The annual Vice Chairman’s USO Tour is a whirlwind, around-the-world trip led by the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This past April, General Paul J. Selva and his wife Ricki led an all-star crew that included NBA champion Richard "Rip" Hamilton, country singer Craig Morgan, comedian Jon Stewart, chef Robert Irvine and UFC fighters Paige VanZant and Max “Blessed” Holloway.
One strength of the USO's mission recruitment. Not only do they bring celebrities from sports, movies, music and television to meet the troops, they introduce warrior culture to celebrities with no military background and, in turn, those celebrities become ambassadors for the men and women who serve in the broader civilian culture back home.
Richard "Rip" Hamilton is one of those new converts after this year's trip. He's both a college basketball and NBA legend, winning championships with the University of Connecticut Huskies in 1999 and the Detroit Pistons in 2004. He retired from the NBA in 2015 but anyone who followed the sport in the early 2000s remembers him as an electric player.
Rip told us about his USO experience and his newfound appreciation for our men and women in uniform.
Tell us about your USO trip.
It was one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life. I mean it was awesome to be around the troops, hang around them, listen to their stories.
How do you handle at trip that goes around the world in eight days?
It’s not something that you can put much thought to when you're going through it. We travel a lot as NBA players, but I had never experienced something like that, where we’re visiting eight countries in pretty much eight days. We all became family: me, Craig, Jon Stewart, Max, and Paige, and General Selva and his wife.
I used to camp a lot when I was a kid and you knew you had to get sleep when you possibly could. It’s not like, all right, I'm going to get a straight eight, nine hours of sleep every night. General Selva's one rule of advice was, "Hey, when there's opportunity to sleep, make sure you sleep." So you tend to take more naps more than getting the typical eight, nine hours of sleep.
Did you learn anything from the troops on this trip?
Oh, absolutely. It was an honor just being around them and listening to their stories. I met a lot of people from all across the world, which was awesome. They knew more about my career than I did. It was good to kind of be hands-on and be heavy of foot in the soil, where our military is at.
One thing that surprised me was that on some of the US bases you got other countries on-base too. So that was very interesting to me.
Was this your first experience with the USO?
Yes, this was my first experience with the USO or anything military.
How did you get involved?
About a year ago, Ray Allen reached out to me. He is like a big brother to me, we both went to UConn and we both live in Florida now. When he got off the plane from his USO trip, he reached out to me and said, "Hey, Rip, I got a trip for you. I just did the USO Tour, got a chance to go out and hang out with our troops, be around them, go through some of the things that they go through on a day to day basis. This is perfect for you. Try to get involved with them, because I think it’s something that would change your life."
You're in a pretty exclusive club because when you were at UConn you won an NCAA Championship and then you had one of the most amazing championship runs with the Pistons in the NBA. Do you ever think about how few players have had both of those experiences?
I do now that my life is slowing down since I retired. Before, going through it, it was just like another day. Because after you accomplish one thing, you know there's always more, there's always the next challenge and the next goal. So you really don’t have time to really like digest some of the success that you have with your career. Once you win something one year, once training camp starts, everybody forgets about that, so you're constantly moving and you're constantly trying to win the next game, next series, next championship.
It’s always exciting now because when you see Steph Curry or) Lebron James holding the trophy up, it’s like, oh, man, I did that. Some of these kids look at me like that. It’s one of those exciting feelings that no one can ever take away from you.