NEW YORK (AP)—It’s hardly rare that celebrities and athletes visit troops
Bob Hope became synonymous with USO tours some 60 years ago, and Bing Crosby
toured bases in Europe during World War II. Marilyn Monroe visited Korea during
the 1950s, NFL players went to Vietnam in the ’60s, and Project Salute took
dozens of entertainers to the Persian Gulf.
Less common is an athlete or celebrity volunteering to visit the most
dangerous bases on the front line, then being so moved by the experience it
becomes an annual trip.
Oscar De La Hoya recently returned to the United States from a weeklong stay
with troops in the Middle East, visiting several places he couldn’t even discuss
because of security concerns.
He took along with him several young fighters from his Golden Boy Promotions
stable, and together they learned what real fighting is all about.
“It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for the longest time,” said De La
Hoya, who won Olympic gold for the U.S. before becoming an icon in professional
“It was long overdue, and I’m sure glad I did it,” he said during an
interview with The Associated Press. “It really was an unforgettable
experience, to really witness and feel, even for a week, what these soldiers are
going through. It really impacted me in such a way where, my gosh, I have even
more respect for them.”
On four separate occasions, sirens went off and De La Hoya said he had to
take cover from incoming artillery—twice for mortars, twice for missiles.
On another occasion, he remembered walking through camp and seeing a girl—
he swore she could have been 13 years old, but she was actually 20 or 21—who
was carrying an assault rifle that De La Hoya said seemed bigger than her. “I
was so impacted by that,” he said.
De La Hoya approached the USO about visiting the troops a while back. He was
given options of where he wanted to go, and wound up choosing some of the most
dangerous bases available, including destinations in Kuwait and Iraq.
“I wanted to go to these camps where soldiers are not exposed to outside
life, outside their camp, where people don’t normally visit the troops,” De La
Hoya said. “When we got to one of the camps in Basra, these people were so
appreciative of us being there. All I can do is just praise them and tell them
how much we respect them.”
De La Hoya signed plenty of autographs and posed for countless pictures, but
mostly he shook hands with thousands of troops and offered them his support.
He was joined on the trip by Adrien Broner, an unbeaten lightweight
contender, rising prospect Danny Jacobs, and Seth Mitchell, a former Michigan
State linebacker who has not lost in 22 professional fights since beginning his
heavyweight boxing career.
“I have nothing but respect for our men and women in uniform and I thank
the USO for giving me the opportunity to go out and show them my appreciation,”
“I have to admit, compared to what I have learned our troops go through
every day, I think my kind of toughness is different from theirs,” added
Broner, who is known for his flamboyance inside the ring. “I don’t think I know
anyone as tough as they are.”
More than anything else, De La Hoya said the little things left an
The water wasn’t portable, so there were piles of water bottles all over the
place. When he turned on the shower, the water that came out was dirt yellow.
And when he finally got out of the shower, he realized that there were no towels
to dry off.
Of course, it’s been years since Saddam Hussein was toppled. Things are
better than when the first troops headed to the Middle East. But that’s part of
the reason De La Hoya wanted to visit now. As conflicts break out in Libya and
elsewhere, and a large percentage of troops withdraw from Iraq, he wanted to
remind people that soldiers are still over there.
It left such an impression that he wants to visit again next year.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “Obviously with me, having this
idea of going down there, and when I said let’s take three of our young
prospects and live the experience also along with me, we got there and they
didn’t know what to expect.
“We kind of grew up overnight being there,” De La Hoya said. “Our
perspective on life changed for everyone in a certain way.”
Golden perspectives: De La Hoya on troop visit (AP)