By Ibrahim Dabo
WASHINGTON, D.C.— “No other organization has our scope and scale, or is as well positioned to meet the wide array of needs facing troops and their families today,” said Sloan Gibson, president and CEO of the United Service Organizations (USO) during the group’s 2012 annual gala Nov. 2 in Washington, D.C.
The USO dates back to 1941, when it became apparent America was heading into World War II. Several organizations gathered together during that period to support the U.S. military including the Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board. President Franklin D. Roosevelt played an instrumental role facilitating collaboration among these groups by forming the USO, for the primary purpose of reaching out to servicemen and women, and providing emotional support.
Ib Talk Online Executive Editor Ibrahim Dabo caught up on the red carpet with Rear Admiral Frank Thorp IV (U.S. Navy, retired), USO senior vice president of marketing and communications, for an illuminating chat about his organization’s outstanding commitment to American men and women in military uniform and their families.
Mr. Thorp is a longstanding communications expert. In his previous role as chief of information for the U.S. Navy where he was the senior spokesman providing strategic communications counsel to the Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations, he led the Navy’s entire public affairs community, managing a global team of more than 2,000 communications professionals. He also served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense where he led the department’s strategic communications program. He served as special assistant for public affairs to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and to the Chief of Naval Operations, as well as chief of media for the U.S. Central Command (Forward) during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
IBRAHIM DABO: There’s so much excitement tonight and some fine American service members are being honored. Tell us what this annual event is all about.
REAR ADMIRAL FRANK THORP IV: The mission of the USO is to lift the spirit of troops and their families, and tonight we honor the troops who serve. We will recognize service members who have been identified by their specific services as USO service member honorees, which is a huge honor for the folks who serve. It’s also an opportunity for America to see the military – for America to see firsthand the great things the United States military is doing. And in a big way, it’s a chance to showcase the USO as the vehicle for Americans to show their support for the troops and their families.
IBRAHIM DABO: What are some of the key programs undertaken by the USO?
REAR ADMIRAL FRANK THORP IV: The USO is a nonprofit private organization. We have more than 160 locations around the world. In 2012, we provided support to troops and their families more than 11 million times—through USO service centers, through programs that support wounded, ill and injured troops, through programs like partnerships with Sesame Street for military families, and through entertainment for families and for troops deployed overseas. We have nine centers in Afghanistan; we just recently closed our last center in Iraq as the troops came home. But we go where the troops are to make sure they know America supports their efforts.
IBRAHIM DABO: How important is it to support the servicemen and women of this generation as they deal with the challenges of service to their country or the aftereffects of being in harm’s way?
REAR ADMIRAL FRANK THORP IV: I can’t think of no bigger way to support the freedom of our country than to support those men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to defend that freedom. Back when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president, he said he was going to commit all the equipment—all the airplanes, ships and trucks—we needed to win the war; but he also said it will take the people to win the war. And that’s when he tasked the USO to come to fruition and make sure the morale of our troops was as high as it could be because morale is critical to winning.
IBRAHIM DABO: Given that the mission of the USO is to lift the spirit of America’s troops and their families, how do the troops receive or react to all the love and support you give them wherever they are deployed, whether it’s Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere?
REAR ADMIRAL FRANK THORP IV: I haven’t had the opportunity to see the reaction firsthand but when the troops see the USO, a lot of times they see right through the USO to the support that the American people provide them. The USO is a sign to the troops and their families that, “America supports you.” America has your back and America will be there to make sure you have what you need to win and that you have the best situation possible.
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