‘This is for Me’: One Woman’s Journey to the USO Caregivers Seminar in Tacoma


Carleeh Mullholland, right, smiles as she watches the opening remarks of the USO Caregivers Seminar in Tacoma, Washington.

TACOMA, Wash. — Carleeh Mullholland didn’t choose to be a caregiver.

But when her husband, medically retired Army Sgt. Cy Mullholland, was diagnosed with severe PTSD and TBI after serving several tours in the Middle East as a tank commander, she stepped into the caregiving role — whether she was ready or not.

“It fell in my lap,” she said. “[I had to] take care of my husband and I didn’t really get a say-so.”

After receiving his official diagnosis, Cy served for several more years before eventually being medically discharged. During the family’s transition process out of the military, Carlee notes that her husband’s condition added another dimension to an already difficult and confusing time.

“You’re in this place where you don’t know where you are, you don’t know what’s going to happen, there’s no job for your spouse if he is unable to work [like my husband, who is disabled],” Carleeh said. “So you got to figure something out.”


Carleeh Mullholland, center, takes notes during the USO Caregivers Seminar.

Over the past few years, Carleeh, a mother of three, has started to figure it out

Around the same time her husband was diagnosed and medically discharged, fitness, health and wellness became her passion, career and coping mechanism to positively manage the added stress of being a caregiver. She also discovered a slew of other resources for caregivers, including the USO Caregivers Seminar, which she attended with a group of her friends in Tacoma earlier this week.

“I [came to the seminar because I] did really want more knowledge and more education so I can really be a better caregiver,” she said.

The USO Caregivers Seminar features a day of engaging speakers, workshops and presentations designed to address the immediate needs of caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members. At some Caregivers Seminars, like the recent session in Tacoma, attendees also have the option to stay in a hotel the night before the event, which allows them to fully relax and engage during the seminar

“The only time for me to be able to come to anything is when it’s all in one,” Carleeh said. “So when I heard that there was going to be [optional] overnight [accommodations, I knew I could plan, stay overnight and not] be stressed out so I could just come and kind of get that free time for myself too.”

Although she has been to other programs for caregivers of wounded, ill and injured soldiers, Carleeh said her experience at the USO Caregivers Seminar was enjoyable and different.

Steve Shenbaum of gameonNation (right) plays a game with an attendee.

Steve Shenbaum of gameonNation, right, plays a game with an attendee.

In particular, she enjoyed seeing her fellow caregivers relax and open up during the individual presentations, like the interactive game-dynamics session held by Steve Shenbaum, gameonNation’s founder and president.

“I got to see the fun side of them instead of the caregiver side which is usually, ‘My veteran has this injury and I have to do this’,” Carleeh said. “When we all got in there and had a bunch of laughs and … you could really see them as they are.”

Carleeh appreciated the opportunity to spend the day learning about tools and techniques that could help her take care of herself as well as improve her caregiving skills.

“From coming to these things, you learn the tools that you need,” she said.

“If it’s geared towards caregivers, I don’t have to tell [my husband] I’m going to another session to learn about [PTSD or TBI]. … This is for me. This is for caregiving.”

For more information on future USO Caregivers Seminars, go to uso.org/caregivers.

CORRECTIONS: The timing description of Cy Mullholland’s diagnosis has been updated. Cy received official diagnosis several years before transitioning out of the military.

CORRECTION: The official language of Cy Mullholland’s diagnosis has been updated. Although Cy suffers from severe PTSD and TBI, he is not 100 percent disabled.

Yandel and Leslie Grace Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with USO Concert at Fort Bliss

Yandel, left, and Leslie Grace played a USO show for troops and families on Sept. 26 at Fort Bliss, Texas. USO photos by Dave Gatley

Yandel, left, and Leslie Grace played a USO on Sept. 25 at Fort Bliss, Texas. USO photos by Dave Gatley

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Sony Music Latin Artists Yandel and Leslie Grace teamed with the USO over the weekend to play a free concert for more than 1,700 service members and their families at Fort Bliss, Texas. It was the first USO show for both 2015 Latin Grammy nominees.

“If we can make as many troops feel at home through music, in this case, Latin-american troops through Latin music … I don’t think there’s any reason why we shouldn’t,” Grace said.

Grace, also known as the “Princess of Bachata,” performed a 30-minute set followed by a high-energy arrangement by Yandel, complete with professional dancers, multi-color lights and snippets from his HBO special “Yandel: Legacy, De Líder a Leyenda Tour.”

“Thank you to all the soldiers who support me that are here at this event … I hope that they enjoy [my performance],” Yandel said from the stage.

In addition to performing, Yandel and Grace spent the afternoon at Fort Bliss meeting, thanking and taking photos with military families. Grace even took a tour of the base and visited service members at the USO El Paso’s East Fort Bliss center.

“It’s very close to home to be able to bring that sort of comfort that I know music can bring and that you guys at [the] USO focus so much on bringing to these troops,” Grace said.

Prior to performing in their first USO show, both Yandel and Grace appeared in the USO’s first bilingual PSA in support of the Every Moment Counts campaign titled “¡Gracias!” Sony Music Latin stars Arthur Hanlon, Carlos Vives, Diego Boneta, Luis Coronel, J Rythm and others also appeared in the PSA.

“I have a few friends … who serve. And I am very close to these people,” Grace said. “So, it was something that I thought was a great opportunity just to say thank you to all our troops and take that moment and let them know that they’re appreciated.”

Oname Thompson, Hee Suk Ko and Mari Villalobos contributed to this story.

Meet Henry: The Man Who Volunteered at the USO Almost Every Day for 5 Years

If you’ve set foot in the USO on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, at some point in the last five years, chances are Henry Edmon greeted you at the door.

Edmon, originally from Sudbury, Ontario, volunteered at the USO every day the center has been open for the past five-plus years — minus the two days he took off to attend his daughter’s and the USO center director’s weddings. He recently retired from his volunteer duties after donating roughly 4,000 hours of his time to the organization.

Edmon, who served in the Canadian and American armies, enjoyed chatting with young service members about his military career as a means of encouragement.

“Most of the kids are so damn scared of [starting out in the military] that they’re not too sure of where they’re going to go or what they’re going to do,” Edmon said. “And I just say, ‘Look, it’s not that bad.’”

Theta Chi Fraternity Raises Thousands for USO at G.I. Theta Chi Events

The brothers of Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida pose at their 2015 G.I. Theta Chi event.

The brothers of Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida pose at their 2015 G.I. Theta Chi event.

For Theta Chi Fraternity, partnering with the USO was an easy decision.

The fraternity, which has military roots dating back to its founding, has a history of supporting military nonprofits. After years of backing organizations that primarily serve wounded, ill and injured troops and veterans, Theta Chi expanded its philanthropic efforts in 2013 to support the larger military community.

“By supporting the USO, Theta Chi not only honors its creed, but also its storied military roots,” Theta Chi Executive Director Mike Mayer said.

G.I Theta Chi participants pose at the University of Central Florida in 2015.

G.I Theta Chi participants pose at the University of Central Florida in 2015.

Since the partnership began two years ago, Theta Chi has raised over $43,102 to benefit the USO.

“The members of Theta Chi have already made an impact to the USO by hosting events that both bring monetary benefit as well as raising awareness in the community,” USO Regional Development Manager Kyndele Cooke said at Theta Chi’s 2014 National Convention.

The USO also partners with the Greek organizations Delta Kappa Epsilon and Phi Gamma Delta.

Rooted in the Military Community

Theta Chi’s connection with the military dates back to its founding in at Norwich University in 1856. That year, two cadets attending Norwich — the oldest private military college in the country — created the Theta Chi Society, which eventually became Theta Chi fraternity.

Many of the organization’s first members, who were also military cadets at Norwich, had to leave their studies to fight in the Civil War. Several other Theta Chi brothers throughout history have served in the military, including a handful who are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

G.I. Theta Chi participants paddle a canoe at the University of Central Florida.

G.I. Theta Chi participants paddle a canoe at the University of Central Florida.

“Being a military-based fraternity, we would sometimes recruit guys who are coming back from the service to go to college,” Heard said. “We had two Marines in our [Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida] in the past four years.”

Creating G.I. Theta Chi

Before the fraternity’s official partnership with the USO began, several Theta Chi chapters held “G.I. Theta Chi” philanthropy events to raise money for other military nonprofits. These “G.I. Theta Chi” events, which originated at the Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida, now benefit the USO.

“Just a couple years ago we decided to start something that would set us apart on campus and nationally as far as raising money for a good cause,”said Wylder Heard, the philanthropy chair at the University of Central Florida’s Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter. “What makes us come back to do it every single year is the fact that we’re raising money to help the troops.”

G.I. Theta Chi events vary from school to school. At the University of Central Florida, the fraternity holds a weeklong fundraising competition involving the entire campus. At the end of the week, Theta Chi leads a field day with military-themed activities. All students, regardless of Greek affiliation, are invited to participate in the week’s events.

“Everyone knows, ‘Oh, G.I. Theta Chi,'” Heard said. “‘I want to participate. I love the obstacle course. I love the cause. I love America.’

“I guess that’s one thing: Everyone can be a patriot [during G.I. Theta Chi].”

Keeping Them Cool: USO Centers In Southwest Asia Host Water Events

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It started as a way to beat the heat. But like any other group of trained professionals, it got competitive fast.

While summertime temperatures in Southwest Asia can soar above 110 degrees, USO center-hosted water-centered events incentivize troops to get outside on even the most broiling days.

“Many times you see troops utilizing some of their combat training [when they play water games],” USO Camp Arifjan Center Manager Shea Carson wrote in an email. “Except this time, they have smiles on their faces.”

While USO centers in Southwest Asia provide a number of indoor activities, too, the outdoor water contests have become a creative way to help troops blow off steam.

“Water balloon fights, tosses and races give the troops the ability to cool down in a way that isn’t going to get them in too much trouble,” USO Bagram Duty Manager Kelly Audet wrote in an email. “Who doesn’t enjoy the anticipation of being able to bean the heck out of someone with a water balloon?”

In addition to simple, impromptu water games, some Southwest Asia USO centers have created special evening-long water events for troops to enjoy. USO Camp Buehring, Kuwait, hosts a Water Wars event every year that features several games and an appearance by the base fire department.

“Out Water Wars event is as unique as all the events we host at Buehring,” USO Camp Buehring Center Manager Tiffany Banks wrote in an email. “It is not common to see a large fire truck (sirens on) engaging in a water fight with soldiers! It is a sight to see!”

Chicago-Area Kids Raise $100 for USO at Afternoon Lemonade Stand

Marty, Jimmy and Nora McNaughton and their lemonade stand.

Marty, Jimmy and Nora McNaughton and their lemonade stand.

When Erin McNaughton’s three children told her they wanted to start a lemonade stand this summer — with the proceeds going towards the USO — it was a proud parenting moment.

“It was all their own,” McNaughton said. “[You feel like] you’re doing a good job as a parent when they come up with an idea that’s going to help others.”

It started one morning in August when the children, who have an aunt and uncle that serve in the military, decided out of the blue to create a roadside lemonade stand to raise money for the USO.

“They’re around the military atmosphere and they like it and they see [why the military is important],” McNaughton said.

After about an hour of sign drawing, lemonade making and organizing, the kids were out in front of their Chicago-area house ready for their first customer. McNaughton estimates between 20 to 30 people stopped by the stand to buy lemonade that afternoon, although the majority of customers paid much more than the 75-cent list price.

“They were handing over five dollars, 20 dollars,” McNaughton said. “We had a great turnout. It was so cute. ”

At the end of the day, the McNaughton children had raised roughly $100, which they hand-delivered to the USO of Illinois office in downtown Chicago.

“The creative initiative that these young patriots demonstrated is inspired,” USO of Illinois President and CEO Alison Ruble in an email. “Embracing the true meaning of Every Moment Counts, they have provided a poignant reminder of what it means to give back to those who serve our nation.”

Rachel Feinberg, who works as a marketing associate at the USO of Illinois, said the organization only gets a few community-based, spur-of-the-moment donations a year.

“It was awesome,” she said. “The kids looked like they had a great time and it was just great to see some of the younger generation taking on the USO and helping us out.”