USO Salutes Heroes with Tailgate for the Troops in Tampa

Airmen from MacDill Air Force Base

Airmen from MacDill Air Force Base enjoy food and drinks at the USO’s Tailgate for the Troops on Veterans Day in Tampa, Fla. (Photo by Chad Stewart / USO)

Each year Veterans Day offers an opportunity to honor all members of the military – past and present – for their selfless dedication and loyalty to their country.

It’s also an occasion to celebrate their service and have some fun.

This year, to thank service members, the USO threw a huge tailgate party in Tampa, Fla., for troops and their families before the hometown Buccaneers’ Monday Night Football matchup against the Miami Dolphins. USO Tampa Bay, with help from the Bucs and Jeep, provided food, drinks, entertainment, T-shirts and free game tickets to hundreds of troops.

The tailgate, part the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign, gave service members a chance to relax and have some fun before heading into the stadium to cheer on their team.

Inside Raymond James Stadium, the Buccaneers were the big winners on Monday night. But it was a different story outside the stadium, where members of the military were the stars of the show.

The USO Show Troupe flew in from New York to entertain the crowd and a Mobile USO trekked all the way from Virginia to add to the festivities. It was an occasion to celebrate the military and give thanks, and more than a dozen volunteers from Jeep joined in to help serve troops.

Retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Michael Rovinelli, executive director of USO Tampa Bay, was on hand to witness the festivities firsthand.

“Veterans Day is awesome. For me, it’s double fun,” he said. “I get to remember when I was in and I know what these troops and their families go through on a daily basis. It makes it so easy to do my job because I have that instant connection.”

With 23 years of service under his belt, Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Tommy Mazzone has had a long relationship with the USO.  He knows the work the USO does for troops around the world and he’s trying to get the message out to younger service members.

“[Troops] get to see something like this [tailgate] on a grand scale. But, if anything, what they’ll remember is the USO did this,” he said. “And then when they walk past a USO in an airport and they step in, maybe it takes them a step further and maybe they’ll want to volunteer. … If we can keep that circle of life going, that’s exactly what will make the USO continue to be successful.”

NASCAR, USO Brings an Airman Back to His Family in Style

Technical Sgt. Chad Boley has been stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany for three and a half years, flying wounded soldiers from the Southwest Asia theater to either Germany or stateside. During that stretch, Boley has been separated from his family for the past two years. So when the chance came to surprise them with a visit, he seized it.

That opportunity was provided by the USO and NASCAR on Sunday, where Boley would be reunited with his wife, Stephanie and his family of two boys, Austin and Cameron, and two girls, Gwendolyn and Noelle and at the AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

“To be able to reconnect with my family will mean the world to me,” Boley wrote prior to the event. “I have for so long done everything to do my country proud and bring hope to families whom have injured soldiers, that I have partially neglected my own. With this opportunity to see them again just makes the value of family that much stronger and more clear.”

Boley was treated to a day at the track for a real “behind the scenes” NASCAR experience. He blasted around the track in a pace car, toured the ESPN on-site compound, attended the driver meeting and went shopping for NASCAR memorabilia for his kids, all signed by the drivers. Later, Boley dropped the green flag to signal the start of the race.

His family received a similar experience and got to take photos with all the drivers including Danica Patrick and several USO tour veteran drivers.

USO, Yankees and Partners Assemble Big Apple Care Packs for Troops Downrange

NEW YORK – Baseball season may be over in the Bronx, but New York Yankees employees were hard at work Thursday helping the USO of Metropolitan New York and its partner corporations to assemble 5,000 Big Apple Care Packs for deployed American troops.

The packs – which included items like toiletries, games, snacks and Yankees hats – are headed to troops downrange in time for the holiday season courtesy of USO partner FedEx. Volunteers from the Yankees’ front office, ESPN, Disney, FedEx and other USO of Metropolitan New York partner corporations gathered just inside Gate 2 of Yankee Stadium on Thursday morning to prepare the packs that will be ripped open by U.S. service members in the coming weeks.

A USO Moment: 13 Marines Get Impromptu Welcome in Chicago, First Class Seats for Final Leg of Journey

Lindsy Wadas, director of the USO of Illinois' center at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, poses with Marine Maj. Matthew Winkelbauer after he and 12 fellow Marines arrived in Chicago on Monday. The 13 Marines were treated to an inpromptu water-canon salute and gate greeting and all ended up with first class seats on their American Airlines flight to San Diego. Courtesy of USO of Illinois

Lindsy Wadas, director of the USO of Illinois’ center at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, poses with Marine Maj. Matthew Winkelbauer after he and 12 fellow Marines arrived in Chicago on Monday. Courtesy of USO of Illinois

Here at the USO, we’re lucky to get to do things on a large scale for America’s troops and their families. But it’s the little, serendipitous events that come together each day at USO centers around the world that keep us going.

On Monday, 13 Marines on the tail end of a five-day trip home from Afghanistan got a surprise they’ll never forget, courtesy of a web of people who’d likely never met and an enterprising USO of Illinois volunteer. In the course of a few minutes, the Marines went from a routine approach for landing at Chicago O’Hare International Airport to getting a water-canon salute on the runway and an impromptu greeting at the gate by members of Chicago’s police and fire departments, USO of Illinois volunteers and airport personnel. Once they were in the terminal, American Airlines offered up six first class upgrades to the Marines for free for their flight to San Diego. And when the Marine contingent boarded the plane, seven other first-class passengers gave up their seats so the Marines could sit together.

Read how one Marine’s fiancee, roughly 30 of Chicago’s finest, one USO partner, seven strangers on an airplane and a host of airport workers and USO volunteers – including 74-year-old former Marine John Colas, who coordinated it all – made this moment happen.