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USO-touring Mexican actress cheered troops

As president and CEO of the USO and a former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, I would like to express my gratitude, on behalf of all the men and women of the Armed Forces, to the fine group of entertainers who recently participated in the ''Operation Starlift'' USO tour.

As you may be aware, ''Operation Starlift'' brought Salma Hayek, Garrett Morris, Danica McKellar and the perennial USO entertainer, Johnny Grant, to visit service members in Kosovo and Macedonia during the Thanksgiving holiday.

This tour was a resounding success and brought cheer and happiness to thousands of peacekeepers in uniform. However, I am concerned by the recent controversy concerning the objection by Mexican officials to Salma Hayek's participation in this tour (''Hayek tour draws Mexican ire,'' Life, Nov. 29).

I do not presume to challenge or debate the government of Mexico's position or that of individual Mexican officials relative to the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. However, having received an extraordinary number of reports of the humanity and kindness conveyed by Miss Hayek to all those service members with whom she visited -- U.S. and foreign national peacekeeping troops as well -- I can say that her participation in this USO tour was an extraordinary contribution to the spirits and morale of some fine young men and women in the service of international peace.

Salma Hayek and the rest of the ''Operation Starlift'' troupe selflessly gave of their time to bring a spirit of home to troops spending their holidays in the difficult Balkan winter. Miss Hayek most certainly conveyed a superb representation of the warmth, sincerity and strong character of the Mexican people. Her visit, which came in response to a personal invitation by the troops through the USO, brought laughter and a few minutes of happiness to the young men and women who are in Kosovo not to bring war but to maintain the peace.

The USO is a non-political organization. Our entertainers and volunteers serve with one purpose -- to extend the genuine outreach of the American people to those young men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving their country. This has been our mission for nearly six decades.

Salma Hayek is the latest in a long tradition of entertainers who have donated their time and talents to boost the morale of our troops. Her stated goal was to deliver some holiday cheer to every soldier, sailor, Marine, airman and Coast Guard member she could, and this she did superbly. We are honored to welcome her to the USO family.

I am extremely proud of Miss Hayek as a talented actress, a fine representative of her great country, but even more so as a lady of uplifting character. I truly hope that the citizens of her native Mexico will be equally proud of her for her care and concern for young, international peacekeepers far from the comforts of home and family.

Gen. Carl E. Mundy Jr. (retired) United Service Organizations Washington, D.C.