After surviving three types of cancer, a one-week jaunt by Blackhawk helicopter to Iraq and Afghanistan to entertain U.S. troops seemed easy for Doug Ulman, who wanted to give back to the men and women fighting for a different kind of freedom.
Livestrong.com CEO Ulman joined founder and seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong on a trip to the Middle East to participate in the annual USO holiday tour. Led by Admiral Mike Mullen, the group included Grammy award-winning comedian Lewis Black, country music singer and songwriter Kix Brooks, Hall of Fame songwriter Bob DiPiero, comedian Kathleen Madigan, and Academy award-winning actor and comedian Robin Williams.
The trip marks the sixth USO tour for Williams, the third for Black, and the second for Armstrong, Brooks, DiPiero and Madigan. The seven-day tour provides a much-needed break for the troops overseas.
"I honestly have never experienced anything in my life that compares with this, and I have had multiple cancers," Ulman said. "It's incredibly inspiring to see the honor, the focus, the expertise and the dedication of our men and women."
Calling the USO Tour a "life-changing experience," Ulman said it seemed odd to hear "thank you" from those serving overseas because United States citizens owe the troops such a debt of gratitude for putting their life on the line. Seeing the men and women at some of the Forward Operating Bases provided an understanding of what they do on a daily basis in the mountains of Afghanistan to protect the quality of life in the United States, he said. The service personnel work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, nonstop for the benefit of world peace.
Ulman said the troops the USO Tour visited in Iraq and Afghanistan were well-connected to social media. When he posted pictures on posterous and Twitter, several of the men and women retweeted the post that day. Others sent it to their Facebook pages or sent him Friend requests.
Livestrong's mission to inspire people with cancer aims to spread the message of hope to people who are up against steep odds and in harm's way. Keeping with the mantra, Ulman made the trip with Armstrong to give back during the holiday season. "Seeing our soldiers using social media to connect with family and friends is wonderful," Ulman said.
The stories with the troops inspire. Not all are about fighting in Afghanistan, but rather triumphs or pain prompted by cancer.
"Today I met a young woman who had Livestrong tattooed on her wrist after losing her boyfriend at age 18 to Hodgkin's Lymphoma," Ulman said. "Our Blackhawk pilot today lost his dad to cancer last year and thanked us for helping their family. We met a general who is a survivor and supporter of the foundation. An individual from Maryland who has done the Livestrong Challenge and raised money for the foundation for four years straight is here serving."
Ulman also met a doctor from Austin, Texas who is starting a non-profit called Soldierbike to help get bikes for soldiers to ride when they return from duty. So many stories, he said. They are all personal, and keep with the Livestrong philosophy of social media connecting people to help each other.