Two Days with the Cowboy Cheerleaders.
I once spent two days with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders on a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. What is this island I speak of?
It was one of Alaska's last military outposts in the Aleutian Islands, Naval Air Station - Adak, Alaska. NAS Adak, which is now closed, was a military and civilian contractor access only island.
I received orders to go to this desolate island as a result of the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. The island itself is about 35 miles long and a few miles wide with only a fraction having been inhabited by humans. The military purpose was to use sonar buoys dropped by P-3 Orions to pinpoint – through triangulation – the location of submarines unfriendly to the United States.
There was also the likelihood of a nuclear warhead being siloed on the island as well – but I'll never know. I come to this conclusion due to the fact that there was a small contingent of Marines on watch beyond a triple layer of barbed wire fencing seemingly guarding 'nothing.'
Along with the approximate 5,000 persons stationed on Adak, there was a wildlife population including bald eagles, sea otters, caribou (not-native), ptarmigan – a grouse that becomes white in the snows of winter and mottled to blend into the grasses of summer – and salmon running by the thousands. The island was also the home to the "Adak National Forest," a tiny grove of 15 trees – the only trees on the island – that the American servicemen of WWII planted when re-capturing the island from the Japanese.
The conditions on the island were unique. The lowest recorded temperature was in the teens. The highest recorded temperature was in the 50°F range. This consistency in temperatures no matter the season, or amount of sunlight, is said to be due to the Sea of Japan Current. In winter the sun rose after 10 A.M. and the sun set at 4 P.M. The island is also subject to gale-force winds several times a week. There was one time we saw a dumpster being caught by the winds and rolling down the street like tumbleweed. Needless to say, the environment was not the best for the fun and frivolity associated with spending time the world's most famous cheerleaders.
The importance of the Cowboy Cheerleaders visit to our little island can't be underestimated. We were recalled to active duty as part of the effort to mobilize a force to liberate the nation of Kuwait. They were a bright light as many of us spent the holidays away from home for the first time. Some in my unit had never left the Pennsylvania, Maryland, or Virginia area. This USO tour raised our morale and kept our minds off of the 'what if's,’ boredom and feeling of isolation.
What brought this USO tour to mind was the fact that Ed McMahon – a big supporter of our troops – passed away this week. Ed most recently led efforts to collect DVD donations to be distributed to the troops. His goal was to give the troops a little bit of downtime away from the stresses that rise from always being on high alert, just as the visit of the cheerleaders did for us. He was a proud veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served our country as an aviator in both WWII and Korea. He eventually retired from the reserves in 1966 as a full-bird colonel.
The USO organization (https://www.uso.org) is one organization that has for nearly 70 years been at the forefront of creating an environment to make our troops feel like they are at their home away from home. Through movie stars, comedians and musicians, the USO has raised the morale of hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women throughout all theatres of combat.
Close to home at BWI the USO boasts one of the newest and largest airport facilities for the troops to relax, catch a movie, get on-line, make a call, enjoy refreshment or simply sleep. The next time that you are at BWI I encourage you to stop by and visit. This facility, and all of the others, are reliant on private donations. If you have an opportunity drop off a donation or a snack they would greatly appreciate. Donations to the USO go far as a very high percentage of the donations go right to services.
The men and women who have served this country and helped keep it free throughout the years can't have their sacrifices measured in any terms. They will and shall always deserve our respect. Groups like the USO go far to show that respect.
This July 4th, let's celebrate our independence for the right reasons and thank those who continue to secure of freedoms.