Marine Embodies Esprit de Corps

Sgt. Kevin A. Aguilar, dispatching and licensing noncommissioned officer in charge for Headquarters and Service Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, conducts Marine Corps Martial Arts Program training with his Marines on a regular basis. (Photo by Cpl. Juan D. Alfonso)

September 15 through October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month and in recognition of this we’ll be honoring those who serve, along with highlighting many of our great celebrity entertainers.

Several branches are also celebrating: the Army has created the website Hispanic Americans in the U.S. Army;  the Navy’s supports Hispanic Officer candidates through the Association of Naval Services OfficersMilitary Times chose LCDR Richard A. Angelet as 2010 Coast Guardsmen of the Year in recognition of his work on behalf of Hispanics service members; and the Air Force recently selected two winners of the 2010 National LATINA Symposium Distinguished Service Award.

Today we bring you a story from the Marines, as first reported by On the Frontlines: Every year, certain periods of time are set aside for the each branch of the armed services to honor the rich blend of cultures serving among their ranks. Cultural observances highlight the accomplishments of soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen—past and present—who make a difference in the lives of those around them.

At Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii, Marine Sergeant Kevin A. Aguilar – a Marine of Hispanic descent – is one of those service members currently making a difference in the lives of his troops. Read Aguilar’s story, “What a Sergeant of Marines Should Be,” on the official site of the U.S. Marines.

Sloan Gibson: Guest of Honor at the Sunset Parade

Sloan Gibson, USO President and CEO , second from left, watches the United States Marine Corps Sunset Parade on the grounds of the Iwo Jima War Memorial in Washington, D.C., on August 3, 2010. The parade followed a reception held in Gibson's honor. (USO photo by Samantha L. Quigley)

On Nov. 10, 1954, the 179th birthday of the United States Marine Corps, a bronze monument modeled after the famous photo of the flag raising on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima, was unveiled at the Arlington National Cemetery. President Dwight D. Eisenhower dedicated the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial to all Marines who had died to keep their country free.

Since September 1956, marching and musical units from Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., have been paying tribute to those whose “Uncommon valor was a common virtue” by presenting Sunset Parades in the shadow of the 32-foot high figures of the United States Marine Corps War Memorial. – “History of the Sunset Parade

The USO was proud to have our President and CEO Sloan Gibson honored at this week’s Sunset Parade.  The parade is comprised of a one hour program that incorporates a precision drill by the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon and a music by “The Commandant’s Own”, The United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps.

The Sunset Parade takes place every Tuesday during the summer at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington.  Click here for specific dates and times.  The parade is free and open to the public at no charge and attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs or blankets for viewing.  We hope to see you there soon!

Sloan Gibson, USO President and CEO, center, chats during a reception in his honor held at the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery on August 3, 2010. The United States Marine Corps' Sunset Parade on the grounds of the Iwo Jima War Memorial in Washington, D.C., followed the reception. (USO photo by Samantha L. Quigley)

Sloan Gibson, USO President and CEO, center, salutes as members of the United States Marine Corps' Silent Drill Platoon file past for review during the Sunset Parade on the grounds of the Iwo Jima War Memorial on August 3, 2010. The parade followed a reception held in Gibson's honor at the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. (USO photo by Samantha L. Quigley)

Bringing USO Goodness to Camp Leatherneck

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - Sergeant Mark Matice, a utilities NCO with Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, and Lance Cpl. Rory MacEachern (right), a military policeman with Combat Logistics Battalion 6, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward), perform a bagpipe rendition of 'Amazing Grace' prior to Toby Keith taking the stage here May 5. (Photo by Sgt. Justin Shemanski)

At the hot, dusty base in Afghanistan known as Camp Leatherneck, there wasn’t much to do during Troop’s downtime.  The surrounding Helmand Province is inhospitable territory, and the 60,000 Marines and Soldiers stationed there needed a break from the intensity of their work.  Enter the USO.

We identified the needs for Camp Leatherneck and quickly went into action providing the comforts of home and much needed programs and entertainment.  Although it’s not an official USO Center, we’re providing USO support and goodness at this established Army facility in the form of comfortable furniture, games, TVs, and more.   Plus, Toby Keith even visited on his last USO tour in the Persian Gulf!

To kick off the introduction of the USO’s presence at the camp, we sponsored a run with t-shirts for all participants (shown at right).  Then we threw a huge BBQ for Marines and Soldiers, followed by a ceremony for the official building dedication.  We capped the day’s events with a unique talent show showcasing the diverse skills of the Troops: one act featured a mime, another a bagpipe player.  There were also two comedians, break dancers, an actress, musicians from a Marine Corps Band, and many talented singers.  What a group!

New USO programs and services are now being offered in an existing Army facility at Camp Leatherneck. (USO photo by LTC Tom Rivard)

We’re thrilled to be able to support the men and women stationed at Camp Leatherneck in this innovative way and will continue to look for new ways to bring the USO goodness to COB’s and FOB’s, as well as other locations around the world not currently served by a full-scale USO Center.  We’d like to thank the Army for establishing and managing the facility, and thank all of the Troops who are stationed there.

Earlier this year, National Geographic featured Camp Leatherneck for its “Explorer” television series.  The snippet below offers a brief glimpse into what life is like there.  Hopefully, we’ll continue to make it a little better…

Black History Month and the USO

Black History Month traces its roots to the work of Carter G. Woodson, who – in 1926 designated a week in February to reflect on the contributions of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass to the lives of African Americans.  Nearly a century later we observe “Black History Month.”

The US Military has a long tradition of African Americans serving.  And although the military was not legally desegregated until 1948 by President Harry S Truman, the USO served the needs of Black service members from the outset.

African American soldiers relax at a USO Center in the early 1940s

In 1942, a USO Club opened in Hattiesburg, MS, specifically for African American soldiers; it is the only extant USO Center built for that purpose.  In 2003 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and is home to Hattiesburg’s African American Military Museum.

From the beginning, USO policy expressly forbade discrimination on the basis of race or creed, but as Gretchen Knapp explained in “Experimental Social Policymaking During World War II: The United Service Organizations (USO) and American War-Community Services (AWCS),” it was not uncommon for separate USO Centers to spring up in the same town, “either because of local regulations or by the request of African Americans who deplored the tensions that arose when they entered the USO center.”

USO Centers designed exclusively for Black soldiers soon sprung up around the country, including Tacoma, WA; Tuscon, AZ; San Marcos, TX; and Portland, OR, just to name a few.  In fact, by 1943, “more than 180 of 1,326 USO operations were designated for African Americans.” (ibid)

African American serviceman, being greeted at the front desk of a USO Center, 1943.

As the military integrated, so did USO Centers, many of whom also opened their doors to female service members around the same time.  The impact of those early, segregated clubs was felt, however, in a lasting acknowledgement and respect for the service of Black Troops during World War II and the idea that a “home away from home” was available to anyone visiting a USO Center.

Today the USO and the US Military continue to recognize the contributions of African Americans from every branch of the military.  The Coast Guard has announced the soon-to-be released documentary “RESCUE MEN: The Story of the Pea Island Life Savers,” the story of the Pea Island Lifesaving Station surfmen.  The Marines are celebrating the legacy of African American Marines with a multi-media project entitled “The Line.”  One part of that project is this commercial:

Other branches are celebrating, too: the Navy’s remembers the “Golden 13″ and offers a series of events at the Navy Memorial; a number of Air Force Bases are holding celebrations, such as the Gospel Extravaganza at Offut AFB.  The Army has created a website, “African Americans in the U.S. Army,” chock full of unique content on the history of Black soldiers.  Likewise, Military.com is offering exclusive content on the history of African American service, from the Buffalo Soldiers to the Tuskegee Airman to current Troops.  Speaking of the Tuskegee Airman, George Lucas’ film Red Tails – the story of the Tuskegee Airman – will be released later in 2010.

As of June 2009 Black troops account for 239,661(17%) of total active duty (Total Pop 1,405,489) and minority women continue to join the military at a higher rate than their share in the civilian population.  We salute these service members – and all African Americans who have served in the US military – during Black History Month and every day of the year!