I had been sitting on my M1A1 tank for nearly two months, watching the sand blow in from Iraq about 10 miles away. The days were hot: 120 degrees. The region was unpredictable as ever: Saddam Hussein was still in power. We were waiting for something to happen.
And then we got the call.
“All right, troops,” my platoon sergeant announced. “Grab your PT uniform and a set of civilian clothes; we’re going to the Marble Palace.”
I had never been to or heard of the Marble Palace before. I envisioned a grand structure, made of complete marble, surrounded by lush, green grass and plump palm trees.
“Will girls be there?” many of the single guys wondered.
It felt like Christmas as I hopped onto the rear deck of the tank, and scoured my duffle bag for my PT uniform and the only civilian shirt and pants that I had packed.
Before long, we were on a bus driven by a local contractor. He drove 70 mph on the dirt, desert roads, hitting every pothole possible. Our behinds sore, we arrived at the Marble Palace near Kuwait City just in time for lunch.
It wasn’t as grand as I envisioned, but it was nice: green grass, palm trees and it had marble floors and walls. There was an arcade room full of video games and pool tables, several lounge areas, and best of all, a big swimming pool in the back.
We lounged, we swam, we played water volleyball. And that night, the music came. Heavy metal band ASKA performed a concert, and we were able to drink non-alcoholic beer to our hearts’ content. We headed back to our tanks that night, fat and happy.
Now here’s the kicker, and I was thinking about this the other day. I’m not sure who was responsible for that day of fun at the Marble Palace. Maybe it was the Army, maybe it was the Department of Defense, maybe it was some other organization.
The important thing about such events is it gives troops some welcome rest and relaxation after weeks or months of the mundane, repetitive and oftentimes dangerous missions that can come with deployment.
As this community well knows, the stress of prolonged deployment can be overpowering. Anything that can bring stress relief for deployed soldiers is a good thing.
That’s what makes organizations like USO so vital to our country. Since Bob Hope entertained crowds of soldiers during World War II, the organization has been at home and abroad providing support for troops everywhere.
Whether it’s a care package from a stranger, a free phone call back home or a concert, soldiers have benefited from the USO for decades, and I’d wager that many don’t even realize it’s the USO that is behind so many activities.
Growing up in a military family, I remember seeing USO clubs in airports and military installations around the world.
Here at Fort Hood, the USO offers a place where soldiers and families can unwind.
I’m not sure soldiering would be worth it if not for rest, relaxation and entertainment. It’d be a lot harder, that’s for sure.
It’s organizations like the USO — and bands like ASKA — that make it easier.
Jacob Brooks, a former Army tanker, is the city editor for the Killeen Daily Herald. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7468.