The USO <3s Rodney Atkins

Tennessee native and American country superstar Rodney Atkins just recently returned from Kuwait and Afghanistan after a weeklong USO tour. This isn’t his first time supporting the troops, though. In 2011, Rodney partnered with Applebee’s to help launch a military support campaign to honor veterans and active duty military personnel worldwide. The “Thank You Movement” officially launched last October and allows folks to post thank you messages on ThankYouMovement.com, Applebees’ Facebook page, Twitter using the hashtag #ThankYouMovement, or YouTube. Veterans and servicemen and women can then go online and see those messages.

 During his most recent endeavor, Rodney visited eight bases and performed six formal USO shows in addition to several “unplugged” performances for wounded soldiers and service men and women unable to their posts. He also posed for pictures and signed autographs with over 3,400 service members at Camp Buehring, Camp Arifjan, Camp Leatherneck and Kandahar Air Field.

Rodney Atkins on his 2012 USO Tour

“I can’t say enough about how amazing my USO tour to the Middle East was,” Atkins said. “From all of the skilled and brave service men and women I met to the warm reception I received throughout my time downrange.  I learned a lot, had a great experience and, most importantly, made a lot of memories.  I can’t wait to go back out again and extend my thanks.” – Joseph P. Scannell, New Media Intern

Renew Your Support for 2012

When we asked Toby Keith if he would be able to visit our troops again this year, he immediately signed up — for his 10th tour in 11 years.

But he’s not the only one. The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, who have gone on 73 tours, will likely go on 2 more tours this year; and many other celebrities are stepping up and renewing their commitment to those that are doing so much to protect the freedoms we enjoy daily.

That’s why I’m reaching out to you — our online supporters like you, who are especially passionate about supporting our troops — to ask you to renew your commitment by our February 29th early renewal deadline.

Will you join Toby and many others in renewing your support for our troops with a generous gift of $25, $50, or more by midnight February 29th?

Toby Keith renewed his support, will you do the same?This year is going to be challenging for our troops in harm’s way, for those recovering from injuries, and for the families of our military members who serve at home.

But I know, with your help, we can help them overcome these challenges. It’s what the USO has done for over 71 years. And with your renewed support, I know we can really make a difference in their lives.

Only a few days left before our February 29th deadline. Renew your support for our troops with a generous gift of $25, $50, or more today.

I’ve been in the crowd at USO tours when superstars like Toby Keith take the stage. Life changing is a good description of the spirit-lifting impact these incredible performers have on our troops…an effect that can be seen by the smiles on their faces and felt by the excitement in their voices.

Through our entertainment tours and other programs, our troops know that thousands of Americans decided to renew their support and are standing by their side.

Thank you in advance for your help as we support those that do so much for each of us. - Brigadier General John Pray, USAF (Ret.), USO Executive Vice President

Her 12 Kids Learn There’s Always Time to Give

Laurie, Tim, and nine of their twelve children!

When raising 12 children, there’s no such thing as extra time.

Laurie Leder will be the first to tell you.  She’s the busy, busy spouse of Army Staff Sergeant Tim Leder, stationed at Fort Belvoir, Va.  While she may not have a lot of spare time, she values community service so much that she and her whole family make time to volunteer with the USO.

Laurie started volunteering after she received a video in the mail from United Through Reading, a USO partner. When she put the disk in the player she saw her husband in his camouflage uniform, alone in a chair, reading bedtime stories to her kids from a base in Iraq. Tears streamed down her cheeks.

“Every single night the kids could put the disk in and listen to him read a story to them,” she said. “A lot of times people don’t realize how big something that small is, especially when you have little ones who wouldn’t otherwise remember him after being gone for a year.”

Her oldest is 20—too old for bedtime stories—but her youngest is only nine months. All of her kids are home schooled, and Lori encourages every one of them to join her in volunteering  at the USO as soon as they’re old enough.

“I feel like my family has gotten way more from the USO than I can ever hope to give back, so when it comes time to teach my children about community involvement and volunteering, the USO is at the top of my list.”

With so many USO programs and activities on and off base, every member of the Leder clan finds something to do. Laurie herself assists with stuffing care packages and hosts weekly coffee meetings for military spouses on base.

Her older teenagers help lift heavy crates of food at the farmers market, the 10- and 11-year-olds watch younger children during the morning coffees, and even her 8-year-old enjoys handing out popcorn and drinks to soldiers watching movies on the lawn.

“When you’re reaching out to other people, you realize that you have more than you think you do,” she said. “So it’s not extra time—it’s time well spent.” - Joseph A. Lee, USO Staff Writer

Fighters in the Ring, Heroes on the Ground

In March 2011, a group of boxers set out to Kuwait and Iraq on their first USO tour.  Among them were Olympian and boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya and up-and-coming Golden Boy boxers Adrien Broner, Danny Jacobs and Seth Mitchell.  This band of boxers toured 8 bases and visited with thousands of troops as part of their first USO tour experience at installations like Camp Arifjan, Command Operating Base Basra, Camp Victory, Camp Liberty, Joint Security Station (JSS) Loyalty and JSS Justice.

Oscar De La Hoya speaks to U.S. troops serving in Kuwait while on his first USO tour to the Middle East March 10, 2011. De La Hoya was joined by up-and-coming boxers Adrien Broner, Seth Mitchell, and Danny Jacobs (background left to right). (USO Photo/Steve Manuel)

Along for the journey were HBO producer Scott Boggins and cinematographer Thom Stukas, who had worked together previously on the Emmy Award-winning “24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classics,” and me.  Yes, that’s right me! And like everyone else, this was my first USO tour.  My role was to serve as liaison between the HBO film crew and the military officials on the ground, and while that may not sound too exciting, it actually turned out to be the experience of a lifetime.

As part of our week in theater, we met service men and women from all over the United States.  The fighters signed autographs and hosted boxing clinics, which gave our troops the chance to pound fists with some of boxing’s greatest athletes.  And as we traveled from base to base we heard over and over how grateful troops were for the touch of home the visit brought.

But at the end of the week-long adventure it was the tour participants who walked away feeling humbled and grateful for the opportunity to spend time with troops serving on the frontlines.  When boxing legend De La Hoya returned to the states, he talked about his experience on a USO tour,

“Hearing their stories and seeing what they go through on a daily basis has changed my life.  The opportunity to see how our troops live and understand their ability to be ready for anything at a moment’s notice showed me what it means to be truly brave.”

I watched as the boxers signed autographs for countless troops, shared meals with them and just listened as they told their stories of life in the military and the families that awaited their return.  It was clear that what our troops missed most was a connection to home and by sharing their stories with us, knowing that in a few more days we’d be headed stateside, it was like they were sending their stories back with us.  It was enough to humble even the biggest of giants.

Olympic gold medalist and former 10-time world champion, Oscar De La Hoya (right), spars with Army CWO-2 Lisa Buckley of the 36th Infantry Division serving in Basra, Iraq, Friday, March 11, 2011. The boxing legend is in the region as part of his first USO tour to the Middle East. De La Hoya is joined by up-and-coming boxers Adrien Broner, Danny Jacobs, and Seth Mitchell. (USO Photo by Steve Manuel)

But it wasn’t just De La Hoya who was left with a profound sense of awe for the service men and women who put their lives on the line on a daily basis.  Heavyweight Seth Mitchell said:

“When I spoke to some of the soldiers, they told me that they work twelve to sixteen hours a day, six or seven days a week.  Hearing about their dedication and the sacrifices they make actually boosted my morale.  It’s a great honor to know that these men and women are serving to protect us.”

These boxers aren’t just showing their appreciation with words.  In fact, Broner – who is the World Boxing Organization’s current superfeather weight champion – has taken it one step further.   He recently trained, as part of the 2012 USA Boxing National Championships, alongside troops at Fort Carson, Colorado Springs, Colo., stepping in the ring with some of the fiercest competitors around.

Broner, who will be featured on this Saturday’s broadcast of HBO’s “Boxing After Dark,” will defend his title against fellow boxer Eloy Perez.  HBO will feature footage from last year’s USO tour to the Middle East as part of the broadcast. Tune in to HBO this Saturday, February 25th at 10 PM (EST) to learn more about Broner’s USO tour experience or watch the video on HBO.com. It’s a match I won’t want to miss! - Sharee Posey, USO Communications Specialist

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Be a Team USO Athlete

Have you ever wanted to support the troops and their families but didn’t know how? Are you a runner? Have you heard of Team USO? I think it’s about time you have! Team USO was developed as a response to people like you looking for new and fun ways to support our troops.  Through Team USO, we provide great resources for athletes and supporters to serve out mission on the ground.

Team USO athletes post-race

Team USO athletes are able to race all over the world while raising money for our troops. Whether you are already signed up for a race or planning on your next one, Team USO can help. If you choose your own event you can set your own fundraising goal. If you are trying to get into a sold-out race, though, we offer guaranteed race entries in exchange for a minimum fundraising goal!

When you join Team USO, you aren’t alone. We provide a wealth of resources and some great looking gear! As a member the USO will support you in whatever ways possible, like:

  • Fundraising toolkits
  • Support from a fundraising professional
  • Training support—training calendar, mentoring
  • Mission Moments—help you connect with troops and military families to participate in honor of
  • Prizes for reaching certain fundraising levels

Online registration is now open for the 2012 Honda LA Marathon to be held on Sunday, March 18. This is one of the largest road races in the world and the race is expected to sell out. Runners can secure their spot on the starting line by registering here. Just 25 spots are available for Team USO.

We are also proud to be among the New York Road Runners’ official charity partners for the 2012 New York City Half-Marathon! We only have 15 race registrations available so click here to register today.

Help lift the spirits of our troops and their families by joining Team USO today and get to work tomorrow! – Joe Scannell, USO New Media Intern

Marine Corps Trials Build More than Just a Team

More than 300 wounded, ill and injured Marines are currently competing in seven Paralympic sports at the 2nd Annual Marine Corps Trials in Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The Marines are hunting for 50 of their best to represent them at the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs later this year.

Travis Greene, a Marine veteran, serves the ball during a semi-finals seated volleyball match at the Marine Corps Trials at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Feb. 19, 2012. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

The Corps won the Games for the last two years, beating out all other branches of the service.

“This year it’ll be no different,” said Col. Jay Krail, Executive Officer of Wounded Warrior Regiment. “The first year we didn’t even bring a complete team and we won. Now there’s more interest, and with more interest comes better athletes.

Krail realized right away the benefit of holding trials, and participation doubled this year.

“With trials we’re not only able to build our best team possible,” he said, “We’re also able to provide eight days of clinic where athletes get instruction from world-class coaches.”

The Marines even invited veteran athletes from seven allied countries to challenge them even more.

“We fight together and we recover together,” said Michael Wieger, Germany team coach.  “It’s good to get the experience from other countries, because things they are doing to recover are things we can do back home in Germany.”

Wieger was also impressed by the presence of USO San Diego, with more than 50 hard-working volunteers handing out protein bars, water, energy drinks and other snacks at each competition venue.

“Americans do it right. Troops are finding support by their families, by the communities, and volunteers who are doing this mostly on their own expense. That is a real good morale-booster. There are other countries who sure can learn from it.”

The trials conclude tomorrow, and the All-Marine team should be finalized and announced within a week. For results, information and photos, follow the Wounded Warrior Regiment on Facebook. - Joseph A. Lee, USO Staff Writer

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