USO adapts to changing needs of troops

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“I do sense an even greater willingness and inclination to go out there and entertain” since the inauguration, Mr. Gibson said. He attributed this in part to Hollywood connections to Democrats and also the strong support of first lady Michelle Obama, who has made military families a personal priority.

Mr. Gibson said the USO targets specific musicians and actors based on troops’ interests, but tries to recruit a wide variety of entertainers. Country singer Toby Keith recently returned from a 10-day tour of Afghanistan. Troops in Kuwait and Iraq met stars from the NFL after the Super Bowl, and actress Scarlett Johansson and tennis star Anna Kournikova have greeted troops in Kuwait and Europe.

Late-night TV host Craig Ferguson and the host of Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report,” Stephen Colbert, are scheduled to visit the Persian Gulf this summer. Mr. Gibson said Mr. Colbert would be broadcasting his TV show from the field.

The celebrities may endure long hours, sleepless nights and rough accommodations - not the five-star treatment they are accustomed to receiving. Last year, during a Toby Keith performance in Afghanistan, the camp came under mortar fire, Mr. Gibson said.

Most celebrities sign up to tour again, enthralled by audiences that are often more enthusiastic than they have ever experienced. “If we ever get them out on a tour one time, they’re hooked,” Mr. Gibson said.

With Mr. Obama’s focus on service and his ties to Hollywood, Mr. Gibson said he expects celebrity interest to increase. He said the USO is currently reviewing applications for a new executive for USO entertainment and in just two weeks received more than 600 applications.

About the Author

Jillian Badanes

Jillian Badanes presents the day’s top news stories in the daily “Morning Briefing” video. Check out the latest “Morning Briefing” here. Jillian graduated from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs with a major in Journalism and Mass Communication and a minor in International Politics. She spent her early years in London, England and Connecticut before ...

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