A Really Dry Heat: TEAM USO Runner Trains for Marine Corps Marathon in Kuwaiti Desert

Kuwait is not the first place that comes to mind when thinking of training grounds for the 39th Marine Corps Marathon, but that’s what Jason Lewis signed up for when he joined TEAM USO. The former Marine and former USO staff member began training for his 26.2-mile trek while working at USO Camp Buehring, Kuwait.

Jason Lewis

Jason Lewis

“The heat would [get] up to 130 degrees, so it made it very hard to get motivated to get outside and do long miles,” Lewis said, adding that he’s enjoying the cooler Michigan air while finishing up his training. “I adopted the method of doing what I could and took advantage of cool mornings.”

Lewis’ firsthand knowledge of the USO’s impact on troops kept him motivated throughout the training process.

“I believe in what the USO does and want to do anything I can do to help out,” he said, recalling his time in the service. “Every time I passed through an airport, I would stop at the USO center.”

Lewis even recruited friend and fellow Marine, Ryan Taylor, to TEAM USO.

“When I asked [Ryan] to run with me, it was kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “We had been talking about getting out there and doing some runs and fitness stuff. I was like ‘Hey, we can raise some money for a great organization. I’m on the inside, so I know what the money goes to.’ So he was on board as soon as I told him that we should do it.”

Combined, the friends have raised nearly $3,000 for the USO. Lewis and Taylor are not alone in their TEAM USO fundraising efforts. So far, the team of 30 Marine Corps Marathon runners has raised more than $35,000 as part of this year’s marathon.

“I’m proud to be raising money for the USO, and hopefully, I can raise a few more dollars by the end of the year,” Lewis said.

Find out more about TEAM USO and their fundraising efforts for the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon on the TEAM USO Marine Corps Marathon homepage.

–Jessica Battaglia, USO

‘A Much Needed Shot In The Arm': Navy Commander Talks About the Impact the USO has on Deployed Troops

USO Sailor of the Year Petty Officer 1st Class Troy Cromer and his wife,

USO Sailor of the Year Petty Officer 1st Class Troy Cromer and his wife, Laura, last week in Washington. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Even bona fide heroes can use a pick-me-up.

Troy Cromer has an Army Commendation Medal, a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Valor, a Combat Action Ribbon an is credited with saving multiple lives during his 2013 deployment to Afghanistan with Navy SEAL Team 10.

Last week, the petty officer first class added 2014 USO Sailor of the Year to his trophy case at the 2014 USO Gala. According to his commanding officer, it was a timely show of appreciation.

“Last week [the] USO lived up to my own personal memories of your dedication to our troops,” Navy Cmdr. Matthew Andrews wrote in an email. “EOD1 Cromer and his family are extremely appreciative for the opportunity to participate. Troy has given so much of himself, and I know that the burdens of his personal sacrifices are shared by his family. It is absolutely phenomenal that the USO recognized Troy, and even more impressive that you were also able to include [and] recognize the critical role our families play.”

According to his gala program citation, Cromer — an explosive ordnance team leader — directed suppressive fire against enemy forces while neutralizing an improvised explosive device planted between two of his team’s vehicles during an ambush in Afghanistan. On another mission, he led four vehicles through an area littered with IEDs, dismantling three of the bombs. And on a third mission, he located a system of caves, destroying the weapons inside and then making sure enemy forces couldn’t use them any longer as underground bunkers.

For Andrews, who also attended the USO Gala, the recognition brought back memories of a USO moment he had during a deployment seven years ago.

“Before this event, my most vivid experience with the ’21st Century USO’ was the reception I received at the Atlanta airport on my mid-deployment R&R layover back in 2007,” he said. “Words would not do justice to the amount of gratitude I felt for the tremendous outpouring of sincere care [and appreciation] as we marched through the airport to resounding applause. That was an extremely tough deployment for me, and that was a particularly tough time during that long deployment. USO provided a much needed shot in the arm. Thank you.”

“The support [the USO gives] the families and forward-deployed guys is above and beyond all,” Cromer said at last week’s USO Gala. “It’s a phenomenal organization.

Milestone: Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families Entertains its 500,000th Military Family Member

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FORT BENNING, Georgia—It’s always a sunny day on Sesame Street. But Friday, Elmo, Cookie Monster and the Muppets had an extra special reason to sing and dance with all their friends: The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families entertained its 500,000th military family member.

“The fact that we hit that particular number is a giant milestone for us,” said Nicole McClendon, tour manager for the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families. “It was just so amazing to be able to work so closely with everyone here at Fort Benning to make this moment so special.”

To commemorate the milestone, Elmo and his Muppet friends posed with the audience for a commemorative photograph after their performance. Audience members also received a special cookie to take home with them in addition to other Sesame Street/USO tour goodies.

“I might have told them that they came from Cookie Monster, but [assured the kids] he didn’t eat them [all] before the show,” McClendon said.

Since 2008, this longest-running annual USO tour has delivered memorable moments to hundreds of thousands of military children and their parents through more than 735 shows at more than 140 military bases in 11 countries.

“Five hundred thousand represents the number of smiles Elmo and Katie have brought to military kids and their families … as the tour has traveled around the world,” USO President and CEO Dr. J.D. Crouch II said in a release. “We thank our friends at Sesame Street for helping to make this possible and we look forward to seeing many more smiling faces as the tour continues its journey.”

Roker, Leno and Team of Celebrities Bring Laughs to Troops in Afghanistan on NBC’s “Today”

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Editor’s note: Tune in to Wednesday’s edition of NBC’s “Today” to see the highlights of the “Today”/USO Comedy Tour stage show put on exclusively for troops at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

Even in a war zone, Jay Leno can get a laugh.

“Afghanistan looks like Van Nuys but with less gunfire,” the former host of “The Tonight Show” cracked during one of several “Today” live shots from Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Al Roker — a co-host of NBC’s long-running morning show — brought Leno, comedians Craig Robinson and Iliza Shlesinger and musician Kevin Eubanks to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, for the “Today”/USO Comedy Tour to entertain American troops. The tour is part of the Shine A Light series on “Today.”

Roker is also raising money for the USO through Crowdrise as part of the Shine A Light effort.

“The USO brings entertainment and a bit of levity to a very stressful situation,” Shlesinger said during a “Today” segment. “[J]ust to get a chance to share this with [troops] for just a couple minutes, it’s such an honor.”

While the entertainers did a series of live segments on Wednesday’s broadcast, the highlights of their comedy/variety show for the troops at Bagram will be rebroadcast on NBC on Oct. 7.

“It’s been overwhelming just to be able to look the soldiers in the eye and say thank you to them,” Robinson said. “And they’ve been so grateful that we’re here. It’s really crazy.”

3 Drops of Knowledge: Numbers About the USO on National Coffee Day

Eight ounces of water flows through a K-Cup in Kandahar. A bag of Boca Java gets ripped open near the Pentagon. A sip of Starbucks hits a weary traveler’s lips in a stateside airport.

For 73 years, the USO has been by the side of America’s troops and their families. And that often results in offering them a cup of coffee. On National Coffee Day, here are three numbers to know involving the USO’s coffee distribution.

4,936

That’s how many pounds of coffee Starbucks donates to USO locations in the Mideast so far this year. When you add in the 4,600 K-Cups and 400 VIA instant coffee packets, that’s 11,850 cups of just donated Starbucks coffee for troops downrange to date this year, not including the other in-kind donations those locations receive.

1,440

That’s the number of coffee makers the USO2GO program has shipped troops at remote locations across the globe over the eight year’s of the program’s existence. These USO-in-a-box-style shipments also include 100 pounds of coffee upon request. They may not have many comforts of home, but thanks to the modern marvel of shipping (and airdrops), they have the ability to make a cup of joe.

4

The number of continents where the USO currently serves coffee: North America, Asia, Europe and Africa. It’ll be five, soon (we’re looking at you, Australia).

The Words Behind the Record: What People Said About Signing the USO Every Moment Counts Flag

A word cloud based on the responses of nearly 500 people who signed the USO's Every Moment Counts flag.

A word cloud based on the responses of nearly 500 people who signed the USO’s Every Moment Counts flag.

Country. Served. Proud.

These are just some of the words that appeared most in an unscientific analysis of nearly 500 Every Moment Counts flag signers who shared their reasoning with us. The USO campaign earlier this year broke the Guinness World Record for most signatures on a flag with 115,405.

The flag will have a prominent place this weekend at Dover International Speedway during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400. It was officially unveiled at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati on Sept. 11, and again Sept. 13 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Here are a few of the hundreds of responses the we we received when we asked online signers to tell us why they put their names on the flag:

  • “[We signed] to be a part of history. To honor our military, both present and past.” -Mike and Sharai Coffey
  • “[I signed] for my dad, who can’t. He died in 2005, was the last WWII vet in our small town.” -Nikki Jennings
  • “As a veteran, I can’t begin to count the times the USO was there when I needed them. This was one small way to show current and future veterans that we once served and always serve! God bless the U.S. Armed Forces!” -Donald Cota

(Editors note: Submissions lightly edited for style)