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Bruno Mars Plays USO Show for Military Families at the White House

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Grammy-winning recording artist Bruno Mars performed a USO show for hundreds of cheering troops, military family members and guests of the First Family on Saturday on the South Lawn of the White House.

The multi-platinum recording artist played a collection of hits as part of the USO’s seventh annual Salute to the Military USO concert. While storms cancelled the pre-show cookout festivities on the White House lawn, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama came out and addressed the crowd from the stage before Mars’ hour-long USO performance that led into a fireworks show on the National Mall.

“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.”

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Photos: USO Center in Japan Rescues Kittens Hiding in its Floorboards

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It turns out troops aren’t the only ones who can get a helping hand at the USO.

A cat crawled through a small hole in the foundation of the USO building at U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo in Southwest Japan, this spring and gave birth to seven kittens.

In June, after a few weeks of hearing phantom meows, the USO Sasebo staff realized they had some feline squatters and called the base’s public works team. After cutting an additional hole in a wall, the kittens were eventually coaxed out one at a time until all seven newborns were freed. They were then passed to a foster family and have since all been placed in permanent homes.

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Wawa Hoagie Day Kicks Off $700,000 Fundraising Campaign for the USO

PHILADELPHIA—Wawa chose America’s birthplace on Independence Day weekend to launch its most ambitious campaign yet to support the USO.

Celebrity chef and USO tour veteran Robert Irvine joined Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens and hundreds of service members, police officers, fire fighters and first responders as well as dozens of USO volunteers and Wawa associates to construct a 5-ton hoagie on Thursday. The meal – which equated to 23,000 individual sandwiches – was served for free at Independence Mall during the 23rd Annual Wawa Hoagie Day.

“There’s nothing more fulfilling to me in my life than cooking for our warriors and their families and making sure that they know that we love them,” said Irvine, who recently returned from a USO tour to Japan. “The USO is a huge part of that.”

The event, which featured a USO Letters from Home station and hoagie-building competitions between service branches and police and fire departments, marked the start of Wawa’s annual USO fundraising campaign. The campaign runs through August 30 and aims to raise $700,000. Wawa customers can to donate $1, $3 or $5 when making purchases, which will go directly to support USO programs for troops and their families.

“For July fourth there’s no other place you should be than Philadelphia,” said Joe Brooks, President and CEO of Liberty USO. “It’s a wonderful community. A community that knows and understands the service and sacrifice of our military and it’s a community that steps up in many ways, both in donations of their time and money to the USO.”

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Duracell and Hilary Swank Join the USO to Highlight Military Family Issues

Actress Hilary Swank, center, and USO Senior Vice President Alan Reyes participate in a panel discussion following the premiere of Duracell's new film "The Teddy Bear" on Thursday at The Times Center in New York. Courtesy photo

Actress Hilary Swank, center, and USO Senior Vice President Alan Reyes participate in a panel discussion following the premiere of Duracell’s new film “The Teddy Bear” on Thursday at The Times Center in New York. Courtesy photo

Actress 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 (Robert is an air traffic controller in the Navy), Duracell’s Jeff Jarrett and USO Senior Vice President Alan Reyes on Thursday in New York to promote the USO’s partnership with Duracell and the company’s new movie “The Teddy Bear.” The film — which you can watch below — is based on the Nilsons’ deployment experiences.

Swank poses with the Nilson family. Courtesy photo

Swank poses with the Nilson family. Courtesy photo

“One of the biggest eye-openers was watching my husband sail away,” Denise Nilson said. “I believe out of the seven-and-a-half-month deployment, we saw my husband’s face three times via Skype. And only one of them my girls were able to see.”

Denise Nilson was six weeks pregnant when Robert deployed, and they already had two young daughters — one of whom is autistic — and a pet. By the time he returned, the family pet had passed away, they’d gotten a new puppy and Denise was ready to deliver their son at any moment.

“I don’t look at it like our life has hardship. We’re a military family … this is just what we do.”

Duracell is 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.

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13 Uniquely American Things to Do on July Fourth Weekend

American troops have served for more than two centuries to keep our nation free. And while we should always honor their sacrifices, it’s also important to take time to enjoy the freedoms they provide. Here are 13 ways you can do just that this July Fourth weekend.

1. Eat a hot dog (and watch the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest).

2. Ring a bell. Then-President John F. Kennedy introduced this Fourth of July concept just months before his assassination in 1963.

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3. Go lawnmower racing in Oregon.

4. Read a biography about a founding father. (Or read this much shorter piece about a founding father-inspired hip-hop musical.)

5. Cheer on your favorite at the lobster races in Bar Harbor, Maine.

6. Sign up to volunteer at the USO and have fun while you’re giving back.

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7. Make s’mores. (Fun fact: The first known s’mores recipe appeared in a 1927 Girl Scout publication.)

8. Attend the Ocean Beach Marshmallow War in San Diego. (But behave.)

9. Watch a baseball game.

10. Read the Declaration of Independence. (Bonus fact: Button Gwinnett, who signed the Declaration, has one of the most sought-after and expensive autographs in the modern world. Only 51 documents with his signature are known to exist.)

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11. Use the holiday as an excuse to dress up your dog. (We know some of you want to.)

12. Fireworks! (OK, maybe they’re not “uniquely American,” but we’re making an exception today.)

13. Visit a national park. (Seriously. They’re amazing.)

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Mobile USO Helps Troops Through Long Summer Training Days

Images from the Mobile USO's stop in Oklahoma. Courtesy of Spc. Tyler Davis

Images from the Mobile USO’s stop in Oklahoma. Courtesy of Spc. Tyler Davis

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.

Ask Army National Guard Spc. Tyler Davis, a 21-year-old from Lawton, Oklahoma, who took to Instagram last week to show his appreciation when his unit, the 160th Field Artillery Brigade, received a surprise visit from a Mobile USO while conducting annual training.

“It was a huge relief to get a break from the heat and to get away from all the brass,” Davis said. “We just got to lay back and chill. It felt incredible.”

Davis, who’s been in the Guard for more than four years, was pulling 48-hour shifts in the blazing sun wearing bulky laser simulation gear when the Mobile USO arrived.

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

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

The fleet of USO vehicles is on the road throughout the continental U.S., serving troops and raising awareness about the USO.

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