My farewell salute to Robin Williams

Robin Williams engages troops at the Camp Liberty Post Exchange in Baghdad during a Dec. 4, 2004 USO tour. (DoD file photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Dan Purcell)

Robin Williams engages troops at the Camp Liberty Post Exchange in Baghdad during a Dec. 4, 2004 USO tour. (DoD file photo by U.S. Army Sgt. Dan Purcell)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - LACKLAND, Texas -- As tributes rolled in following the Aug. 11 death of iconic comedic actor Robin Williams, I felt I lost a kindred spirit.

His portrayal of irreverent, nonconformist Armed Forces Radio disc jockey Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer in the critically acclaimed 1987 movie Good Morning Vietnam, struck a personal chord with me because I, too, was an Air Force deejay.

While my on-air persona was no match for the flamboyant, free-wheeling style of Williams, his Cronauer character and I shared a common bond - a profound satisfaction in bringing happiness to our audiences with our entertainment.

Being a military broadcaster is a one-way street of sorts. The announcer has no idea who he or she is broadcasting to on the other side of the microphone while an audience knows who is talking to them by the sheer public nature of the announcer's job.

That's why when complete strangers would say how much they enjoyed listening to my show it meant a lot to me. It validated what I was doing. I was making a difference for listeners a long way from home.

The importance of troop morale cannot be overstated. It's a by-product of being informed and entertained, which is the dual mission of Armed Forces Radio and Television.

It was that morale-building connection Williams conveyed in the movie that will forever endear him to me.

One scene in particular had Williams and co-star Forrest Whitaker sitting in a jeep waiting behind a convoy of soldier-filled trucks to move out. Whitaker yells to the troops he has Adrian Cronauer with him. Williams interacts with some of the soldiers for a few minutes delivering some of the movie's best one-liners, much to the delight of the troops.

The convoy eventually pulls out and Williams says goodbye, sensing some of the soldiers wouldn't come back from fighting the Viet Cong. He understood he brought joy into their lives, no matter how short-lived.

Williams not only lifted the spirits of troops on-screen but in real life as well.

He was a regular on USO tours, performing before more than 89,000 service members according to USO figures. He performed for troops in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Djibuti, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, Spain, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and the United States.

He was one of the first entertainers to perform with a USO tour in Southwest Asia in 2002.

Robin Williams got it. He understood the price all GIs pay to secure the freedoms he enjoyed that enabled him to perform his craft. In return, he said thanks by sharing his multi-faceted talents with them.

I thank Robin Williams for making the military laugh and salute him for showcasing the value Armed Forces Radio brought and continues to bring to the fight.