9 Perspectives on Memorial Day

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Here are nine great reads (and views) that get to the heart of what Memorial Day weekend is really about.

1. Julie Webb lost her son in a training accident. She turned that loss into something that helps others by helping families of the fallen through the USO.

2. Do you know how Memorial Day came into being? Mental Floss has you covered with its list of 10 facts about the holiday.

3. The Washington Post has the story of Lt. Col. Michael B. Baka, a soldier who was so inspired by the actions of his comrades — including a subordinate who jumped on a grenade — that that he joined The Old Guard to honor them.

4. London Bell lost her Marine brother at war. She found help through a community of Americans dealing with the same thing.

5. USO program partner TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) is prominent in the news around Memorial Day because of the unique families they help. TAPS CEO Bonnie Carroll wrote about Memorial Day for Huffington Post.

6. How do we reconcile memories of the ones we’ve lost? The USO’s Sarah Kemp — who worked for the organization in Afghanistan and now in Arlington, Virginia — wrote this blog post in 2012. The message is just as relevant today.

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7. The story of how a spur-of-the-moment visit to the USO for one mom brought her just a little bit closer to her fallen son.

8. How are Americans around the country  thinking about Memorial Day? Here’s a look at the military driven Sunday front pages from newspapers around the U.S.

9. Just because a soldier doesn’t die on the battlefield doesn’t mean his loss isn’t deeply felt. Here’s a story of how the USO and TAPS helped quickly reunite one family of the fallen in the wake of their son’s suicide.

Helicopter Rides, Crazy Food Pairings and Troops: Steve Byrne and Roy Wood Jr. Talk About Their USO Travels

Comedians and USO tour veterans Steve Byrne and Roy Wood Jr. have dozens of great stories about traveling the world to entertain troops on USO tours.

At the beginning of May, the duo was part of the USO’s first entertainment tour to Iraq since 2011.

In this video, Byrne and Wood discuss the allure of riding in military helicopters, the wild world of DFACs (dining facilities) and why they keep going overseas to perform shows.

Something Small that Means Something Big: USO of South Texas Helps a Military Family with Baby Items

Petty Officer 2nd Class Cesar Tamayo, his wife Briciela and their son, Cesar. USO photo

Petty Officer 2nd Class Cesar Tamayo, his wife Briciela and their son, Cesar. USO photo

Supporting a family on a single paycheck can be difficult, particularly for lower-enlisted military families whose annual earnings are often less than $30,000. Add in a newborn child with special needs and those dollars have to stretch even farther.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Cesar Tamayo and his wife Briciela were feeling the pinch after she had to quit her job during her pregnancy. Their son, also named Cesar, was then born with a clubbed foot, meaning they had to make a nearly four-hour round trip to a hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, every other month from their home at Coast Guard Station Port O’Connor, Texas.

“We were just living off my income,” said Tamayo, 32, “so it was tough to make ends meet.”

Many of the trips required overnight stays in Corpus Christi, which put even more strain on the family budget.

But on one trip earlier this year, the Tamayo family found a welcome financial reprieve.

“My son was in the process of surgery and we were talking to a friend who had four kids and he told me that the USO of South Texas had baby items for free,” Tamayo said. “I would always hear about the drives to collect items like that but for some reason I didn’t realize the items were there for people like us.”

Tamayo and his family drove to the USO center and were greeted by USO of South Texas CEO Nancy Allen, who directed the family to the area of the center they call the “baby room.”

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“I told them to feel free to take anything they needed like formula, diapers, wipes, and other necessities,” Allen said. “When he came out of the room with diapers in his hands he had tears rolling down his face. He was just overwhelmed with the generosity of the USO.”

“With help like this you realize after the fact how much it helped take the stress off of everything else going on in your life: the money, my child, my wife,” Tamayo said. “To not have to worry about having enough diapers and formula is — everything. We’re really thankful.”

“It’s amazing how much something little like a pack of diapers can mean to a family living paycheck to paycheck,” Allen said. “We’re so happy for everything we can do for these young families.”

It wasn’t Tamayo’s first interaction with the USO, but it was arguably his most impactful.

“I told my wife when I first joined the military, the USO was there at the airport when I went to boot camp,” he said. “I’ve always had a good impression of the USO from the very start, and this just confirms for me that they are everything I thought that they were. They were there for me when I needed them.”

9 Times the USO Came Through for Military Moms

To mark Mother’s Day weekend, here are nine ways the USO has come through for military moms and families:

1. Beamed in to the delivery room: Marine Capt. Nick Whitefield went downrange during the run-up to his wife, Laura Whitefield, delivering their second child. Thanks to USO technology, the couple got to see each other during that special moment.

2. USO/What To Expect Special Delivery Baby Showers: The USO works with The What To Expect Foundation and best-selling author Heidi Murkoff to deliver baby showers to military families around the world.

3. A juice and a snooze: How the USO gave a much-needed respite to one military mom and her young daughter when they got stranded while traveling to a funeral.

The Hoffman quintuplets. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

The Hoffman quintuplets. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

4. Cute overload: USO Arizona quickly rolled out the red carpet for an Air Force couple that moved across the country right before giving birth to quintuplets.

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5. Staying connected with her kids around the world: When Amy DeRosa’s children started deploying, she wasn’t sure how often she’d get to talk to them. Then she found out about the USO.

Dickinson_md6. A mother’s quiet moment at the USO: How the mom of a fallen soldier honored his memory – and felt a little closer to him – during an impromptu USO visit after his death.

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7. Creative mom gets an assist on military daughter’s birthday: Jeanne McConnell had a history of surprising her daughter — Air Force Capt. Emily Arthur — on her birthday. Thanks to the USO, she was able to keep up the tradition even though Arthur was deployed to Afghanistan.

8. A twist on a birthday celebration: Air Force couple James and Cherrie Bell had a bunch of USO experiences over the years. So when their daughter turned 1, they wanted to set an example of giving back. Their efforts may have made her our youngest donor ever.

9. Giving a mom peace of mind: When Marlene Chapman’s daughter was stranded alone in the Denver airport overnight, their family knew exactly where to send her.

And The Winners Are: Top USO Centers Announced at the TellUSO Awards

A service member signs in at the USO Las Vegas center at McCarran International Airport.

A service member signs in at the USO Las Vegas center inside McCarran International Airport.

What’s your favorite USO center? The USO asks troops and families to pick their favorite center each year through the TellUSO Survey and announces the winners at the annual USO Leadership Conference.

This year’s top overall center went to USO Las Vegas. It’s the second year in a row the Las Vegas airport center took home top prize. They earned the award for receiving the highest overall survey scores in categories like satisfaction, staff helpfulness and value.

But Las Vegas wasn’t the only center to take home a trophy last week. Here are the other winners by category:

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Trace Adkins Brings Opry Circle Experience Overseas on 10th USO Tour

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For nearly a century, country music legends have all stood on a single piece of oak floor while playing at the venue of all venues — the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

The Opry Circle was the center part of the stage at the Ryman Auditorium when the legendary show moved there in 1943. In 1974, when the current Grand Ole Opry House was built, a 6-foot circle was cut from the oak stage floor and installed center stage in the new auditorium.

Generations of country music greats have performed inside the circle, and to celebrate the Opry’s 90th anniversary, Grammy-nominated artist Trace Adkins brought a replica of the circle on his recent USO tour to share that experience with troops and military families overseas.

Far from a stranger in supporting troops, Adkins first volunteered with the USO in 2002 and became one of the first entertainers to travel to the Middle East with the organization. To date, the Louisiana native has participated in 10 USO tours and traveled to seven countries – visiting, entertaining and creating moments for more than 43,218 troops and military families. His most recent tour — which spanned April 12-21 — included stops in the Middle East.

“Trace says he’s had a heart for our troops for a long time, and we know they have a heart for him as well,” said J.D. Crouch II, CEO and President of the USO. “His enduring commitment to our military is legendary, and this time he’s taking along another legend with him: a piece of the Grand Old Opry.”

In collaboration with the USO, Adkins is also a part of the Opry’s Cause for Applause: Salute the Troops activities in May, which will benefit the USO and MusiCorps throughout Military Appreciation Month.

“One of my very first, big performances was at the Grand Ole Opry,” Adkins said. “I remember that day very well. I also fondly remember the day, back in 2003, when I was invited to become a member. The Grand Ole Opry is a lot like family to me – as is the USO.”