This USO Entertainer is “Dreaming of a Black Christmas”

Lewis Black performed and greeted troops as part of the 2008 Chairman's Holiday Tour. (USO Photo by Dave Gatley)

Comedian Lewis Black has emceed the USO Gala, gone on two USO tours, and is getting ready to embark on a third, but as he reveals in his new book “I’m Dreaming of a Black Christmas,” it wasn’t an easy decision at first.

Although Black has long been a supporter of the troops, he recently told NPR’s Neal Conan “that he was “stunned” to hear from the USO.  ‘Have these people seen my act? Do they have any idea what they’re getting?’ he says.”

The tours changed his life, however, and he explained that – even after a grueling schedule and sandstorms – “the audience of servicemen and servicewomen made it all worthwhile.”

Click here to listen to the full interview and keep an eye out for more on Black’s 2010 USO tour!

Troops Use Sports to Keep Moral High

One of the popular requests for the USO2Go program is the athletic kit, which features recreational activity equipment including a putting green and portable putting set, volley ball and badminton set, horseshoes, frisbees, footballs, flag football belts, nerf balls, soccer balls and a magnetic dart board.  Individual USO Centers often augment those offerings with sports equipment of their own.  And sometimes they get really creative!

Camp Buehring, for example, recently had NASCAR-themed event inspired by the recent race at Bristol Motor Speedway.  Right before the race began, troops signed up on the “Caution Lap Pool” to guess when the first five cautions would occur. Winners won prizes if they guessed correctly.

They also held their own race, right inside the USO! Troops competed against each other by racing remote-controlled cars throughout the cafe on a 550 cord race track.  How cool is that? As one duty manager said, “Troops and staff had a blast at this event!”

USO Race

It's not as easy as it looks! Just because they're lacking a full-size track doesn't mean Troops have any less of a good time racing remote-controlled cars through the cafe at USO Camp Buehring.

Over at the USO at Ali Al Salem, it was the Great American Pastime that brought together Troops.  Staff and volunteers there hosted a day of festivities last week to say goodbye to the old command cell and welcome the new command cell.  The events kicked off with a good old game of softball, with the old command cell winning the game 22 to 17.  “Take me out to the ballgame” now has a whole new meaning!

Baseball USO

A serviceman knocks it out of the proverbial park, as the old and new command hit the diamond at USO Ali Al Salem. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)

USO Basebal

Teammates cheer a running back to home base, as the old command cell defeated the new in a game of softball. (USO Photo by Duane DeVorak)

Finally, it’s not our story, but we think it’s a good one anyway.  A group of Canadian and American hockey players from the NHL recently travelled to Afghanistan for a game of street hockey.  And they brought along the Stanley Cup!

This friendly rivals have been playing a series of exhibition games organized by the Canadian government.  Players past and present played alongside Troops in Kandahar, among other locations.  This is the fourth time the Stanley Cup has visited the Persian Gulf.  Keep updated with posts on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ website and take a moment to listen to a report from NPR.

With Team Canada's Lt. Cmdr. Lorne Hartwell (Royal Canadian Navy) close on his heels, Sgt. Francisco N. Aponte of the Kandahar Hawks (a maintenance noncommissioned officer with the 143d Expeditionary Sustainment Command) chases after the ball in a ball-hockey game against Team Canada March 4. Team Canada, comprised mostly of former National Hockey League players, visited Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, on a morale trip for troops. (Army photo by PFC Elisebet Freeburg)

So This Wounded Veteran Walks into a Bar…

Operation Proper Exit is a program that returns wounded warriors to the place of their injuries in the hopes of finding closure and a sense of purpose in their service.  Although many left the field of battle unconscious, only to wake up a world away at a later time, the men participating in OPE say that there is peace to be found in leaving the field for a second time, this time by their own volition.  That is the proper exit they deserve.

Photo by Katie Hayes for NPR

As the third iteration of Operation Proper Exit makes its way through the Persian Gulf, one story of another wounded veteran caught our attention. Staff Sgt. Bobby Henline suffered burns on almost half of his body after being wounded in Iraq in 2007.  Remarkably, he has turned this experience into – you ready for this? – a career in comedy.  And that’s no laughing matter.  Well, actually, it is.

Recently interviewed by Andrew Short for Punchline magazine, Henline conceded that his “ultimate goal is to put together a USO tour and give back to the veterans, using his injuries and comedy as an example of making the best of the darkest situations.”  How cool is that?  We’re so flattered.

If you live in the San Antonio, TX, area you can catch him live at Rivercenter Comedy Club.  Luckily for everyone else, NPR’s Terry Gildea interviewed Henline; you can hear the interview below.  To read a full transcript or view the acc0mpanying article, please visit NPR’s website.  We are incredibly inspired by his story and hope you will be, too.  And keep an eye on this blog for upcoming pictures and more from Operation Proper Exit.

Wounded Vet Takes Pain Of War To Comedy Club (via NPR)