Cupcake Wars!

Soldiers at the Pat Tillman Memorial Center in Bagram, Afghanistan, enjoy field-expedient Soda Cupcakes during the USO birthday celebration in February, 2012.

Cupcakes have become the Hollywood starlet of sugary snacks.

From “D.C. Cupcake,” to “Cupcake Wars,” to the scores of mom-and-pop shops springing up on every hipster city block, there’s no question cupcakes have put the “in” in “binge.”

If it’s hip and it’s Hollywood, you know the USO has to get our fingers in it.

On Sunday, July 1, Food Network’s reality program “Cupcake Wars” will be “Saluting the USO” at 8 p.m. EST as competitors battle for sweet supremacy with a shot at having their confections featured during last October’s USO Gala in Washington, D.C.

And in the spirit of competition, we at USO Arlington found a way to have a little cupcake war of our own.

While supporting the men and women of the U.S. Military, there’s often little time and few supplies with which to make a batch of cupcakes at our USO Centers. So what do we do? We adapt, overcome and improvise, of course! We find ways to bake field expedient cupcakes!

Cathe Ganley—Duty Manager at USO Bagram—developed a method for making cupcakes in the microwave with only cake mix and a soda. Now that’s creative!

Other USO Centers stateside have developed a microwavable method of their own using classic ingredients like flour, eggs, milk, and sugar.

Yesterday we pit the two recipes against each other in a Field-Expedient Cupcake Battle Royale.

Who was the winner? I’m not telling.

Instead, I’m going to give you the directions and ingredients to make both cakes in your own microwave and let you be the judge. Invite some friends over to watch “Cupcake Wars” Sunday night and whip these quick snacks together to feed your guests. Then tell us what you think!

After they beg you for the recipe, you can let them know they are eating battle-tested 5-minute recipes enjoyed every day by the men and women protecting their freedom.

Soda Cupcake

Ingredients:

1 Box of “Yellow” Cake Mix
1 Can of Sprite**
10 ten-ounce paper cups (or Dixie Cups)

**Substitute root beer for Sprite when making chocolate cupcakes.

Directions: In a large bowl, mix entire box of cake mix with the full can of Sprite. Fill 10 oz cups 1/3 of the way full with batter, then microwave three at a time for three minutes. Adjust cooking time and batter consistency as necessary to compensate for altitude.

Cake in a Mug

Ingredients:

1 Coffee Mug
4 Tbs Flour
4 Tbs Sugar
2 Tbs Cocoa
1 Egg
3 Tbs Milk
3 Tbs Oil
3 Tbs Chocolate Chips
Splash of Vanilla Extract

Directions: Mix dry ingredients well in coffee mug then stir in the remaining ingredients. Mix well then microwave on high for three minutes. Don’t be alarmed. The cake will rise at least two inches over the top of the mug while cooking. As soon as it is done, however, it will retract back inside the mug. — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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Kangaroo Express Starts Second Annual ‘Salute Our Troops’ Campaign

Vroom vroom! Keep your eyes open for these cars at your nearby Kangaroo Express!

The Pantry, Inc. has just announced the second annual Salute Our Troops® campaign, inviting customers in its more than 1,600 Kangaroo Express convenience stores across 13 states to demonstrate united support for military personnel and their families.

From June 27 through Sept. 4, Kangaroo Express and Salute Our Troops will again invite store guests to make donations to the campaign and empower communities to shine a spotlight of praise and gratitude on the military.

Donations from the campaign will support the USO, lifting the spirits of America’s troops and their families; Wounded Warrior Project, honoring and empowering injured servicemen and women; and six state-based military support organizations. In its inaugural year, the 2011 Salute Our Troops campaign raised $2.5 million dollars, breaking fundraising records for many beneficiary organizations, including the largest grassroots fundraising initiative in the USO’s 70-year history!!

“Salute Our Troops was an overwhelming success last year thanks to the passion and commitment of our employees who brought the campaign to life, rallying communities and the customers we serve to support our military and their families. We want to continue that tradition of excellence,” said John Fisher, senior vice president of marketing, merchandising and restaurant operations, Kangaroo Express. “Building on our legacy of commitment and gratitude for the sacrifices required to protect our nation and preserve our freedom, we are again joining our partners to show our united appreciation to raise money for military cause organizations.”

The six state-based organizations benefiting cover five states throughout the Southeast and include the Enlisted Association of National Guard of Tennessee Auxiliary Soldier Airman Relief Fund Inc., Florida National Guard Foundation, Georgia National Guard Family Support Foundation, North Carolina National Guard Soldiers and Airmen Assistance Fund, South Carolina Military Family Care Association, and the United States Veterans Corps based in North Carolina.

Salute Our Troops celebrations will be held at Kangaroo Express stores throughout the southeastern United States led by the Salute Our Troops Caravan. This year, retired Staff Sergeant Kelly Fromm will join the caravan with his “Rev-It-Up for Wounded Warriors” custom patriotic show cars. Since 2010, Fromm has traveled around the country in his custom cars to honor fallen American soldiers and raise funds for various veteran groups.

Celebrations will also include the Salute Our Troops Command Center, where store guests will add their own voice of gratitude with “shout outs” of pride and appreciation. Many will be showcased on the Salute Our Troops website at www.KESalute.com to share with troops and families around the world.

Donations continue to support our military and their families. The 2011 Salute Our Troops donations have been helping operate 12 USO centers and three USO military family support programs, as well as Wounded Warrior Project programs designed to nurture the mind and body, and encourage economic empowerment and engagement. Emergency grant programs run by the state-based military support organizations have been able to distribute grants for military families and even build a rehabilitation pool for a wounded sergeant.

“We are proud to join Kangaroo Express in showing our support for troops and their families,” said Chris DeLong, vice president of the Dollar, Drug and Convenience Store Channel for PepsiCo North America Beverages – the leading corporate contributor for the initiative. “This annual campaign continues to help Kangaroo Express, its guests and PepsiCo give back to our cherished service men and women. It is also a great example of Performance with Purpose – our company’s commitment to sustainable growth by investing in a healthier future for people and our planet, and respecting, supporting and investing in the local communities where we work, live and operate.”

Cake Decorator Raises Dough for USO

Chris with one of his masterpieces!

Meet Chris Kasparek, the cake boss of Naples, Italy.

He’s a Navy civilian, marathon runner and cake designer extraordinaire.  And he’s putting all his talents to work for the USO.

Kasparek hadn’t planned on running a marathon this year, but a few months ago he saw a Facebook post about Team USO and decided he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete for a good cause.

“I had run three [marathons] in the last five years and had felt my body just wasn’t up for it,” he said, “And then I saw the link and was inspired.”

Team USO has a limited number of guaranteed registrations for the New York City marathon for runners who raise a minimum of $3,000.  Slots are also available for the Marine Corps marathon, with a fundraising requirement of $1,200 and the Air Force marathon with a $700 requirement.

Kasparek, the Navy’s director of child and youth programs in Naples, will compete in the New York City event, and he knew exactly how he would raise the dough. He put out the word to friends and colleagues, offering one of his famous custom cakes in exchange for a contribution.

The 37-year-old husband and father of two first started baking cakes for his children’s birthday parties, carrying on a tradition passed down by his father.

“My dad had decorated our cakes when we were kids growing up… I watched him and it was just like, ‘I want to do that for my kids.’  They’ve already said they want to do it for their kids.” 

You name it, he’s baked it—pirates and princesses, penguins and ponies, and every imaginable superhero.

So far, Kasparek has raised $3,360 for the USO, with about $700 coming from his cakes.  He’s hoping to push past the $4,000 mark by race time.

He’s been passionate about the USO since working with them last year after the deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  He was sent to the Seattle airport to help coordinate child care for Japanese families who’d been evacuated to the U.S., and he was immediately impressed by the USO’s efficiency and compassion.

“Through their communications avenues, donations were coming in—diapers, food for the babies, games, coloring books, just everything that would make these families comfortable as they arrived from Japan… Whatever we needed, they found a way to get for us.”

Kasparek feels it’s his turn to give back to the USO and the troops.

He recently added a weight loss challenge to his fundraising efforts.  He’s trying to shed 35 pounds by race time.  If he doesn’t lose it all, he’ll pay back part of your pledge and cover the difference himself.

“I’ve slowed down on the cakes so I can concentrate on training,” said Kasparek, “Cakes don’t help training.” - Malini Wilkes , USO Director of Story Development

Before the 4th

Want to do something special for our troops right now?

Just pick one of the USO’s 4 for the 4th Projects and help us complete it in time for the 4th of July. This is a simple, direct way to provide comfort, support and a much-needed chance to relax to our troops this summer.

Are you in? Pick the project you want to make happen — Summer Sports Kits, Phone Calls Home, Supplying Day Rooms for Wounded Troops, Care Packages to the Frontlines — make your gift supporting our troops today!

Our 4 for the 4th Campaign captures the spirit and energy of the USO. We’re out there side-by-side with our troops, identifying the things they need. Then, we count on patriots like you to step up and help meet those needs.

And these four projects are the ones the troops keep asking for. We’ve gotten a good start in the first few months of the year, but we need you to help take us the rest of the way. So far we’ve:

You’ve been such a great friend to our troops. I really hope you can help with one of these four special projects. Help get this urgent campaign off to a great start.

I know you’ll do your best for our troops. You always do.

- Sloan Gibson, USO President & CEO

A New Site for Wounded, Ill and Injured Soldiers

The USO Warrior and Family Center is missing its final beam!

Last week I had the honor of joining servicemen and women, donors, construction representatives, and USO staff to enjoy the topping out ceremony for the new USO Warrior and Family Center in Ft. Belvoir, Virginia.

Most topping out ceremonies celebrate the completion of the building’s structure, a milestone for the construction team. Our ceremony was more than that. We weren’t just celebrating the halfway mark of the building’s construction. We were celebrating what the new center will be for wounded, ill and injured (WII) troops, their families, caregivers and families of the fallen.

Come January, the large skeleton of the USO Warrior and Family Center will be transformed into a place where our country’s WII troops can go to escape the hospital, relax, and have fun during their journey to recovery.

The USO Warrior and Family Center will offer a caring environment where the healing that has begun, can accelerate. It will be a focal point for support; a place of respite and recreation; a place of normalcy to bring family together; and a place to prepare for a happy and fulfilling life ahead.

The final beam is placed into the USO Warrior and Family Center.

As I saw the final beam lifted into the sky and lowered into place atop the center, I couldn’t help but smile as I envisioned the center being utilized by WII troops every day. Many of the proud faces around me were delighted, too, and I thought they must be thinking the same thing.

Did you know?

  • Since the conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 40,000 troops have been visibly wounded began, and more than 300,000 troops suffer from invisible wounds.
  • Only 12-14% of WII patients are injured in combat.
  • Many WII patients are injured during training.

The Fort Belvoir USO Warrior and Family Center:

  • Inside: communal kitchen, dining area, game room, theater, classroom, business center, study areas, community room, therapeutic enrichment room, respite lounge, and more.
  • Outside: grill area, terrace, and healing gardens
  • This center is designed for warriors to have easy access and mobility throughout these spaces.
  • The USO Warrior and Family Center in Ft. Belvoir is the first of two centers specifically for our nation’s WII troops. The second center will be built near the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.

To join the USO in supporting these heroes please visit www.uso.org/oec

- Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

Blinded EOD Tech to Swim on U.S. Paralympic Team

Blinded Navy Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) officer Brad Snyder, right, is guided by his younger brother Mitchell as they race together to win the 1500 meter gold medal in track at the 2012 Warrior Games. Since his combat injury, Snyder has focused on track and swimming to bring new vision to his life. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

U.S. Paralympian and wounded warrior Navy Lt. Brad Snyder can swim 100 meters in less than a minute.

That’s almost Michael Phelps-fast.

Even if the 28-year-old explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) officer still had his sight, a sub-sixty-second 100-meter time would be worthy of national praise. Without it, Snyder clocks in as one of the fastest visually impaired swimmers on the planet.

Over the weekend, he clinched his spot on the U.S. Paralympic swim team bound for London with a blockbuster race in another of his favorite events , the 400-meter freestyle.  Snyder took 54 seconds off his previous best time, finishing in 4:35:62.

It Happened So Recently

Just this past September, the former captain of his Naval Academy swim team was leading a patrol in Afghanistan on a life-saving mission to find and disarm improvised explosive devices (IED’s) placed by Taliban militants.

As Snyder’s team moved through farm land, a mine went off injuring two allied Afghan fighters at the front of their column. When Snyder rushed to their aid, he stepped on a second pressure plate, setting off another explosion. The initial shock wave knocked his goggles off, leaving his eyes exposed to the blinding flash of the blast.

He knew he was hurt pretty bad, but he still had some vision as he walked to the extraction helicopter. When he arrived at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center a few days later, however, he was told he would lose his sight forever.

A Brother’s Love

Snyder had no plans of playing the victim. Just weeks after he was released from the hospital he began running with his younger brother—connected by a short piece of rope and a lifetime of mutual respect.

“I’ve always looked up to him,” said 24-year-old Mitchell Snyder. “He’s my older brother and he’s always been such an inspiration to me growing up. He’s such a tireless worker.  There was no way I was going to let him sit around. That’s not who he is.”

The Snyder brothers ran together for weeks before Brad decided he wanted to get back in the pool “where he belonged.”

“The water is my home,” he said. “It’s my safe-haven. It’s a place where without my sight I still feel like I can be free to push myself physically, and it’s the only place where I don’t feel anxiety, like I’m about to run into something or hurt myself.”

New Vision

At the 2012 Warrior Games—an annual Paralympics competition held in Colorado Springs and sponsored by the USO—Snyder re-entered the world of competitive swimming for the first time since his injury.

“Here’s a guy with everything in the world going for him,” said Will Wilson, head coach of the Navy / Coast Guard Team. “A young lieutenant out there on the pointy end of the spear saving lives and he has a bad day—a bad day that robbed him of his sight. Fortunately it didn’t rob him of his soul, which has given him new vision toward competitive swimming and track.”

For Snyder, however, the way forward is sticking to the old vision he had when he mapped out his future.

“I want to do the same things I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. “I want a family, I want a graduate degree, and I want a house of my own. My goals are still the same.  I’m just a little more driven to accomplish them because I understand how easily situations can change.” -  Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer