The Military Journey and the USO Volunteer

America’s military is an all-volunteer force, and so is the USO.

From the first day of boot camp throughout the cross-country trip to their military occupational schools to a Quonset hut in a foreign country and airports along the journey back home again, USO volunteers are by the side of troops and their families every single day of their service.

Bringing a touch of home to our troops abroad is not an easy task. It takes love, compassion and patriotism. All three of which are qualities USO volunteers carry in spades. Coming from all walks of life, each USO volunteer is dedicated to the simple, heartfelt mission of making every moment count for America’s troops and their families.

New York Yankees Lead Veterans Day Service Project

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New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi and nearly 150 volunteers helped assemble more than 5,000 USO Big Apple Greeter Packs for active-duty troops on Nov. 11 at the club’s famed Yankee Stadium.

Yankees front-office employees, service members, veterans and volunteers from Delta, FedEx, and MetLife helped assemble care packages for deployed troops.

Girardi and his wife, Kim, YES Network broadcasters David Cone and Michael Kay and longtime Yankees radio announcers John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman also participated in the event.

The USO will distribute the packs, which will include Yankees memorabilia, to troops serving in remote units in Afghanistan during this holiday season.

Your USO at Work: November 2014 — USO, Sesame Street Celebrate 500,000 Smiles

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families celebrated a major milestone with families at Fort Benning, Georgia, on October 3 when the tour entertained its 500,000th military family member. USO photo by Dave Gatley

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families celebrated a major milestone with families at Fort Benning, Georgia, on October 3 when the tour entertained its 500,000th military family member. USO photo by Dave Gatley

Sesame Street/USO Experience Reaches 500K Milestone

It’s always a sunny day on Sesame Street, but Elmo, Cookie Monster and the Muppets had an extra special reason to sing and dance with all their friends last month. 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.

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families has toured since July 2008 and has taken its message of facing fears and embracing change to more than 500,000 troops and military families. With help from Katie, a military child who is moving to a new place, and all of her friends, the tour has performed more than 893 shows on 147 military installations in 33 states and 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.”

USO’s Every Moment Counts Flag Breaks World Record

The USO's Every Moment Counts flag is displayed at The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati on Sept. 11. USO photo by Mike Theiler

The USO’s Every Moment Counts flag is displayed at The Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati on Sept. 11. USO photo by Mike Theiler

With signatures gathered from all 50 states and seven countries, USO announced in September that it broke the Guinness World Records title for most signatures on a flag with 115,405 gathered digitally and in-person around the world. The USO shattered the current record set in 2012 by more than 82,132 signatures.

As part of its Every Moment Counts campaign, the USO rallied Americans to show support for troops and their families through the simple act of saying thank you with their signature.

“Every signature on the Every Moment Counts flag is a symbol of a grateful nation’s appreciation for all that our men and women in uniform and their families do for us on a daily basis,” said J.D. Crouch II, USO President and CEO.

Go to USOmoments.org to show your appreciation for our troops and their families.

Al Roker Sets Weather Forecast Record in Support of the USO

With six minutes to go in #Rokerthon, the expression momentarily drained from Al Roker’s face as his co-anchors piled into his small New York City studio.

NBC's Al Roker headlined the "Today"/USO Comedy Tour in Afghanistan in October. USO photo by Fred Greaves

NBC’s Al Roker headlined the “Today”/USO Comedy Tour in Afghanistan in October. USO photo by Fred Greaves

“I don’t think there are enough people in here,” Roker deadpanned. More than 33 hours  — and despite several jokes suggesting the contrary — he was still lucid.

And then he delivered more temperatures.

Roker, a USO tour veteran, set a Guinness World Record on Nov. 14 for the longest continuous televised weather forecast at 34 hours. He did it to raise awareness for the USO, asking a national audience, a litany of NBC affiliates and livestream viewers to visit his still-active Crowdrise page, where he raised more than $75,000 for the organization by the time he went off the air.

He had a lot of help while he was on the air, too. #Rokerthon was often the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter, with thousands of viewers (including USO centers around the world) tweeting in questions about the weather to keep Roker’s forecasting streak alive.

USO, Renovating Hope and Gary Sinise Foundation Repair Home of Wounded Vet

After returning from Afghanistan with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury, medically retired Army Nurse Corps officer Jim Gardon came home to a surprise.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the good kind.

“When Jim was deployed to Afghanistan, I hired a contractor to remodel the back two rooms of the house,” said his wife Cece Gardon. “He came in, pulled out the electricity, did a haphazard job of sheet rocking and left and never came back.”

Stuck with a huge bill for incomplete work, they didn’t have the money to invest in the project a second time. The USO introduced the Gardons to Paul Hoffecker, the CEO of Renovating Hope, after Cece attended a USO Caregivers Conference. Renovating Hope secured grants from the USO and the Gary Sinise Foundation to make sure the job could be completed once and for all.

“The USO has been better than the 15 different medications the VA has tried to improve my attitude,” Jim Gardon said. “This is something that actually physically, emotionally and socially helps the soldier.”

Visit USO.org/donate to learn how you can support our healing heroes and their families.

USO Supports Fort Drum Spouse Through Deployment – and Homecoming

Ashley Sandgren

Ashley Sandgren

Ashley Sandgren’s smiles said as much as her words. Sometimes anxious. Other times confident.

Either way, she knew her wait was almost over.

Just 24 hours away from reuniting with her husband, Army Sgt. Jeremy Sandgren, after his nine-month deployment to Afghanistan, the Virginia native talked through the emotions of what it was like to wait out the couple’s first overseas deployment.

“I think putting it out of your mind is helpful in some sense, but you shouldn’t live your life in denial that they’re in danger, because they are,” she said.

Not that she didn’t have plenty to do. A trained cosmetologist, Sandgren balanced her work with coordinating a family readiness group at Fort Drum, N.Y., and volunteering with the USO, where many Fort Drum spouses have found a home away from home while their significant others were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.

“I think this USO has such a huge heart,” Sandgren said. “I think it’s extremely important to have the community and the different groups to lean on when your soldier’s deployed. It helps in the sense that you realize that you’re not alone.”

BNSF Helps the USO Support Transitioning Veterans with a Landmark Donation

Job searches are never easy. The task can be even more daunting for veterans looking to land their first civilian position.

That’s where the USO and supporters like the BNSF Railway Foundation step in.

On July 24, the BNSF Railway Foundation announced a $3 million pledge to support USO Warrior and Family Care employment programs for active-duty troops transitioning out of the military. The first-of-its-kind, three-year pledge will fund USO programs designed to assist transitioning troops – including those who are wounded, ill or injured – entering the civilian workforce.

Former Army Officer Makes a Difference for USO, Troops

USO Houston Center Director Liz Vallette

USO Houston Center Director Liz Vallette

USO Houston Center Director Liz Vallette understands what it’s like to be far from home.

With a tour in South Korea and a deployment to Iraq, the former Army officer and West Point graduate also knows that the USO is able to deliver a piece of home to deployed troops around the world.

“I was eager to join an organization that I had directly benefited from during my service, from relaxing in airport USO centers … to enjoying a touch of home from entertainers,” said Vallette, who started with the organization in 2011.

She arrived at USO Houston after serving six years in the Army and another two working with an economic development group in Afghanistan. Having daily opportunities to positively impact the lives of troops and their families was a driving factor in her decision and working with outstanding, motivated colleagues is an added benefit, she said.

Under Vallette’s leadership, USO Houston is piloting innovative programs that connect transitioning troops and their families with high-profile companies in the city’s booming industries. Oil and Gas 101 – a free, two-day orientation to the oil and gas industry – helped troops network directly with Houston-area hiring managers. Vallette and her team are planning another session for 2015 and hope to help more troops prepare for life after the military.

Go to USO.org/donate to support our nation’s transitioning troops and their families.

11 Ways to Give Back This Veterans Day

Giving back to troops has never been easier. The USO – which has created nearly 11 million moments for troops and their families over the last year – is teaming with multiple partners this Veterans Day to make supporting the military community piece of cake (or a scoop of ice cream, if you’re so inclined). Check out these 11 ways you can help troops and their families today, and don’t forget to visit USOmoments.org to see the amazing moments we’ve created for these deserving Americans over the past year.

Meal_SHARE-LINK_1200x6281. Give $11 on 11/11: This Veterans Day marks the one-year anniversary of the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign, a national campaign that rallies Americans to honor and create moments that matter for our troops and their families. Over the past year, nearly 11 million moments have been created for our troops and their families across the world as part of the Every Moment Counts campaign. To celebrate this milestone, the USO is inviting the American people to donate a moment to our troops on 11/11. An $11 donation provides things like 34 phone calls home, three free meals at a USO center, 70 cups of coffee and so much more. Together, we can make Every Moment Count. To make an $11 donation to the USO, visit USO.org.

USO photo

2. Get a scoop to support the troops at Baskin-Robbins: Looking for a way to support our troops and their families this Veterans Day while satisfying your sweet tooth? We’ve got your answer: for every scoop they sell on Veterans Day (Nov. 11), Baskin-Robbins will donate 10 cents to the USO.

3. Reelin’ it in at Bass Pro Shops: Stop by a Bass Pro Shop store and check out Reelin’ It in for the Troops. At checkout, you’ll be able to make a $1, $3 or $5 donation to the USO.

4. Shop for a cause at Cracker Barrel: From Nov. 1-11, Cracker Barrel will donate 10 percent of sales of various products to the USO. In addition, on Nov. 11, all Veterans receive a complimentary Coca-Cola cake dessert.

5. Go the extra mile with American Airlines: From Nov. 1-15 AAdvantage members can earn 15 AAdvantage miles for each dollar donated through American’s Miles in Support of All Who Serve.

J&J6. Join Johnson & Johnson: Help the USO and Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies support our military families. From Oct. 5 through Nov. 21, $2 will be donated to the USO for every new registrant and share at healthyessentials.com. Also, for every purchase of two or more participating brands during that same period, $4 will be donated to the USO.

MarieCalendar7. Add the USO to your shopping list via Marie Callender’s products: This fall Marie Callender’s is bringing the comforts of home to troops serving in remote locations. Check the freezer aisle for specially marked packages of Marie Callender’s products. Enter the code on the back of the package at comfortsfromhome.com and a 50-cent donation will be made to the USO’s USO2GO program.

8. Cheer for your favorite NFL team: In honor of Veterans Day, the NFL will donate $100 for every point scored during the league’s 32 Salute to Service games to the USO and two other nonprofit partners.

SlimJim9. Thank the troops with a Slim Jim: Visit slimjim.com/troops and send a salute to the troops. Simply send your message of encouragement and your note will be printed on a Slim Jim sleeve sent to troops serving overseas. Slim Jim is donating 1 million sticks to our troops and their families.

10. Say it with flowers from FTD: Now through Dec. 31, customers shopping for flowers and gifts on www.ftd.com/uso, will save 20 percent on their purchase and 11 percent of the sale will be donated to the USO.

Kroger11. Team up with Kroger’s “Operation Make a Difference”: The Kroger Family of Stores has raised $2.3 million to help support the USO this year, and they aren’t stopping there. They are donating an additional $100,000 and we need your help to decide the programs it will support. Simply click this link to designate where your virtual dollar will go. Hurry: the promotion expires Nov. 18.

BONUS: Sign up to Volunteer with the USO: Whether it’s helping out at a special event, cheering troops at homecoming, manning a front desk or providing a listening ear, our volunteers are the reason troops know they can count on the USO. To find out more information on volunteering with the USO, visit usovolunteer.org.

3 Ways You Can Help Troops in 90 Seconds Through the USO

DrumTroops_90seconds

You’re probably thinking “Three ways to help troops in 90 seconds? That can’t be true.”

You got us. This should only take 87.

The USO makes life easier for our troops and their families. We also make helping out as easy as possible for folks like you. Here’s how:

1. Send a message to troops on USOmoments.org
Click here. Say what you want to say, and go about your day knowing you made service members feel good about the sacrifices they make for all of us.

2. Get info on becoming a USO volunteer
Want to feel really good about helping someone else? Volunteering with the USO is a feeling that’s hard to top. Check out the FAQs. If you’re still interested, go to the sign-up page or contact your local center.

3. Donate (because a little goes a long way)
If you can’t give your time, but you still want to make a big impact, there’s no easier way to support a good nonprofit than to throw a few dollars its way. And with 73 years of experience, the USO knows how to put those dollars to work efficiently. For just $11, you can provide services like 70 cups of coffee to troops at a USO center or 34 phone calls home for troops downrange. That’s 34 people who can talk to their families from Afghanistan or 70 people who get a much-needed break, all because of you. Interested? Click here.

Thanks for your 87 (or 90) seconds. Have a great rest of your day.

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