The Hunt is On: $10,000 in Prizes Awaits the Military Family that Finds USO Colorado Springs’ Jingle Bell Rock

JingleBellRockPhil Martinez got up before dawn Friday, went over to Fort Carson, Colorado, and hid a rock. Whichever military family finds it is going to be about $10,000 in prizes richer.

USO Colorado Springs’ Jingle Bell Rock contest sends military families on the Colorado Springs base into a pre-holiday frenzy, as active duty troops and their immediate family members race their peers to find where Martinez stashed the painted piece of Earth. Martinez supplements their search by providing clues through his center’s Facebook page, website and at the USO center on Fort Carson. (HINT: There’s even an exclusive clue at the end of this story.)

There’s a lot on the line this year, too, including a $5,000 tennis bracelet, laptop computer, flat screen television, android tablet and four tickets to the Dec. 28 Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders game and hundreds of dollars in gift cards to local stores.

“What’s great about it is it’s winner-take-all,” said Martinez, who is the director of USO Colorado Springs. “When I drive around [the base], you see little kids, families all bundled up looking for it together. I love that. It’s what it’s all about.”

Martinez says the contest has evolved over the years. The prize pool is up significantly from last year, when it was roughly $7,000 in gifts. He’s also seen collaboration come into play. After all, winner-take-all doesn’t mean you can’t team up.

“The first few years, everybody would hunt for it individually,” he said. “Now people are splitting up to look for it and pre-agreeing to split the prizes.”

Martinez says it normally takes between three and five days for the winners to combine enough clues to find the rock.

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The hefty prize pool is donated to the USO by local businesses as a way to say thank you to troops for their service. Martinez’s team puts the prizes together, comes up with a strategy to hide the rock and then springs it on the community in the days leading up to Christmas.

“Every year we try to make it bigger and better,” he said. “And with the help of our local partnerships out here with the business community, they are the ones who provide all the presents for our troops and their families.”

The full list of prizes includes:

  • $5,000 tennis bracelet courtesy of Gold Fingers Jewelry of Colorado Springs
  • 20” Mongoose bike courtesy of Coca-Cola of Colorado Springs/Denver 
  • 32” flat screen TV courtesy of Omni Financial
  • Acoustic guitar courtesy of MWR Fort Carson
  • Blu-ray DVD player courtesy of the USO
  • Nabi kids’ tablet courtesy of the USO
  • Assorted DVDs courtesy of Disney
  • Android tablet w/ case courtesy of the USO
  • Laptop computer w/ case courtesy of the USO
  • $500 in gift cards courtesy of the USO
  • Sony DSCW710 camera w/ case courtesy of the USO
  • Overnight stay and dinner for two at Hotel Elegante courtesy of Hotel Elegante
  • Marble top desk  courtesy of MWR Fort Carson
  • Two headsets courtesy of the Colorado Springs Airport
  • Colorado Rapids autographed soccer ball courtesy of Kroenke Sports in Denver
  • Papa John’s pizza for a year courtesy of Papa John’s Colorado Springs
  • Custom-made Disney gift basket courtesy of Disney
  • Four tickets to the Dec. 28 Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders game courtesy of Coca-Cola of Colorado Springs

And finally, your clue:  Hunt day and night and keep a minimum speed, when you think you are close just look at the weeds.

Your USO at Work: December 2014 — Hunter Hayes Helping USO Make Every Moment Count

Country music star and USO tour veteran Hunter Hayes wasted no time making Every Moment Count for his fans at an Oct. 28 concert at Best Buy Theater in New York. USO photo

Country music star and USO tour veteran Hunter Hayes wasted no time making Every Moment Count for his fans at an Oct. 28 concert at Best Buy Theater in New York. USO photo by Matthew Ziegler

After Creating 11 Million Moments, USO Teams Up With
Country Star Hunter Hayes to Support More Troops and Families

Veterans Day marked the one-year anniversary of the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign, our national initiative to rally Americans to show their gratitude for the everyday moments that our troops and their families miss.

In the campaign’s first year, nearly 11 million special moments were created for our troops and their families across the world.

Hunter Hayes, a CMA Award-winning musician and four-time Grammy Award nominee, is helping the USO take Every Moment Counts to new heights in year two. Hayes, who partnered with the USO in September, created special moments for troops and their families at each of the 17 stops on his Tattoo (Your Name) Tour this fall.

“Every Moment Counts – I love those three words,” said Hayes, who also played USO shows for troops in Virginia and the United Kingdom. “I love that that’s what our current focus is. And the message is the fact that they give so much for us … we never want to take it for granted.”

Counting center visits, entertainment events and program activities, the USO creates about 30,000 moments for troops and their families each day, allowing the USO to create nearly 11 million moments a year.

Go to USO.org/donate today to help the USO create more moments for troops and their families.

Trace Adkins Rocks USO/PenFed Concert at Fort Hood

Country music star and nine-time USO tour veteran Trace Adkins teamed up with country music newcomer Casey James to perform for the Fort Hood, Texas, community at a free concert in November.

Trace Adkins performs for thousands of troops and their families at a concert at Fort Hood, Texas, on November 1. USO photo by Fred Greaves

Trace Adkins performs for thousands of troops and their families at a concert at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 1. USO photo by Fred Greaves

“It’s hard to explain what the feeling is like when you perform for the military audiences but, I’ve tried to tell people before that after you get off the stage you feel a little guilty because you feel like they gave you more than you gave them,” Adkins said. “It’s something that I’ve learned to deal with over the years but it’s never really gone away. It always feels like that.”

The concert, sponsored by the USO, Fort Hood MWR and Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed), featured nearly three hours of star-studded entertainment at Fort Hood Stadium. PenFed donated $100,000 to the USO to help fund the costs of the concert.

James Schenck, president and CEO of Pentagon Federal Credit Union, said the show “was PenFed’s way of saying thank you to the service members who served and the families who support them.”

For Caregivers of Wounded Troops, Sharing Isn’t Always Easy

When Virginia Peacock’s husband, David, meets another wounded combat veteran, he asks them where they were medevaced from because he might have been the combat flight medic taking care of them.

Now, Virginia’s the one taking care of David.

Virginia Peacock laughs during a presentation at the USO Caregivers Conference in Fayetteville, North Carolina, last month. USO photo by Eric Brandner

Virginia Peacock laughs during a presentation at the USO Caregivers Conference in Fayetteville, North Carolina, last month. USO photo by Eric Brandner

Peacock led a breakout session at the USO Caregivers Conference in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where she and other caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members swapped experiences in November. Peacock, who advocates for caregivers’ rights and recognition, reminded her peers how powerful sharing stories can be.

“The one thing that we are all really bad at is telling our own story,” she said.

The latest chapter in Peacock’s story is in its seventh year. As a registered nurse, she had a career she loved when David was injured on his 11th deployment. His severe shoulder problems were the only aliments that stood out at first. After a while, invisible wounds started surfacing, too.

Virginia tried to keep home life status quo, continuing her full-time nursing career while also caring for a wounded husband and a young son. But with so many new challenges, her own cloud of depression set in.

She left that job and started rebuilding her family life. Now in a much better place – and back to work as a pediatric nurse – she is sharing resiliency lessons with other caregivers and raising awareness for their cause. Additionally, Peacock teaches caregivers how to share their stories effectively.

“You’ve got to find your person who gets it [to share your stories with],” she said.

USO/Project Sanctuary Retreat Helps Couple Find New Ways to Deal with PTSD

Conrad DeGrace knew something wasn’t right. It just took him a long time to make the connection.

Earlier this year, DeGrace and his wife, Trish, sat on a deck overlooking the Gulf of Mexico and candidly discussed the repercussions of Conrad’s post-traumatic stress and major depressive disorders. The invisible wounds drove him to the brink of suicide during his 2007-08 Iraq deployment.

The issues led to his medical retirement from the Army, but they didn’t subside after his reintegration into civilian life. The DeGraces have since turned to programs including the USO/Project Sanctuary retreat that helped them reach a better understanding of how his post-deployment issues affect their daily lives.

“I always thought of myself as a very strong person,” said Trish, who acts as Conrad’s caregiver. “And no matter what I did, it wasn’t about what I was doing, or how much I loved him, it was about ‘I can’t connect with him the way he needs to be connected.’”

Through a USO grant, the DeGraces attended a USO/Project Sanctuary retreat last year in Colorado. There, they and other military couples attended programs, sought out counseling and unplugged from the stresses of everyday life in order to discover new approaches to their post-deployment realities.

BNSF Wants to Match Your Donation to the USO

BNSF Railway Foundation has made it easy to double your donation to the USO this holiday season.

BNSFThe company, one of our valued President’s Circle partners, is offering to match every donation to the USO, dollar-for-dollar, up to $250,000. The opportunity to make your gift go twice as far to support our troops is exceptional. With your help, we can ensure every penny of your gift is used to support our troops and their families.

Our troops count on the USO and we’re counting on you. Donate today and your tax-deductible holiday gift to the troops will be matched by BNSF.

Visit Bass Pro Shops and Support the USO at the Same Time

Bass Pro Shops, the leading retailer of hunting, fishing, camping and other outdoor equipment, is once again showing its support for men and women in uniform.

BassFrom Veterans Day to Dec. 31, Bass Pro Shops stores throughout the U.S. will offer customers an opportunity to donate $1, $3 or $5 to the USO at checkout.

“For many of our troops serving far from home, it’s the small moments they miss most,” said USO Vice President of Corporate Alliances Christy Hartsell. “Customer donations at Bass Pro Shops will support our USO2GO program, which allows us to give the comforts of home to troops in remote areas.

“We’re grateful to committed partners like Bass Pro Shops who help support our nation’s military community and show them genuine appreciation for their service.”

Support the USO by visiting your nearest Bass Pro Shops and donating at checkout before time runs out!

Retired Soldier Helps USO Fulfill its Mission in Italy

For retired Army Sgt. Maj. Glenn Gibbs, the joy he found in selflessly serving his country followed him into his career with the USO.

USO Vicenza Center Manager Glenn Gibbs uses his position to help troops take advantage othe USO’s services and programs. Courtesy photo

USO Vicenza Center Manager Glenn Gibbs uses his position to help troops take advantage of the USO’s services and programs. Courtesy photo

“The USO is successful because of what we do, not me do,” said Gibbs, a North Carolina native. “With the countless volunteers and numerous volunteer hours, we are able to touch the hearts of service members and their families worldwide.”

His USO career was ignited through volunteer work as a handyman for the local center in Vicenza, Italy. In 2009, Gibbs just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

“I happened to be there the evening the USO Europe regional vice president was there and he asked if I was interested in a job,” Gibbs said. “The paperwork was started that evening.”

As a soldier for more than 31 years, he had never used the USO or its resources. Now as center manager, he is using his position to help current service members take advantage of the amenities the USO provides.

“I make a conscious effort to educate the patrons that come through the center on all the USO does for service members worldwide,” he said. “I like to believe I am a breathing example of the USO’s values.”

Today Only: A Chance to Double Your Gift to Troops

It’s a simple proposition to you from one of the USO’s biggest donors. And it expires at midnight.

BNSFThe BNSF Railway Foundation is offering to match any cash gift made by USO donors up to a total of $250,000. That means anything from the minimum gift of $5 and up will be doubled, with the money going toward USO programs and services that help American troops around the world.

This isn’t the first time BNSF Railway Foundation has stepped up for America’s troops. On July 24, they made a first-of-its-kind pledge to support USO Warrior and Family Care employment programs. Their pledge commits $3 million over the next three years to fund a portion USO programs designed to assist transitioning troops – including those who are wounded, ill or injured – as they re-enter the civilian workforce.

Check out the video from this USO/Hire Heroes USA Career Opportunity Day where BNSF representatives were on hand to talk about their commitment.

 

A Moment Amid a Milestone: USO and What to Expect Creates a Big Day for Military Moms in the D.C. Area

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SPRINGFIELD, Virginia–Sometimes in life’s biggest moments, it’s the little things that matter most.

Military moms are often far away from family and friends during their pregnancies. Knowing this, the USO and the What to Expect Foundation partner to host Special Delivery baby showers to give these moms a moment of appreciation.

This week, more than 100 new moms and moms-to-be attended Special Delivery baby showers for the Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and Fort Meade, Maryland, military communities.

“It means a lot [to be here],” said Tanya Gehrig at one of this week’s baby showers. Gehrig is a Navy spouse and a proud mom of two sons, including one who was born just 12 days ago. “At this table, I was really able to meet some ladies that I could connect with. It was nice to just meet all of these people.”

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Army Maj. Mia Bruner, who is expecting her third child, said she was excited to participate in the event.

“Actually, when I was pregnant with my second child, I saw that they invited pregnant soldiers to these baby showers and really wished I could have attended then,” she said. “I was really happy when I was chosen for this event with this pregnancy.”

Special Delivery attendees enjoyed baby shower games, lunch and baby item raffles. Toward the end of the event, best-selling “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” series author Heidi Murkoff held a candid Q&A, giving advice and tips on topics from pregnancy through a child’s first years. Murkoff even recognized moms in the audience she’d met through the “What to Expect” Facebook page. Murkoff concluded the event with a meet and greet and book signing for the moms in attendance.

The new moms also left with gift bags that included hygiene items for their babies and a storybook. It may not have seemed like a lot, but it made a huge difference to attendees.

“I feel like I should have known that I would need items, but at these events, even the little things help,” Gehrig said. “Some people got big things like strollers and Pack’N Plays [through the raffles], but it means a lot to get a little bottle of lotion and shampoo. It’s one less thing I have to worry about when I am running out to the store. That stuff means a lot to me.”

–By Jessica Battaglia

7 Ways the USO is Helping Wounded, Ill and Injured Troops and Their Families Right Now

It’s Mission: Recovery week here at the USO. But instead of telling you about how your support helps troops and their families, we wanted to show you.

Here are seven video stories that get at the heart of what we do for the people who need us most, from our new state-of-the-art centers for recovering troops and their families all the way to our unique programs and the kits we create for recently injured troops in the field.

1. The Impact of USO Warrior and Family Centers

Our two new centers — on hospital campuses at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and Bethesda, Maryland — give recovering troops dozens of opportunities to both relax and plan their futures.

2. The USO Wounded Warrior Gym at Fort Hood

Wounded troops in Texas wanted a place to get their strength back. We listened.

3. Warrior Care Packs for Recently Injured Troops

When you’re injured in the field, there’s no time to pack a bag. The USO packs contain items that allow our troops to heal with some of the comforts of home.

4. USO/Renovating Hope: Rebuilding Lives by Rebuilding Homes

The Gardon family served our country. When they needed a hand, the USO and its partners were there to help.

5. USO Caregivers Conferences Make an Impact on Families

The USO has found a way to serve and re-energize those who are silently caring for loved ones affected by visible and invisible wounds of war.

6. Project Sanctuary and the Fight Against PTSD

The DeGrace family talks about finding hope again.

7. The USO Journey

What the USO is all about, including helping troops and families when they need us most.