. of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower graduated with 307 demerits, according to the same story. (He turned out alright, though.)

19. Eisenhower was the last general from any branch to be elected president.

20. It sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it’s true: the Army tested the spread of biological agents on unknowing Americans from the 1940s through the 1960s, inadvertently killing at least one civilian by dispersing what was previously thought to be a harmless bacteria.

21. Bob Neyland graduated West Point in 1916 and is still the baseball team’s all-time leader in pitching victories (35). Neyland was also a boxer and — perhaps most famously — went on to coach the University of Tennessee’s football team. The school’s football stadium is named after him.

22. Speaking of football, Army was once a national power. They won a piece of three straight national championships between 1944 and 1946.

23. The Old Guard still keeps watch over the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Celebrate the U.S. Army’s 240th birthday with us by signing their birthday card.

A Lifetime of Service: Officer-Turned-Businessman Talks About Supporting USO

When retired Army officer Tom Kilgore decided it was time to give back, it was clear which organization he would support.

“I became active with the USO shortly after my retirement [from the Army],” said Kilgore, who now heads risk management for ArcLight Capital Partners in Boston. “It was one of the organizations while I was on active duty which provided great value, I thought, to my soldiers and to my family.”

At West Point, Kilgore was taught that graduates engage in a lifetime of service.

“One of the ways in which you can continue a lifetime of service is to continue to give back to the organizations [that] have taken care of us while we were on active duty,” Kilgore said. “The USO affords me an opportunity to live up to the goals that were set for me as a young man, and the goals that I embrace and continue to hopefully embrace and live to this day.”

Helicopter Rides, Crazy Food Pairings and Troops: Steve Byrne and Roy Wood Jr. Talk About Their USO Travels

Comedians and USO tour veterans Steve Byrne and Roy Wood Jr. have dozens of great stories about traveling the world to entertain troops on USO tours.

At the beginning of May, the duo was part of the USO’s first entertainment tour to Iraq since 2011.

In this video, Byrne and Wood discuss the allure of riding in military helicopters, the wild world of DFACs (dining facilities) and why they keep going overseas to perform shows.