Longtime USO Supporter Gen. Martin E. Dempsey Says Goodbye to the Military

Outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey speaks at his retirement ceremony last week. DOD photo

Outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey speaks at his retirement ceremony last week. DOD photo


The USO said goodbye to one of its biggest champions last week when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey retired after 41 years of service.

The Army general served a pair of two-year stints as the highest ranking officer in the military and went on several USO Chairman’s Tours during that assignment, bringing celebrities overseas during the winter holidays to lift the spirits of deployed troops. Dempsey’s final USO tour in December visited five countries in six days and included country star Kellie Pickler, comedian Rob Riggle, “Glee” co-star Dianna Agron, former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, “Suits” co-star Meghan Markle and Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister.

“In my dealings with the USO over the past few years, spearheading tours around the globe, I can confidently say that the USO is as helpful and comforting today as it was back [when I joined the Army],” Dempsey said at the time.

Dempsey also gave some of the most memorable speeches at recent USO galas, including a story relating how a USO volunteer helped him find his first duty station in Germany in 1970s and the memorable Irish Ditty he sang at last year’s event.

Did You Know? 11 Facts for the Air Force’s 68th Birthday

Air Force photo

Air Force photo

As the Air Force celebrates its 68th birthday, here’s 11 things you may not know about the youngest branch of America’s military.

1. Technically, Air Force One isn’t just one plane. The term Air Force One refers to any plane the commander in chief is traveling aboard. The White House currently has two customized Boeing 747-200B aircraft available specifically to transport the president.

2. The Air Force shares its birthday with the CIA. Both were founded on September 18, 1947.

Air Force photo

Air Force photo

3. The Air Force Memorial is one of the sneakily great places to get a view of downtown Washington. It’s tucked between the Pentagon and a large shopping mall. Rarely crowded, visitors can stand below the three spires and get a panoramic view of our nation’s capital.

4. Battle-hardened weathermen? Check. A hat-tip to Mental Floss for this nugget in a June story about how the Air Force sends Special Operations Weather Teams into the unfriendly skies to check out conditions before sending larger groups of aircraft into a region.

5. Airmen … on the ground: The Air Force is in charge of cyber security, an ever-expanding field in the new world of defense. They’re currently recruiting 6,000 cybersecurity personnel by 2017.

6. A “roof stomp” is an Air Force tradition where airmen welcome new commander or celebrate a special occasion by climbing up on the commander’s roof to make noise while others are bang on the windows and doors. The commander then opens the door to welcome in the group for refreshments. (In recent years, some airmen have modified the tradition to a “porch stomp.”)


7. Each March, some airmen participate in a Mustache March, a tradition where airmen grow mustaches to honor Air Force legend and triple ace Brig. Gen. Robin Olds.

8. Johnny Cash, Morgan Freeman and James Stewert are just a handful of the celebrities who have served as airmen. Stewart – who won an Oscar for “Philadelphia Story” before flying missions in World War II and Vietnam – rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve.

9. Before the Air Force became its own branch of the military, it was a part of the Army. On Aug. 1, 1907, the U.S. Army Signal Corps formed the Aeronautical Division, which later evolved into the Air Force.

Air Force combat ace Robin Olds and his famous 'stache. Photo via commons

Air Force combat ace Robin Olds and his famous ‘stache. Photo via commons

10. In 1947, then-Air Force Capt. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 rocket-powered aircraft, beginning a new era of aeronautics in America.

11. Two U.S. presidents — Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — served as airmen. Reagan’s service came when the branch was still the Army Air Forces. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard before transferring to the Air Force Reserve.

A USO Tour in Alaska: Sirius XM The Highway Host Storme Warren Brings Country Stars Rodney Atkins and The Swon Brothers to Troops

Sirius XM’s The Highway personality Storme Warren — along with country artists Rodney Atkins and The Swon Brothers — have taken to Alaska to bring troops in the far-flung region something they rarely get: a USO tour. Here are some highlights from the first stop on their weeklong trip.

The tour spans a week and will visit Eielson Air Force Base, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak among other locations.

You can follow the tour around the world, too, by tuning into SiriusXM’s The Highway (Channel 56).

USO Operation That’s My Dress Gives Cancer-Stricken Soldier a Much-Needed Boost

Army 1st Sgt. Jennifer Stafford, center, poses with Miss West Virginia during a USO Operation That's My Dress event June 27 in Fort Drum, New York. USO photo

Army 1st Sgt. Jennifer Stafford, center, poses with Miss West Virginia Teen USA Cora King during a USO Operation That’s My Dress event June 27 in Fort Drum, New York. USO photo

A career soldier, Army, Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Stafford is a woman in a male-dominated world. And lately, she’d felt like her womanhood was being stripped away, piece by piece.

After losing her mother to uterine cancer and watching her aunt fight and beat breast cancer, Stafford – the mother of three boys – was forced to have a hysterectomy just weeks before Mother’s Day.

Then, as Mother’s Day approached, a lump in her breast was diagnosed as cancer.

“It was a hard pill to swallow,” said Stafford, who is still serving on active duty in Fort Drum, New York, after 21 years in the Army as a nuclear, biological and chemical weapons specialist. “How did I get both what my mom and my aunt had?” She was depressed for weeks until her friend and USO volunteer Glynnis Moore suggested she sign up to attend USO Operation That’s My Dress, a program that gives free ball gowns to female service members, spouses and teenage dependents for homecoming and prom seasons, military balls and the holidays.

“I’ve never asked for anything back,” Stafford recalled thinking. “So what the heck? I’ll sign up.”

On June 27, she waited in line in the rain with hundreds of other girls and mothers eager to see what the USO had in store. When the doors opened, she was overwhelmed by all the pink, cute, frilly dresses on display. There were also dozens of runway model consultants to help them find an appropriate look.

The event began with a fashion show, featuring professional models and Miss USA contestants who showed off the gowns and matching jewelry that was available. Beauty pageant contestants and celebrity stylists also stuck around to do the participants’ hair and makeup.

Stafford settled on a gold and white dress by Sherri Hill, a longtime sponsor of the Operation That’s My Dress events.

She felt so good looking at herself in the mirror that she was moved to tears. Her voice still cracks when she thinks about how that dress made her feel that day.

“Coming up through the ranks in the military – now I’m an E-7 – you constantly have to prove yourself as a female in a male-dominated world,” Stafford said. “And for once as soldier, my womanhood was being celebrated. Right when I needed it most, the USO was there with exactly what I needed.”

While she’s still fighting toward full remission, the USO event gave her another tool to use on the worst days of her fight.

“I’m in awe by [the dress] still,” she said. “I take it out every week and I look at it. It marked the close of a terrible year, so while I can’t wait for my first opportunity to wear the dress, it has to be a truly special event.”


Military in Focus During National Suicide Awareness Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, an important time to talk about how many current service members and veterans are struggling with depression and other invisible wounds.

Suicide in the military has become a huge issue over the last decade, with the rate of self-inflicted deaths by both active-duty troops and veterans reaching alarming levels.

But if you need help – or know someone who does – here is a list of places you can go:

  • Military Crisis Hotline: Short of dialing 911 in a life-or-death situation, the military crisis hotline can be your first stop if you or someone you know is feeling severely depressed – even if they just need to talk about what they’re feeling. The phone number is 1-800-273-8255 and you can also chat with them online at militarycrisisline.net.
  • PTSD Coach: The Department of Veterans Affairs has a website and app called PTSD Coach that aims to help troops and veterans manage issues like anger, sleep and trauma triggers.
  • The VA: The Department of Veteran Affairs’ Mental Health page is filled with resources to address a variety of mental health concerns.
  • Family readiness officers, family support groups and family support centers: Every branch of the military has family support services. These officers and groups are huge information resources. Contact your command to find out what groups are available for your family.

Iraq Vet Remembers 2004 USO Visit with Robin Williams and John Elway

A football signed by John Elway and a handkerchief signed by Robin Williams are displayed in the home of Amanda Paquette (inset). Photo courtesy of Amanda Paquette

A football signed by John Elway and a handkerchief signed by Robin Williams are displayed in the home of Amanda Paquette (inset). Photos courtesy of Amanda Paquette

USO entertainment tours are often tightly scheduled affairs that still yield serendipitous moments. That was the case in 2004, when Amanda Paquette — who served in the Marines from 2003 to 2007, when she left as a sergeant — met Robin Williams and John Elway at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq during the USO Chairman’s Tour. Here’s her story.

My first tour in Iraq, Robin Williams and John Elway came to Al Asad. I was tasked to pick up the press.

John Elway autographs a football during a 2004 USO tour stop in Iraq. DOD photo

John Elway autographs a football during a 2004 USO tour stop in Iraq. DOD photo

Me and another lance corporal waited on the VIP pad. There was nothing other than high-ranking officials on the pad that day lined up to greet them. [I was] the only female Marine. As Robin came down the line of guys he saw me, stopped, took my hand, kissed it, and said ‘Oh my God! There are hot women here!’

Later at the show location, the seats had booked up. Me and the other lance corporal didn’t have a place to see the show. John and Robin then gave up their seats in the front. The show then started.

John made the comment to the troops ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here, I just know how to throw a football. I’m not funny like Robin!’ Then he threw footballs at us.

Robin Williams greets troops in Iraq during a 2004 USO tour. DOD photo

Robin Williams greets troops in Iraq during a 2004 USO tour stop. DOD photo

Robin then got up and put on a hell of a comedy show! After all was over I had to pack up the press so I didn’t have time to go to the meet and greet with either one.

[Later] John was on the side of the building and said ‘Are you not a fan of mine? I didn’t see you in line.’ I told him that I was a fan and apologized and told him I had to get the press packed. He then proceeded to get a football from the USO rep, signed it and threw it to me. I caught it! He smiled.

Then, instead of hopping in the VIP cars, he told the higher-ups he was riding back to the VIP pad on my bus with the press! Great, humble guy.

When we got to the VIP pad and John and Robin said their goodbyes. Robin came up to me, signed a USO handkerchief and gave me the biggest, warmest, fuzzy hug and said ‘Stay safe beautiful and thank you for all you do.’

When Robin passed it broke my heart. I’ll never forget the joy he and John brought that day.

EDITORS NOTE: Paquette’s quotes were lightly edited for style