Troops Churn Up Homemade Ice Cream at USO Camp Marmal

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Nothing says summer like a eating a bowl of cold, delicious ice cream.

And while troops at Camp Marmal, Afghanistan, can’t exactly head to a grocery store and pick up a pint, they can head over to the USO.

After hearing that the base cafeteria only served ice cream once a week, USO Camp Marmal staff members decided to start monthly homemade ice cream nights.

“We gave it a try and it’s been a big hit since then,” said USO Camp Marmal Center Manager Michael Eyassu.

With a few zip bags, milk, ice and a lot of shaking, troops can whip up a batch of homemade ice cream within a matter of minutes. USO Camp Marmal even provides service members with a number of syrups and toppings to enhance their homemade ice cream creations.

“Troops love it because it’s a fun and interactive event they can participate in with their fellow troops,” Eyassu said. “The end result is delicious, so it’s a win-win!”

If you want to try making homemade ice cream like the troops, check out the recipe below:

In a gallon zip bag:
1/2 cup salt
Ice to fill bag 2/3 of way full

In a quart zip bag:
1 cup of half and half
2 table spoons of vanilla extract
Flavored syrup (optional)

Place ice and salt in a large gallon zip bag. Set aside. Place half & half and vanilla in quart zip bag. Seal tightly and place inside gallon zip bag. Seal gallon zip bag. Shake until ice cream is solid or at consistency of your choice — roughly 10 minutes. Remove quart zip bag from gallon zip bag. Scoop contents of quart zip bag into bowl, add desired toppings and serve immediately.

Want to help the USO bring more unique programs like this to troops deployed troops around the world? Consider supporting the USO today.

USO Rhein Main Gives Gaming Troops The Ultimate Ticket to Gamescom 2014

Troops smile outside of the gamescom convention. USO photo.

Troops smile outside of the Gamescom convention. USO photo.

It’s no secret troops love video games. In fact, if you step inside any USO center, one of the first things you’ll likely see is a service member sitting in front of a TV, controller in hand, battling enemies in the latest blockbuster releases.

So when USO Rhein Main staff members heard about Gamescom, a German convention devoted to the latest and greatest innovations in the video game industry, they knew that they had to find a way to get troops there.

“Gaming ranks highly on most troops’ list of hobbies, so why not take them to experience that largest gaming convention in Europe?” said USO Rhein Main Area Operations Manager Ashley Grassl.

As part of its Food and Fun for Free program, which focuses on providing free programming for single and unaccompanied service members,  USO Rhein Main sent 20 soldiers to Gamescom 2014 in Cologne, Germany, earlier this month. From its popular Taco Nights to quarterly cultural tours to explore Germany, the Food and Fun for Free program gives troops a chance to step outside their barracks and enjoy their local surroundings.

Although the trek required troops to wake up early on a Sunday morning, Grassl said they had no trouble filling up the 20 van and bus seats, and even had a waiting list for the trip. Once the service members arrived at Gamescom, USO volunteers gave each of them a wrist band — which allowed them to play any game available — explained the layout of the convention center and let them loose to explore.

“Gamescom boasts that visitors will experience ‘the next generation of gaming,’ and our service members got to experience all of that and more,” Grassl said. “They had the opportunity to experience hands-on game play of games that won’t come out until later this year like ‘Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare,’ ‘Borderlands,’ ‘Battlefield’ and ‘Destiny.’”

From participating in multiplay online tournaments to stocking up on promotional freebies, Grassl said Gamescom offered something to keep any gaming enthusiast entertained.

“Gamescom was amazing. The masses came out for a great event. There was seriously something there for everyone,” said Army Spc. D’Lexis Cooley, president of Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden. “BOSS soldiers said that they were going to get their nerd on by gaming. And they did. “

USO Tour Veterans and MLB Players Adam LaRoche and Nick Swisher Named Finalists for Bob Feller Act of Valor Award

The Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche chats with troops in Souda Bay, Greece, during the 2013 USO Chairman's Holiday Tour on Dec. 7. USO photo by Mike Clifton

The Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche chats with troops in Souda Bay, Greece, during the 2013 USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour on Dec. 7. USO photo by Mike Clifton

When you give your time, people will notice.

Two Major League Baseball players who have gone on USO tours were named finalists for this year’s Bob Feller Act of Valor Award. Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche and Cleveland Indians first baseman Nick Swisher are among the six players to make the list. The award will be presented on Veterans Day (Nov. 11) at the Navy Memorial in Washington.

LaRoche — a former Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner — visited troops downrange in December as part of the 2013 USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour.

Nick Swisher receives a birthday cake during a USO tour stop at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on Nov. 25, 2011. USO photo

Nick Swisher receives a birthday cake during a USO tour stop at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on Nov. 25, 2011. USO photo

Swisher and his wife — actress JoAnna Garcia Swisher — celebrated their honeymoon with a USO tour to Afghanistan over Thanksgiving in 2011.

“We aren’t their family,” Swisher told the New York Daily News after the trip. “But for a quick bit maybe we could have been, especially over Thanksgiving.”

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Darren O’Day — who has hosted USO Barbecue for the Troops events each of the last two years with his wife, Fox News reporter Elizabeth Prann — was among 11 nominees for the award but was not selected as a finalist.

‘I didn’t even know I had PTSD': Def Leppard’s Rick Allen Talks About Mental Health During Tour that’s Raising Money for the USO

Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen didn’t let a life-changing obstacle derail his career. Not that it wasn’t hard. Allen lost his left arm in a car accident on New Year’s Eve 1984. But as he shares in this video, it was the battle against post-traumatic stress disorder that lasted long after his physical rehab.

Allen and Def Leppard are currently touring with KISS. The bands donating a portion of the proceeds to the USO and other military non-profits that help transitioning troops.

You can see the guys from KISS talking about their commitment to helping veterans get hired in the video below. And check out KISS’s website for military discounts at their remaining tour stops this summer.

USO and UnitedHealthcare Help Troops Fuel Up with Breakfast Care Packages

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, for hardworking troops, fueling up in the morning sometimes just isn’t possible. Luckily the USO and its partner, UnitedHealthcare, are there to help.

On Aug. 10, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team members Mara Abbott and Cari Higgins teamed up with 50 UnitedHealthcare employees to assemble over 2,500 breakfast care packages in Fort Collins, Colorado, that will be given to troops at USO centers in Colorado and Texas. In addition to filling the packages with breakfast foods and snacks, participants wrote thank you notes that went in each package.

“We are thankful to the UnitedHealthcare employees who have taken the time to help us give back,” said USO Vice President of Corporate Alliances Christy Hartsell. “A partnership like this helps the USO have an even bigger impact on the lives of our troops and their families. We hope that the men and women who receive these care packages know we are grateful for the service and sacrifices they make for our country.”

The assembly event was part of the UnitedHealthcare USA Pro Challenge Experience, a community ride that took place in Fort Collins just eight days before the start of the USA Pro Challenge professional race.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to work with the USO and the USA Pro Challenge at this event that supports the troops and their service to our country,” said UnitedHealthcare Military and Veteran Central Region CEO Matt Peterson.

‘I Couldn’t Stop Smiling’: USO Creates a Night to Remember for a Military Couple with CMA Music Festival Tickets

A panorama of the CMA Music Festival on June 5 at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Photos courtesy of the Hendricks Family

A panorama of the CMA Music Festival on June 5 at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Photos courtesy of the Hendricks Family

The Hendricks family was due for some quality time, and the USO had just the ticket. Two of them, in fact.

Within weeks of Sgt. Richie Hendricks return from deployment, USO Fort Campbell announced on their Facebook page that a generous donor had given two passes to each night of the CMA Music Festival, the largest country music festival of the year in Nashville, Tennessee. The only requirement to win the tickets was to share a story about why going to the event was so important.

Sgt. Ritchie and Danielle Hendrickson

Sgt. Richie and Danielle Hendrickson

USO Fort Campbell Program Director Kelli Pendleton and others read dozens of stories from spouses seeking to give a gift to a significant other. The first set of tickets was given to the Hendricks family, whose story included the following passage:

“The reason I would love to win these tickets is to surprise my wife with a date night she has not had in over a year-and-a-half,” Hendricks wrote. “She has been a single mom that whole time due to a year deployment I just returned from in March and then immediately afterwards in April I was sent to Texas [to attend the Army’s Advanced Leader Course] and for a few months before I left we were training for deployment. My wife is the biggest country fan I know and she has made me into a huge country fan, and it’s the one genre of music we can listen to and just relax and have a good time. I would love to get these tickets and take her to the concert and give her the one night she has not had in such a long time and make her truly happy.”

The Hendrickses received a pair of tickets to the opening-night show on June 5.

“This was the perfect way to end a long year away from each other,” said Danielle Hendricks, a former soldier, military spouse and mother of two.“Being pregnant and not having your husband by your side through it was hard, plus raising a 2-year-old who was completely attached to her daddy was the hardest part because she didn’t understand why she couldn’t have her daddy with her.”

The Hendrickses have been married for five years, but 24-year-old Danielle, originally from San Bernardino, California, has been country music fan her whole life.

“CMA fest was amazing,” she said. “When we found out we were going to CMA fest I couldn’t stop smiling. I have always wanted to go but never lived close enough or had the opportunity.

“All the artists were better live then I imagined. The fans of country music are always so nice and cheerful it makes for a great experience to be surrounded by people who share the same love for country music.”

The pair of passes the Hendrickses received from the USO, courtesy of a donor.

The pair of passes the Hendrickses received from the USO, courtesy of a donor.

“The shows were absolutely amazing and completely shattered our expectations,” said 24-year-old Richie Hendricks of Monroe, Michigan. “The fans were so great and we were all immediately friends before the concert even started it seemed like.”

As it turns out, this wasn’t the Hendricks’ first — or even second — experience with the USO.

Richie was introduced to a USO volunteer before he even met his first drill sergeant due to a delay getting to boot camp, and USO Northwest rescued his growing family when they were caught in a long delay at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“It was Christmas and we had our daughter at the time and she was under a year old and this USO had a nursery with cribs and a changing table and extra diapers,” Danielle said. “[It] was such a lifesaver that we had that available to us in such a tight spot.”

“They absolutely saved the day,” Richie said. “The staff was absolutely amazing and made my wife feel really comfortable with the whole situation.

“The USO has been absolutely amazing throughout my military career from literally day one,” he added. “We’re both grateful to be at home, together with our family, and even more grateful to have the support of our fellow countrymen who so generously gave these tickets to us through the USO. You made our year.”