This series of LKL blog exclusives was written by five authors on their experiences from the recent USO tour ‘Operation Thriller’ in the Gulf to entertain our troops.
USO Authors’ Tour
“We joined the army because of your novel and the movie,” two wounded soldiers told me at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The novel and movie they referred to are First Blood, in which the character of Rambo was created.
“Which means that I bear a responsibility for your being in this hospital,” I told them.
“Not at all,” they answered. “Bad guys planted an IED that blew us up. You didn’t do that. We joined the military for the same reason Rambo did—to help our country. We’re not as badly injured as some of the guys here. We leave the hospital in a couple of weeks, and we want to go back to our unit.”
Whatever I expected at the start of the first-ever USO authors’ tour, it wasn’t a conversation like that. Our journey took us to bases in Kuwait and Iraq, where our group (the other authors were Steve Berry, Andy Harp, Douglas Preston, and James Rollins) emphasized that we wrote made-up action while the troops experienced the real thing, and all we could hope is that our inventions helped to distract them from reality.
Rambo was a frequent topic. The troops all spoke positively about the believable Rambo of First Blood and chuckled about his impossible exploits in the later films. “Those exploding arrows in the second movie. Man, I wish I had some of those,” a soldier told me. “I’d love to use an arrow to blow up a truck filled with bad guys.”
The laughter was affectionate, not derisive. Like the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed, many troops in the Persian Gulf were attracted to the military because of Rambo, but what they didn’t seem to realize is that they are far more heroic. Sacrificing a year and sometimes more, being separated from spouses, children, parents, and siblings, wanting to go back to jobs that fulfilled them, they nonetheless exhibited a sense of purpose, patriotism, focus, and determination that is a model to us all.
Risking their lives in a frustrating, lengthy, violent conflict, they never complained. Their good nature and respect for one another made me think of the petty antics I see in civilian life. Whether visiting a patrol boat crew, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit, an airbase fire department, a C-130 flight crew, or a team that controls unpiloted surveillance aircraft, I was impressed by the devotion and commitment of everyone involved. These included a surprising number of female personnel, all of whom carried serious weapons, demonstrated as much competence as men, and were treated with equal respect.
The troops thanked us for coming to talk with them, but the honor was ours, and we made sure they understood how much we appreciate their service. They also thanked the USO, and I wholeheartedly agree. The USO centers we visited brought smiles to our military personnel, giving them a chance to send emails home, play video games and musical instruments, or enjoy a barbecue that reminded them of their backyards, boosting morale in a way that was itself inspiring.