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Chicago-Area Kids Raise $100 for USO at Afternoon Lemonade Stand

Marty, Jimmy and Nora McNaughton and their lemonade stand.

Marty, Jimmy and Nora McNaughton and their lemonade stand.

When Erin McNaughton’s three children told her they wanted to start a lemonade stand this summer — with the proceeds going towards the USO — it was a proud parenting moment.

“It was all their own,” McNaughton said. “[You feel like] you’re doing a good job as a parent when they come up with an idea that’s going to help others.”

It started one morning in August when the children, who have an aunt and uncle that serve in the military, decided out of the blue to create a roadside lemonade stand to raise money for the USO.

“They’re around the military atmosphere and they like it and they see [why the military is important],” McNaughton said.

After about an hour of sign drawing, lemonade making and organizing, the kids were out in front of their Chicago-area house ready for their first customer. McNaughton estimates between 20 to 30 people stopped by the stand to buy lemonade that afternoon, although the majority of customers paid much more than the 75-cent list price.

“They were handing over five dollars, 20 dollars,” McNaughton said. “We had a great turnout. It was so cute. ”

At the end of the day, the McNaughton children had raised roughly $100, which they hand-delivered to the USO of Illinois office in downtown Chicago.

“The creative initiative that these young patriots demonstrated is inspired,” USO of Illinois President and CEO Alison Ruble in an email. “Embracing the true meaning of Every Moment Counts, they have provided a poignant reminder of what it means to give back to those who serve our nation.”

Rachel Feinberg, who works as a marketing associate at the USO of Illinois, said the organization only gets a few community-based, spur-of-the-moment donations a year.

“It was awesome,” she said. “The kids looked like they had a great time and it was just great to see some of the younger generation taking on the USO and helping us out.”

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Iraq Vet Remembers 2004 USO Visit with Robin Williams and John Elway

A football signed by John Elway and a handkerchief signed by Robin Williams are displayed in the home of Amanda Paquette (inset). Photo courtesy of Amanda Paquette

A football signed by John Elway and a handkerchief signed by Robin Williams are displayed in the home of Amanda Paquette (inset). Photos courtesy of Amanda Paquette

USO entertainment tours are often tightly scheduled affairs that still yield serendipitous moments. That was the case in 2004, when Amanda Paquette — who served in the Marines from 2003 to 2007, when she left as a sergeant — met Robin Williams and John Elway at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq during the USO Chairman’s Tour. Here’s her story.

My first tour in Iraq, Robin Williams and John Elway came to Al Asad. I was tasked to pick up the press.

John Elway autographs a football during a 2004 USO tour stop in Iraq. DOD photo

John Elway autographs a football during a 2004 USO tour stop in Iraq. DOD photo

Me and another lance corporal waited on the VIP pad. There was nothing other than high-ranking officials on the pad that day lined up to greet them. [I was] the only female Marine. As Robin came down the line of guys he saw me, stopped, took my hand, kissed it, and said ‘Oh my God! There are hot women here!’

Later at the show location, the seats had booked up. Me and the other lance corporal didn’t have a place to see the show. John and Robin then gave up their seats in the front. The show then started.

John made the comment to the troops ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here, I just know how to throw a football. I’m not funny like Robin!’ Then he threw footballs at us.

Robin Williams greets troops in Iraq during a 2004 USO tour. DOD photo

Robin Williams greets troops in Iraq during a 2004 USO tour stop. DOD photo

Robin then got up and put on a hell of a comedy show! After all was over I had to pack up the press so I didn’t have time to go to the meet and greet with either one.

[Later] John was on the side of the building and said ‘Are you not a fan of mine? I didn’t see you in line.’ I told him that I was a fan and apologized and told him I had to get the press packed. He then proceeded to get a football from the USO rep, signed it and threw it to me. I caught it! He smiled.

Then, instead of hopping in the VIP cars, he told the higher-ups he was riding back to the VIP pad on my bus with the press! Great, humble guy.

When we got to the VIP pad and John and Robin said their goodbyes. Robin came up to me, signed a USO handkerchief and gave me the biggest, warmest, fuzzy hug and said ‘Stay safe beautiful and thank you for all you do.’

When Robin passed it broke my heart. I’ll never forget the joy he and John brought that day.

EDITORS NOTE: Paquette’s quotes were lightly edited for style

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Your USO at Work: August 2015 — Great Dane Pup Who Needed Help is Returning the Favor


Meet Bandit, the Gentle Giant at USO Fort Leonard Wood

When Kelly Gist adopted Bandit more than three years ago, she didn’t expect him to become a healer.

Sickly, underweight and suffering from a number of health issues, the Great Dane pup looked like he needed more help than he would ever be able to give.

As Bandit grew stronger and healthier, he started accompanying Gist to her job as center director of USO Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. She quickly learned Bandit was no ordinary rescue dog.

“We would bring him into the USO, and as he grew, his interactions with the troops were unbelievable and we realized he had something else to give,” said Gist, who decided to train Bandit as a therapy dog.

Whether it’s visiting patients at the hospital, comforting troops at the Warrior Transition Unit or hanging out with military families at USO Fort Leonard Wood, Gist says Bandit is always ready to comfort those in need.

“If anyone can spend five minutes with him … they’ll realize the difference he can make in someone’s day,” she said.

Bandit isn’t the only one who make a difference in five minutes. Go to USO.org/donate to find out how you can show your support for our troops and military families.


Duracell and Hilary Swank Help the USO Highlight Military Family Issues

Two-time Academy Award winner Hilary Swank has played several roles, but her first was as the daughter of a now-retired Air Force senior master sergeant.

Swank joined military couple Robert and Denise Nilson, Duracell’s Jeff Jarrett and USO Senior Vice President Alan Reyes in New York last month to promote the USO’s partnership with Duracell and the company’s new short film “The Teddy Bear.” The video, which has been viewed more than 11 million times, is based on the Nilsons’ deployment experiences.

Duracell is also generously donating $100,000 to the USO Transition 360 Alliance to support the Comfort Crew for Military Kids, which helps children deal with their parents’ deployment and other issues that come up when you’re part of a military family.

Bruno Mars Brings ‘Uptown Funk’ to USO Concert at the White House

Grammy-winning recording artist Bruno Mars performed a USO show for cheering troops, military family members and guests of the first family at the White House on July 4.

Bruno Mars and his band perform at the USO’s Salute to the Military show July 4 at the White House. USO photo by Mike Thelier

Bruno Mars and his band perform at the USO’s Salute to the Military show July 4 at the White House. USO photo by Mike Theiler

The superstar sang some of his hits at the annual Salute to the Military USO concert. While storms cancelled the preshow cookout on the White House lawn, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama came out and addressed the crowd before Mars’ hourlong set that led up to the fireworks display on the National Mall.

This was the seventh consecutive year the White House has partnered with the USO to host the concert. Last year’s event featured Pitbull, while acts like fun., Cedric The Entertainer, The Killers, Brandi Carlile, Brad Paisley, Train, Jimmy Fallon and the Foo Fighters have also played the White House on Independence Day.

“It was an honor to perform at the Fourth of July concert at the White House,” Mars said in a release. “It was incredible to stand with the first family and the USO to recognize the service and sacrifice of our troops and military families.”

Mobile USO Helps Troops Through Summer Training 

Spending three weeks in the field on a military exercise can make you feel like you’re in another country — even if you never leave your home state.

Images from the Mobile USO’s stop in Oklahoma. Photos courtesy of Army Spc. Tyler Davis

Images from the Mobile USO’s stop in Oklahoma. Photos courtesy of Army Spc. Tyler Davis

Ask Army National Guard Spc. Tyler Davis, 21, from Lawton, Oklahoma, who took to Instagram to show his appreciation when his unit received a surprise visit from a Mobile USO during training. Davis, who’s been in the National Guard for more than four years, was pulling 48-hour shifts in the blazing sun when the Mobile USO arrived.

“When we’re out here in the field, we’re adapting to the military lifestyle. … You get completely engulfed in it,” Davis said. “When we first caught wind of the [Mobile USO] coming I made sure to get everyone in my squad signed up.”

A USO center on wheels, Mobile USO units offer troops the same kind of support provided at stationary centers, including video games, movies, Wi-Fi and air conditioning—the most important amenity when training in the Oklahoma sun.

“God bless you guys at the USO,” Davis said. “Without you, a lot of us would probably go insane.”

USO Opens First Staffed Center in Africa

Sometimes they are created to facilitate the changing travel needs of troops stateside. Sometimes they are built downrange and constructed by the troops themselves. Whatever the case, each USO center is opened where troops need them the most. And that most recent need is on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.

There are lots of smiling faces inside the new USO center on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Courtesy photo

There are lots of smiling faces inside the new USO center on Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Courtesy photo

After the Defense Department announced it would spend $1 billion over the next 20 years to enlarge the U.S. base, the USO decided it was time to open up a permanent canteen for troops stationed there.

“Most of the troops here are unaccompanied and stay … anywhere from nine months to a year,” USO Camp Lemonnier Center Manager Michael Eyassu said. “They are very excited about [the USO] providing free phone calls to the States since they have to purchase phone cards otherwise.”

Currently the only staffed USO center in Africa, USO Camp Lemonnier consists of two Quonset huts equipped with a lounge area, leather chairs, a full canteen with snacks and treats from home, free toiletries and plenty of phones and computers to use to call home.

“We’ve got something going on every night for the military,” Eyassu said. “We have a lot of fun, and we’re getting more and more foot traffic each and every day we’re open.”

You can support troops deployed to bases around the world by visiting USO.org/donate.

USO Partner Almay Highlights the Strength and Determination of Military Women

Almay is partnering with the USO and celebrating female service members with their Simply American campaign. As part of the initiative, the cosmetics giant is donating $250,000 to the USO and creating a #SimplyAmerican social media push to raise additional funds and awareness.

AlmayThe company is highlighting military women throughout the summer in two unique ways. First, they’re embarking on a summer-long road trip to fairs and festivals to create what they’re calling a Simply American experience that celebrates female service members, military wives and their families.

Almay also is soliciting photos that capture “Simply American moments.” The company will donate one dollar for every like or share on social media that uses the hashtag #SimplyAmerican, up to a total of $10,000.

Go to Almay’s Simply American page to see if the road trip is coming to a city near you.

USO Opened Up a New World for This Military Spouse

Karolina Wignall has been connected to the military for as long as she can remember.

Karolina Wignall

Karolina Wignall

She grew up in the military, living in Texas, Georgia, Germany and Las Vegas during her formative years. She later married an Air Force pilot, moving around the globe to places like Okinawa and Virginia.

Wignall, USO Europe’s operations manager, understands the sacrifices troops and military families make every day, but she didn’t know much about the USO before becoming a volunteer in 2010.

“All I knew about the USO was what I saw in the airports,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what volunteering for the USO really meant.”

She quickly learned what the USO’s all about by racking up hundreds of volunteer hours in a few months. “Averaging 40 hours a week as a volunteer, I was hooked,” Wignall said. “The USO opened up a whole new world to me and I haven’t looked back.”

Hired as a full-time employee a short time later, she’s been with the organization ever since and has watched as the USO has evolved with the military.

“We have come a long way from just providing comfort and respite for our troops during wartime,” she said. “We are with the young troops when they first enter military service, when they deploy, and when they return home.

“Always by their side” is more than a slogan. It’s what the USO—backed by volunteers and employees like Wignall — does each and every day at more than 160 USO locations around the world.

“No matter what stage they are in during their military career, the military community can be sure the USO will always be there, providing whatever it takes to ensure that the military community knows we stand by them,” she said.

From start to finish, the USO supports troops and military families through each step of their journey. And we can’t do it without you.

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“An Eye-Opening Experience”: How the USO and RP/6 are Showing Transitioning Troops the Way Forward


TACOMA, Washington—Even the most experienced soldier can use a hand when leaving the Army.

“After 28 years I was certain that I had this whole thing down,” said retired Army Sgt. Maj. Lee Baleme, now an RP/6 Fellow. “It was an eye-opening experience to think that I was going to make that transition — smoothly — and then realize that I wasn’t.”

RP/6, part of the new USO Transition 360 Alliance, connects service members and their families with resources and organizations in their community that support their transition. This concierge approach incorporates several USO Transition 360 Alliance partners (including Hire Heroes USA, Stronger Families and the Comfort Crew for Military Kids) in an attempt to cover both the personal and professional issues military families face when moving to the civilian world.

The USO plans to incorporate RP/6 services at some of its stateside locations in the near future.

“[Veterans and transitioning military] can come [to RP/6] and find that person [who] will point them in the direction of the resources that they need,” Baleme said. “From housing issues to employment, school and even family issues, transition from active duty to the civilian has never been an easy nut to crack and I think RP/6 found a great partner in the USO.”

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USO Supporter and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno Retires

Gen. Ray Odierno, center, retired from the Army after 39 years of service. DOD photo

Gen. Ray Odierno, center, retired from the Army after 39 years of service. DOD photo

The USO is bidding fond farewell to Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s outgoing chief of staff, who retired Friday after nearly four decades of service to the United States.

Odierno has been a strong backer of the USO’s mission to support the troops he commanded and their families. He spoke about his experiences with the USO on the red carpet of the 2013 USO Gala in Washington.

Gen. Ray Odierno and Stephen Colbert in 2009.

Gen. Ray Odierno and Stephen Colbert in 2009.

The general played a big role in the 2009 USO tour featuring then-Comedy Central personality Stephen Colbert, where President Barack Obama famously ordered Odierno to shave Colbert’s head on stage in front of an audience of service members.

And Odierno also had a hand in boosting the morale of USO employees and volunteers behind the scenes. You can read USO Vice President of Entertainment Rachel Tischler’s account of being coined by Odierno during one of her trips to produce USO entertainment tours in Iraq.

 

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There on the First Day: USO Expands its Mission to Military Entrance Processing Stations

The USO center inside the San Antonio Military Entrance Processing Center. USO photos

The USO center inside the San Antonio Military Entrance Processing Station. USO photos

A recruit’s first few days in the military can be tedious.

From the early morning moment they enter the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), most recruits sit through hours of aptitude testing, medical screening and job selection that set the path for their military careers. Between these steps, there’s little to do but sit around or read.

It’s a day begging for a distraction. So the USO is bringing some.

The USO is opening several new centers inside MEPS around the United States in 2015. It’s part of the organization’s commitment to support service members and their families through their military career – a career that often begins at a MEPS station. These new centers – which will feature entertainment like televisions and video games, snacks and support services – are aimed at comforting recruits and their families during the entrance process. They also introduce recruits and families to the services the USO offers.

USO_SanAntonio_MEPS“It’s a chance for us to provide some respite to the [recruits] and families who go to the MEPS and experience these long wait times,” USO Vice President of Field Operations Kristen Baxter said. “By placing ourselves in the Military Entrance Processing Stations across the U.S., we have an opportunity to … educate troops and families [about the USO].

“[We want to show them] how the USO can be a part of their life and help them through various phases.”

The USO plans to open eight centers inside MEPS this year in addition to the six that were already serving new recruits in Cleveland, Columbus, Ohio, Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee and Fort Lee, Virginia. USO San Antonio held a soft opening for its MEPS center earlier this month.

The majority of these centers will be near locations where the USO already has an established presence, like Nashville, where the MEPS center is slated to open in October.

“By having an official footprint inside of MEPS we are really able to take care of them in those hours [they’re] sitting become a new service member,” said USO Fort Campbell Center Director Kari Moore, who will oversee the USO Nashville MEPS center. “We get to let the new service members know how we can support them.”

USO Houston Operations Supervisor Sarah Parris said the USO volunteers are also on site at the MEPS centers to provide emotional support to family members of new recruits who might be upset, confused or worried about their relative going through the entrance process. Before the USO was on site, concerned relatives had to direct their questions to MEPS personnel who might not have been able to easily balance answering questions while doing their job.

“The employees of the MEPS building, they’re very excited to see us there because we help the family members cope through the process,” said Parris, who helps run the newly opened USO Houston MEPS center. “It’s a very emotional process that [the family members are] going through.

“A lot of times what our volunteers will do is just be there for a shoulder to lean on.”