Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of articles created by best-selling authors, who participated in the USO’s recent Operation Thriller III tour. The tour is the third in the USO’s more than 70-year history, where authors have been sent to visit and uplift military personnel in a combat zone.
Working with the Department of Defense and Armed Forces Entertainment, the USO deployed writer Kathleen Antrim and others to the Middle East to spend time with American troops. Here are Antrim’s insights and reflections regarding this life-changing tour.
On Saturday, Oct. 27, I heard the landing gear of our aircraft lock into place, preparing to land at the first stop of our USO tour. Like many of the locations we were to visit, this location must remain “undisclosed” for security purposes.
I stared out the window of the plane marveling at the pale pink and yellow lightning that shattered the night sky. From what I could see in the flashes of light, there was an unforgiving vastness to the sprawling fields of sand. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, not in Arizona, nor Nevada or even New Mexico. This was completely barren, no cactus or scrub brush, just sand for as far as I could see.
We were met by security and it wouldn’t be long before I realized that security plays prominently in everything the military does. They go to extensive and very professional lengths to ensure the safety of all those in their care. This was one of the many things that I learned to be grateful for on this trip.
As thriller writers, we create larger-than-life characters, heroes who prevail against the greatest of odds. But I realized quickly that the military personnel I’d come to visit far exceeded any character I could conjure. It was humbling to chat with military firemen who donned fire proximity suits in order to race into flaming aircraft and survive the high intensity heat of burning jet fuel. Or have lunch with female solders who tear up at the mention of their children back home, yet they push forward intent on performing their jobs to keep our nation safe.
It was incredibly humbling to shake the hands of the solders, Airmen, and Sailors who stand everyday between our nation and those who would do us harm. And they do their jobs with such grace, professionalism and competence, no matter the extreme conditions under which they must work.
Time and again I would thank them and without fail they would respond that they were just doing their job, that they didn’t do anything special. Respectfully, I must disagree and this is why:
In temperatures that often reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit, they toil day in and day out fully geared up in fatigues. Several servicemen and women told me that when the wind blows it feels like your hairdryer is set on high and blasting across your face.
Our servicemen and women face blowing sand and dust, daily sunburn and shoulder extreme responsibilities, often at very young ages. They are some of the best and brightest of our nation, and they willingly sacrifice so much for each of us.
We, writers, can create all types of fictitious heroes in our novels, but none will ever come close to the real life heroes we met along this tour. Was my life changed by the people I met and the things I saw on this USO trip?
Absolutely and irrevocably, for never will I take our military for granted, never will I take their sacrifice lightly, and I will always hold them and their families in my thoughts and prayers.
More to come . . .
Kathleen Antrim is the award-winning author of the bestselling political thriller, "Capital Offense," a journalist, and co-president of the International Thriller Writers (ITW).
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