I was so fortunate to join this year’s spring USO Tour led by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Paul Selva. Myself, along with UFC fighter Dominick Cruz, mentalist Jim Karol, celebrity chef Robert Irvine, country music singer Craig Morgan, and many others who worked tirelessly to make the Tour flawless had the trip of a lifetime. We spent over 60 hours in the air and traveled 25,900 miles to 7 different countries – all in 9 days. We met as a group in Washington DC and continued to Hawaii, Guam, Diego Garcia, Thailand, Qatar, the USS H.W. Bush aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Italy. We performed 7 shows and were able to meet countless service men and women who are bravely defending our country and our way of life every day.
I am so grateful to the USO for allowing me the opportunity to visit, meet, and thank the men and women of our military in person. Because of this opportunity, I was able to share how our Olympic Team used the military as our greatest source of inspiration during the Games; how we carried their spirit in our hearts and in our minds as we competed and represented the United States through our sport; and how we are so grateful to them for their sacrifices. Without those sacrifices, we would not be able to do what we love every day.
We traveled in an Air Force C-17 our entire trip. As you can see from the photos below, it doesn’t look like a normal plane on the inside and it certainly doesn’t feel like one either. Because we were averaging about 7 hours of flight time each day, the plane became our little home and reminded me more of a party bus driving around town than a plane flying around the world. Though we had comfortable seats to sit in, I didn’t spend much time sitting in mine. Instead, I spent the majority of time socializing, playing games, being mesmerized by magic tricks, and eating delicious meals. Our pilots were excellent, friendly, and allowed us to sit up in the flight deck for takeoffs and landings. I am thankful to the entire crew for keeping us safe on our around-the-world trip! It was quite an amazing experience and made all those hours in the air fly by… pun intended 😉
Our first few days of the trip took us to the islands of Hawaii, Guam, and Diego Garcia. We met great people, enjoyed beautiful beaches and snorkeling, and got some sun! Diego Garcia, a British Indian Ocean Territory, is a small island located in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It is only inhabited by military personnel and civilian employees – between 3,000 to 5,000 people. It’s beautiful beaches and exquisite natural beauty make it one of the world’s best-kept secrets, one I am delighted I got to experience!
A definite highlight of the trip was visiting the USS H.W. Bush aircraft carrier. We traveled to the ship in a plane called a COD (Carrier Onboard Delivery). Used primarily for cargo, our COD had 28 seats installed; all facing backwards to help alleviate the impact of the arrested landing on the carrier. The plane was small, had no windows, and we were all decked out in our safety gear including helmets, goggles, and life jackets. Needless to say, it makes coach on a commercial jet feel like business class! We obviously couldn’t see the plane approaching the ship, so landing abruptly and decelerating from 135 mph to 0 in 2 seconds and 300 feet was quite the shock! Once on board the ship, we ate lunch with service members and received a tour of the carrier. Watching fighter jets launch off and land on a ship up close and personal was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The energy that shoots through your body as those jets get catapulted off the ship makes for the adrenaline rush of a lifetime! After our show on the aircraft carrier, it was our turn to get catapulted off the ship. We taxied to the catapult and got a brief 5 second warning before, BAM! In 3 seconds and 300 feet we accelerated from 0 mph to 150 and then safely flew away. My entire body literally floated into the air and it was more thrilling a ride than any roller coaster I’ve ever been on. Naturally, I immediately wanted to do it again.
Our next leg of the trip took us to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Afghanistan was both emotional and impactful. Meeting men and women who live and work in an active war zone and experiencing a small snippet of their lives first-hand had a profound effect on me. It reminded me how grateful I am to every one of them and how fortunate we are that they put themselves in harm’s way for us. The words thank you just do not seem to justify the amount of gratitude I feel. After our show, we spent time at the dining facility where we got to share a meal with the soldiers. Getting to know a handful of them individually was one of the best parts of the trip. Everyone was unique, exceptional, kind, and so proud to fight for our country. I was humbled by every person I had the chance to meet.
After our final stop in Naples, Italy, where we had some delicious food, we boarded our C-17 for our last flight. The 10-hour trip back to D.C. seemed to go by all too quickly. Although thrilled to get home and get rest, I was sad the trip was over! It went by quickly and despite only having met these incredible people 10 days prior, I had made great friendships with each one of them. Saying goodbye was certainly sad!
I decided to go on the USO Tour to thank the men and women of our military serving overseas. I didn’t expect to get so much more out of the trip than I was able to give! I was impressed by their skills and abilities but more importantly I was extremely humbled by their bravery. Each service member I met taught me incredible perspective. They sacrifice so much every day so that our home and our way of life is protected. I am so proud to share their stories with anyone willing to listen, as we should all be aware what our men and women of the military are doing every day. Our faces of freedom are incredible and I am perpetually grateful!
Photos by U.S. Army Sgt. James K. McCann