Robin Williams, shown here Dec. 13, 2010, was one of the first entertainers to go on a USO tour to Southwest Asia in 2002 and ultimately performed for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the U.S. (Dave Gatley/USO)
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Comedian Robin Williams was a regular on USO tours, performing for more 89,400 service members in the U.S. and overseas before his death on Monday, said USO spokeswoman Oname Thompson.
Williams was one of the first entertainers to go on a USO tour to Southwest Asia in 2002 and ultimately performed for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the U.S., Thompson said in an email to Military Times.
During his six USO tours and entertainment tours, Williams visited wounded warriors, performed at the 2008 USO Gala and traveled with four Joint Chiefs of Staff chairmen on USO holiday tours, Thompson said. His last USO tour was in December 2010.
John Hanson, senior vice president at the USO, accompanied Williams on a December 2007 USO tour to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. He recalled a day in Afghanistan when Williams was on a plane waiting to depart, and a soldier came aboard to offload some equipment.
The soldier “thanked Robin for being at the show the night before — even though he hadn’t seen the show,” Hanson said. “He said, ‘It’s important for you to come over here, thank you,’ and he gave Robin a Saint Christopher medallion to protect him.”
Initially, Williams did not want to accept the gift, but the soldier insisted, Hanson said. A little while later, the soldier came back on the plane and found Williams was still looking at the medallion.
“He looked up at the soldier and said, ‘Look, you gave me yours, I’ll give you mine,’ and he reached around neck and pulled off a large silver cross,” Hanson said.
Williams gave his “unequivocal” support to troops, many of whom have posted photos of themselves with Williams on the USO’s Facebook page, Hanson said.
“He was as energetic as you might imagine,” Hanson said. “He loved going on our tours and meeting troops and finding out more about them. It was clear to the troops that he was interested in them, from the troops who came backstage to talk about their own sobriety issues to their experiences with AA and the support that he gave them.”
The troops will miss Williams, Hanson said.
“The entire of Department of Defense community mourns the loss of Robin Williams,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement on Monday.
“Robin was a gifted actor and comedian, but he was also a true friend and supporter of our troops. From entertaining thousands of service men and women in war zones, to his philanthropy that helped veterans struggling with hidden wounds of war, he was a loyal and compassionate advocate for all who serve this nation in uniform. He will be dearly missed by the men and women of DoD — so many of whom were personally touched by his humor and generosity.”