By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2013 – The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has paid tribute to the USO for its seven decades of support for America’s fighting force and its families.
Speaking at the USO’s annual gala yesterday, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey lauded the organization for its unrelenting commitment to helping those in uniform.
“For more than 72 years … the USO has given us a lot to be thankful for, a lot to be hopeful for, has allowed us to recharge our batteries and refresh our commitment to the great country we serve,” he said.
“And whether we’re in a quiet lounge someplace in an airport, or reconnecting with families at a welcome home ceremony, I’d like to, on behalf of the 2.4 million men and women in uniform and their families I represent, thank you,” Dempsey said.
Dempsey relayed a story about something that had happened to him as a young man that he said illustrates the continuity of the USO.
“Second lieutenant Marty Dempsey, in 1974, showed up in Frankfurt Airport completely lost,” he explained. “I knew I was being assigned someplace in United States Army, Europe, and went to the USO to ask for, really, some help so I could make my way, eventually, to Nuremberg and then north to where I was to be stationed.”
“I actually mentioned that last year at this event, and I didn’t know she was in the audience,” Dempsey said. “I didn’t even know her name actually at the time.”
The chairman said this woman who had befriended him was Mary Lou Austin, wife of Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the current commander of U.S. Central Command.
“She came up to me after the event and said ‘here I am,’” Dempsey said. “I was so touched by that, but more touched when she went back to Atlanta after the event and met my son coming back from Afghanistan in the Atlanta airport.”
“You know, with commitment and continuity like that what are we worried about?” he asked.
Dempsey also congratulated USO President Sloan D. Gibson, who was nominated by President Barack Obama Sept. 10 as the next deputy secretary for Veteran Affairs.
“I want to be among those who applaud, congratulate, thank and in every possible way, recognize Sloan and Margaret Gibson,” he said. “It’s been the honor of Deanie and I over the last … three years in particular as the chairman to be a part of this event.”
“It’s one of the things we build our calendar around actually,” Dempsey said. “And part of that is because the USO brand, under the mentorship, guidance and leadership of Sloan and Margaret, has been incredible.”
“We’re going to hate to see you change jobs,” he said, “[but] we’re thrilled [you'll] still be in the enterprise of taking care of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coast guardsmen and their families well beyond the period of their active service.”
Turning attention to the USO volunteer and service members of the year, Dempsey recalled a story written 150 years ago by American author Herman Melville – best known for “Moby Dick” – who also wrote about the Battle of Chattanooga where then-General Ulysses S. Grant’s troops’ “hearts outran the general’s plan.”
“It occurs to me that whenever I begin to worry about where we are, what we’re doing and how we’re going to get through it all, I remember that there are young men and women – hundreds of thousands of them out there – who can, in fact, outrun the general’s plan,” he said.
“Because in their hearts they know what’s right,” Dempsey said. “And we should all be very proud of them, and very proud of these organizations that support them.”
The chairman said the USO honorees “represent the absolute very best of our nation” in their service and desire to do well for others.
“They represent the character and commitment of their peers,” he said. “And the other soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, coast guardsmen and their families around the world.”
Many of whom, Dempsey said, are in harm’s way even as we sit here tonight enjoying this incredible event.
“They’ve dedicated themselves to something bigger than themselves, [so] how can we do anything less?” he asked.
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