by Pat McSparin // Spring 2011
USO President Sloan Gibson (M.A. ’75) has good news, bad news and a mission. “The good news is that there are troops coming home today who’ve survived wounds on the battlefield that they wouldn’t have survived in previous wars. The bad news is their lives and their families’ lives have been turned upside down. Long after the war is over, we’re still going to be dealing with these wounded warriors and their families, and we need to make sure that we’re there for them.”
A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and former Army Ranger, Gibson earned his master’s degree in economics at UMKC while stationed at Fort Leavenworth. “I chose to get a graduate degree in economics purely out of intellectual curiosity,” Gibson said. “My time in class, studying and writing was a time of intense intellectual engagement for me, and it was a real source of fulfillment.”
With a master’s degree in hand and his military service complete, Gibson worked 20 years in banking, but he never stopped giving back. He worked with several non-profits throughout his career. After completing a second master’s degree, Gibson got the phone call that changed his life. “It was a recruiter looking to fill this job,” he said. “I told him I’d do it in a minute. And as great as I thought it would be, it’s a million times better.”
“We never want wounded warriors and their families— or families who’ve lost a loved one—to feel despair. We want them to feel hope.”
Since 1941, the USO has been dedicated to lifting the spirits of America’s troops and their families. The USO hosts more than 700 performances and events yearly and operates about 160 centers around the world, including seven locations in Afghanistan and three in Iraq. It also provides services that seem relatively modest but are incredibly important to troops and their families. “It’s things as simple as a duffle bag of clothes, magazines and an MP3 player or portable DVD player for a wounded warrior who arrives at a medical center with not even a shirt on his back,” Gibson said.
As the organization marks its 70th anniversary this year, the USO will launch Operation Enduring Care, a $100 million fundraising initiative. Part of the funds the USO raises will go toward construction of two 25,000-square-foot USO centers that will provide non-medical support for wounded troops and their families at Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and a new medical center at Fort Belvoir, Va. Gibson said these facilities are vital to helping the organization better serve troops and their families into the future. “There’s a legacy of 10-plus years of war that we as a society will have to deal with,” Gibson said, “and that legacy has to do with troops who’ve been wounded. We never want wounded warriors and their families—or families who’ve lost a loved one—to feel despair. We want them to feel hope. We want them to know there’s a caring community prepared to help them.”