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August 12th, 2014
06:21 PM ET

Robin Williams: A 'true friend' of the troops

(CNN) – Amid the chaos of war, Robin Williams was a constant, a familiar face to help cheer the war weary. Whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, where the troops went, so did Williams.

Williams did six United Service Organizations tours traveling to 13 countries entertaining the troops. The USO said he performed for nearly 90,000 service members.

"It's good to be in a room with fake beer. Having just got out of rehab that's a good choice. Cause I was violating my standards quicker than I could lower them," Williams joked during one such tour.

After his first visit to Afghanistan, Williams said the troops were just happy that someone remembered them, and that they were ready to laugh. He describes what it was like to PBS in an interview with Charlie Rose in 2002.

"'Hello Mr. Williams nice to have you here!'" Williams yelled, imitating a soldier and pounding his chest to mimic the sound of a helicopter's rotors. "'If you just step over here, we'll begin you're comedy routine, there are five men over there in the bunker, just make them laugh and move on, sir!'"

"He stepped up when things were really bad, and said I'm going to go over there, and I'm going to tell troops they mean something to me, and they're important to us," said USO vice president for entertainment Rachel Tischler, who accompanied Williams on one of those trips.

"Troops know when you're BS-ing them and Robin clearly was not doing that. He would take the time and sit with them and talk with them," Tischler said.

"He would take the time everywhere we went to sit down and talk to them," she said. "And then he would take everything he learned and put it into his show. They were not just watching Robin Willams do jokes because they were in Kandahar, they were watching Robin Williams talk about what it was like to really be stationed in Kandahar."

"We're Marines man, we've got the old-school camo. Army's got the digital camo s***. Twenty-first century, we blend into computer screens," Williams joked at Camp Virginia.

He was careful to respect military tradition all the while cracking jokes, like pausing his set while the bugler played his.

"Time and time again he realized comedy was the best way to lift the spirit of the troops," Tischler said.

Today, social media was flooded with snapshots from soldiers like former Staff Sgt. Matt Cusson, who wrote on Facebook:  "You'll be missed Mr. Williams. Any man who goes to Afghanistan to make the troops happy is a "GREAT MAN"!!"

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