USO-NFL Partnership Kept Football Streaming to Troops in Afghanistan During Government Shutdown

Troops gather at USO Kandahar in Afghanistan to watch football, courtesy of NFL Game Pass. USO photos by Daniel Wood

Troops gather at USO Kandahar in Afghanistan to watch football in late September, courtesy of NFL Game Pass. USO photo by Daniel Wood

The recent government shutdown – which ended on Thursday – left troops downrange with a slimmed-down version of the Armed Forces Network, and the prospect of missing their favorite football teams on Sunday nights.

However, NFL Game Pass – which the league offers free of charge to USO centers outside the United States – kept the games streaming for troops at sites like USO Kandahar.

“They really saved the day here,” said Daniel Wood, duty manager at USO Kandahar.

Here’s what troops in Afghanistan told the USO’s Eric Raum on Oct. 6:

  • Spec. Gary Stripling: “I thought we just weren’t going to get to watch the games this week. A buddy told me the USO was still going to show the NFL over an Internet connection so we all came down early to get a seat.”
  • Staff Sgt. Brian Duchsne: “It’s something we look forward to all week, it gets you through, knowing you’ll relax for an evening and watch football, so we were pretty excited to hear the USO was still going to be showing the game.”

USO Volunteer Wins Keys to Brand New Jeep Wrangler

Norm Hallowell, center, poses with the USO’s Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes, right, and Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois, after winning a new Jeep Wrangler on Oct. 11 in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Jeep)

Norm Hallowell, center, poses with the USO’s Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes, right, and Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois, after winning a new Jeep Wrangler on Oct. 11 in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Jeep)

WASHINGTON – Norm Hallowell, a longtime USO volunteer and Vietnam War veteran, won a brand new A 2014 Jeep Wrangler Freedom Edition last night.

Hallowell, the winner of Jeep’s Hero at Home Award, was presented with the honor during The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit at the Newseum in Washington. The winner, who’s amassed more than 580 volunteer hours at the USO, was introduced by Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois.

“Today, [Jeep] wanted to honor the heroes at home,” said Francois. “So, together with the USO, we thought about an initiative, about recognizing someone — not a hero in uniform — but one who acted as such from behind the scenes.”

To announce the winner, a video clip featuring Hallowell and some of his colleagues played on the big screen. In the video, Hallowell, who volunteers at the USO Family and Warrior Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., said, “I don’t consider myself anybody special. I’m one of 270. … That’s all.”

The award, part of Jeep’s Operation Safe Return program, was voted on by the public. Hallowell beat out two well-deserving colleagues at Fort Belvoir. His humble attitude and dedicated service surely helped him earn the votes needed to win the new Jeep Wrangler.

The USO’s Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes presented Hallowell and his wife with the keys to their new vehicle.

For more information about Operation Safe Return, go here.

USO’s Reyes Focuses on Caregivers, Spouses at Hero Summit

USO Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes, left, discusses military families at The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit in Washington on Oct. 10. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)

USO Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes, left, discusses military families at The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit in Washington on Oct. 10. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Alan Reyes, the USO’s Senior Vice President of Operations, is no stranger to the sacrifices and hardships a military families faces when a parent is overseas. His father, a 30-year Navy veteran, was deployed when Reyes was born and didn’t meet his son until he was two months old.

Reyes, a Navy reservist, was a panelist at The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit in Washington on Thursday and was part of a discussion that focused on the life-changing hardships endured by military families when a family member is deployed or returns home with battle scars.

“When a wounded warrior returns from war – regardless of whether they have a visible or invisible wound – that individual is often a different person who now needs care,” Reyes said. “That creates a specific stress on the caregiver as an individual, on that couple and on the family.”

The USO knows that caregivers and spouses of wounded, ill and injured troops play an instrumental role in the recovery of their loved one. To recognize their efforts and help them through their transition, the USO holds Caregivers Conferences to let them know they are not alone.

“[The USO] brings together caregivers – primarily spouses, but sometimes mothers and fathers, even brothers or sisters – of wounded, ill and injured troops and helps give them tools, tactics and things they need to cope with the challenges in their lives.”

Reyes, who was joined on stage by co-panelists Dr. Tommy Sowers, an assistant secretary at the VA and Brannan Vines, founder and president of Family of a Vet, an advocacy group, also spoke about how the USO uses technology to help bridge the gap between deployed troops and their families.

“Today, there is an opportunity to strengthen that family bond whether [the family member] is deployed around the world or not. We have nine centers in Afghanistan and many of those soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen have spouses at home. … We have the ability through our USO Centers to connect them through free phone calls and Internet access.

“We even have the opportunity to have service members virtually in the delivery room watching through Skype so they can be there in that moment experiencing [the birth of their child] along with their spouse.”

Reyes took a moment to recognize the unsung heroism of family members who don’t deploy, saying “those of us who are in uniform and deploy, we really look at the family as heroes and not the other way around.”

–Story by USO Story Development

USO of Illinois Hosts Grand Re-opening of Terminal 3 Center in O’Hare International Airport

Members of the military along with Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino, Vice President American Airlines - Chicago Franco Tedeschi and USO of Illinois President and CEO Alison Ruble prepare to cut the ribbon Oct. 2 opening the new USO center in Terminal 3 of Chicago O’Hare International Airport. USO photo

Members of the military along with Chicago Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino, Vice President American Airlines – Chicago Franco Tedeschi and USO of Illinois President and CEO Alison Ruble prepare to cut the ribbon Oct. 2 opening the new USO center in Terminal 3 of Chicago O’Hare International Airport. USO photo

The USO of Illinois celebrated the grand re-opening of its new facility in Terminal 3 at Chicago O’Hare International Airport on Oct. 2. The space is an addition to the USO’s center in O’Hare’s Terminal 2, and will provide another spot for thousands of troops and their families every year.

The refurbished facility is approximately 1,200 square feet and can host about 40 troops at any given time. It features a comfortable lounge area, free Wi-Fi and computer access, free snacks and refreshments, access to free phone service, information for travelers and special military support resources. The center is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.

“This new center is a wonderful addition to O’Hare and is another great amenity for traveling military personnel and their families,” said Rosemarie Andolino, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation. “We look forward to continuing to call attention to the service of our troops at Chicago’s airports while providing them with the very best travel experience.”

The new USO center was made possible in part through the generous support of American Airlines, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Aviation, all of which took lead rolls in renovating the facility, located on the mezzanine level of the rotunda area of Terminal 3 at the end of the G Concourse.

“American Airlines, which has a long history of assisting the military, is proud to work closely with the USO of Illinois to establish this very convenient facility for use by members of the military and their families,” said Franco Tedeschi, Vice President, American Airlines – Chicago. “American also wants to publicly support the financial contributions made by Prospect Airport Services, Inc., Hartmann Electric Company, Inc., Rossi Contractors, Inc., and Gate Gourmet that aided in making this facility a reality.”

USO of Illinois CEO and President Alison Ruble said the new center will offer much-needed respite for traveling service members.

“Whether they are traveling home bound from deployment, on military orders or with their families, our troops will enjoy the warm welcome, resources and refreshment that this new USO center provides, conveniently located within the secure side of the terminal,” Ruble said. “We are grateful for the efforts of American Airlines, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Aviation, along with a dedicated community of area supporters and volunteers, that helped make this new space a reality.”

–Story by Chris Miller, USO of Illinois

Kangaroo Express Raises $2.7 Million for Troops and Families During its Salute Our Troops Campaign

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The Pantry, Inc., came through big again this year for military charities, raising nearly $2.7 million during third annual Kangaroo Express Salute Our Troops campaign. The USO received $919,000 from the campaign to put toward its programs and services for troops and their families.

“Kangaroo Express guests, associates and partners have once again united to show their appreciation for the sacrifices made by our troops and their families,” said Jose Venezia, senior vice president of operations for Kangaroo Express, in a release. “The tremendous spirit and passionate gratitude demonstrated during this summer’s Salute Our Troops campaign rallied support and pride in the communities we serve.

“This significant donation builds on our ongoing commitment to our nation’s troops and their families. With more than half of our stores near military installations and one-third of our associates directly connected to our troops, it’s a commitment to our family.”

The campaign – which lasted from June 26 through Sept. 3 – invited Kangaroo Express store guests to donate during their visits and encouraged communities to send special messages of gratitude with the military. Kangaroo Express has more than 1,550 Kangaroo Express stores across 13 states.

Kangaroo Express’ Salute Our Troops campaign has raised approximately $8.4 million the last three years. This year’s campaign benefitted the USO and Fisher House Foundation, along with eight state-based military support organizations.

You can see more photos of Salute Our Troops events on Kangaroo Express’ Facebook page.

VFW Post Donates $50,000 to USO Delaware After Sale of Building

Dave Skocik, second from right, quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 9962, presents a check to USO Delaware Director Joan Cote on Sept. 19. Also pictured are outgoing USO Delaware board members Dave Clapp, left, and C. Scott Kidner, second left, and USO Delaware Chairman Mike Tatoian, far right. Air Force photo by Roland Balik

Dave Skocik, second from right, quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 9962, presents a check to USO Delaware Director Joan Cote on Sept. 19. Also pictured are outgoing USO Delaware board members Dave Clapp, left, and C. Scott Kidner, second left, and USO Delaware Chairman Mike Tatoian, far right. Air Force photo by Roland Balik

After serving 13 years in the Air Force and finishing out his military career with the Delaware National Guard and the Navy Reserve, Dave Skocik understands the needs of the military in his community.

That is why he and the veterans of VFW Memorial Post 9962 voted to donate $50,000 of the proceeds from the sale of the 1950s-era VFW post they called home to USO Delaware.

“Once it was decided that we would donate the proceeds to services for the military in our community, USO Delaware was the obvious choice,” said Skocik, who serves as quartermaster and president of the Delaware Veterans Coalition. “A lot of people go through the Dover facility and the USO there is doing a phenomenal job providing a much-needed service to our active duty troops and to their families.”

Skocik, a retired Vietnam-era veteran in his 60s, refers to himself as “the young guy in the group” of a few dozen World War II and Korean War veterans who have met at a local restaurant for the last few years while renting their building to a local school.

“We’re happy where we are,” Skocik said. “We don’t have a home anymore; we don’t want one. We don’t have a bar; we don’t want one. We all thought this would be a fitting end to the building and a fitting tribute to what the USO does.”

Joan Cote, director of USO Delaware, was astonished to see all those zeros.

“I was already very happy because one dollar is more than I had one minute ago,” Cote wrote in an email. “I was thinking in my mind that it might be $500 or $1,000 donation, but when Dave came out to present the check, he first handed me a note he wanted me to read explaining their donation. My jaw dropped and I honestly mouthed ‘OMG.’ It took everything I had to hold back the tears!”

Cote says USO Delaware will use some of the funding to improve services on its patio area for troops to enjoy 24-hours-a-day.

“Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another,” Skocik said. “We older veterans have to remember those who are serving today. Those who are serving multiple tours in harm’s way, uprooting their families — separations — and I can’t think of a better organization to contribute to than the USO.”