Vince Vaughn Treats Troops to an Advance USO Screening of ‘Unfinished Business’

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Giving back to the military is in Vince Vaughn’s blood.

So when he was presented with the chance to treat troops at Edwards Air Force Base, California, to an advance screening of his upcoming film “Unfinished Business,” the three-time USO tour veteran had to say yes.

“I have military in my family,” Vaughn said. “My sister was [in the military], and [I have had] relatives [serve] way back, all the way back to the beginning, I believe, to the revolution.

“I’m always appreciative of the troops and all the sacrifices that are made and it’s always been important to me to express that.”

In addition to meeting with base leadership and personally kicking off the screening event, Vaughn got to chat and take photos with troops who had recently returned home and others who’d been recognized for excellence in their jobs.

“I hope that the movie brings them some laughter, that they have a good day laughing,” Vaughn said. “[I’m glad I] just get the chance to send the message that I know that a lot of people share, which is that they’re always in our minds and in our hearts.”

Vaughn traveled overseas with the USO to screen “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” for service members in Southwest Asia in 2004.

“I [had] shot ‘Dodgeball’ and was shooting ‘Wedding Crashers,'” he said. “I had met Pat Tillman and then I got the news … on the TV that he had passed. It really bothered me and I had other friends who were overseas. So, I called the USO out of nowhere and said, ‘Can I come over?’”

The following year, Vaughn continued his USO relationship by screening “Wedding Crashers” for troops. In the past decade, he’s entertained more than 8,735 servicemen and women through the USO.

‘I Can See Him Here’: Mother Finds A Moment of Solace Through Visit to USO After Son’s Death

Vicki and Michael Dickinson. Photo courtesy Vicki Dickinson

Army Staff Sgt. Michael Dickinson with his mother, Vicki Dickinson. Photo courtesy Vicki Dickinson

Vicki Dickinson doesn’t remember much about the two years after her son was killed. Between the funeral, the tears and the coping, everything felt like a blur.

But she does recall one moment in perfect detail. About a year after Army Staff Sgt. Michael Dickinson II’s 2006 death in Iraq – while walking through one of a string of airports that are all fuzzy to her now – she visited her first USO.

Michael, a Battle Creek, Michigan, native, had told his mother about his visits to USO centers around the world.

“He would always try to find the USO and chill,” she said of her son, who was killed in a firefight nine days before he was supposed to come home. “And he’d say ‘Yeah mom, they’re great. They’ve always got great snacks, things to drink. They’ve got nice comfortable place[s] to lay down, take a little nap if you need it.’”

So when she had a few minutes between flights that day, Vicki went to a USO airport center to see for herself.

“It was kind of like a piece of home to him,” she said.

She walked into the center and told a volunteer about her son and his fondness for the USO. She asked to take a look around so she could see where her son relaxed between flights.

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After a volunteer offered her a quick tour and refreshments, Vicki settled into one of the cozy couches and quietly pictured her son – a husband with a total of five children and stepchildren – resting on a similar couch a few years prior.

“[I thought] ‘I can see him here. I can see him on that couch, playing a game,’” she said. “It made me feel good that my son got to do that. That he knew that he was cared about. And he knew he had a safe place to go and just relax.”

After shedding few tears, Vicki collected herself and headed out of the center to catch her flight.

The beanie baby Vicki received during her USO visit. Photo courtesy Vicki Dickinson

The camo Beanie Baby Vicki received during her USO visit. Photo courtesy Vicki Dickinson

As she was leaving, a volunteer handed her a camo Beanie Baby to remember her USO visit. She still displays that bear in her home.

“It made me feel good, it really did,” she said. “And it let me see a part of my son’s life that I’d never gotten a chance to see.”

Vicki still thinks about that quiet moment she had in the USO center.

“It’s a new memory you can make at a time when you can’t get any new ones,” she said.

Michael Dickinson II working. Photo courtesy Vicki Dickinson

Michael Dickinson II working. Photo courtesy Vicki Dickinson

 

USO Entertainers Shine at Academy Awards

USO entertainers have been raking in the nominations, awards and accolades this winter, and last night’s Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles was no exception.

If you missed last night’s festivities, here’s a look at this year’s Academy Award nominees and winners who also happen to be USO tour veterans and supporters.

“How to Train Your Dragon 2”

Academy Awards
Best animated feature film; Nominated

In 2010, actress America Ferrera traveled on an eight-day USO handshake tour to the Persian Gulf, where she visited with over 1,300 service members with actors Ryan O’Nan and Jason Ritter and writer/director Ryan Peters.

Check out what she had to say about the tour here:

 

More recently, in June 2014, actors Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera and writer/director Dean DeBlois joined more than 450 troops and military families at an advance screening of DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2” at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. The event also included a question-and-answer session with the trio.

Watch the highlights from the event here:

“Unbroken”

Academy Awards
Best cinematography; Nominated
Best sound editing; Nominated
Best sound mixing; Nominated

In 2010, Angelina Jolie, the director of “Unbroken” traveled to Germany to surprise wounded troops and the service members taking care of them.

This past December, as part of its partnership with Universal Pictures, the USO brought five service members and their guests to the premiere of “Unbroken” at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. Although Jolie was unable to attend the premiere due to illness, her husband, Brad Pitt, stood in for her, and personally greeted the USO guests.

Watch highlights from the “Unbroken” premiere here:

“American Sniper”

Academy Awards
Best actor in a leading role (Bradley Cooper); Nominated
Best picture; Nominated
Best film editing; Nominated
Best sound editing; Nominated and won
Best sound mixing; Nominated
Best adapted screenplay; Nominated

Bradley Cooper, a veteran of several USO tours, has traveled to Cuba, Kuwait and Afghanistan in addition to a seven-day, three-country tour with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen in 2009.

Actor Bradley Cooper takes a moment to pose with service members stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a week-long USO tour in 2008.  Cooper was in the region on his first tour to show support to U.S. troops and bring them a touch of home.

Actor Bradley Cooper takes a moment to pose with service members stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a weeklong USO tour in 2008. Cooper was in the region on his first tour to show support to U.S. troops.

 

‘He Came to Us’: USO Staffer in Germany Takes Action to Save the Life of Despondent Soldier

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How do you know if someone’s contemplating suicide?

For Shannon Huffman, it’s instinct. Huffman, a USO employee in Landstuhl, Germany, received extensive suicide prevention education during her 20 years in the Air Force. Late last year, that training may have saved someone’s life.

One evening, Huffman was at Landstuhl’s USO Warrior Center in Germany teaching a volunteer how to make chili. A service member approached her, looking distressed, and asked if she would help mail some belongings for him. Even though Huffman could sense something was wrong, it wasn’t until the he gave her his mother’s mailing address that she realized he was in a fragile, possibly suicidal, state and needed immediate help.

Huffman, an information specialist at the center, asked a volunteer to watch the service member while she alerted the hospital’s medical staff. Within minutes, Huffman subtly asked the service member to step outside the center and speak with medical personnel, who later escorted him to the hospital for treatment.

“She didn’t just help an individual – she helped all of his family and friends who may have had to suffer an irreplaceable loss,” said Laura Ponzo, the USO Warrior Center Manager and Huffman’s supervisor.

“The reason our center exists is to provide a home away from home for the wounded, ill and injured service members and give them someplace where they can feel comfortable and relax. That service member probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable going up to someone in uniform and asking for help, so he came to us.”

Because of her actions, Huffman was honored with the USO President’s Award, which recognizes USO employees for outstanding contributions to or on behalf of the organization.

“To be in a position where I get to help our veterans in need on a daily basis makes going to work a passion, not just a job,” Huffman said. “I was on the [receiving] end of the USO for 20 years and am honored to be able to return the kindness.”

Huffman says it’s the simple actions — like listening to someone vent or giving them a hug — that most benefit recovering troops who visit the USO Warrior Center.

“Often when a person comes in our center they are shook up and distraught,” she said. “Helping them make a cup of coffee and dial the phone back home to let family know they are OK is the most important thing in the world to them at that moment.

“It feels good to make that kind of difference for somebody, but that’s what we do right? Make every moment count.”

Celebrate Valentine’s Day With These Five Huggable USO Moments

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and making memories for military families, here’s a look at five of the most huggable USO moments from the past year.

1. Americans Around the World Send USO Love Notes to Troops

In the past two years during the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, the USO has asked people at home and overseas to send love notes to troops and their families. People all around the globe embraced the challenge and sent in 3,713 notes of love and affection to troops between January and March of last year.

2. USO and NASCAR Help a Soldier Surprise His Family on Father’s Day

Sgt. Sean Brady, center, is reunited with wife Lauren, right, son Sean and daughter Sarah prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.  (Photos by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Sgt. Sean Brady, center, is reunited with wife Lauren, right, son Sean and daughter Sarah prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images

Not even a made-for-TV movie writer could dream up a military homecoming this special.

Last June, the USO and NASCAR teamed up to pull off the ultimate homecoming for Sgt. Sean Brady and his family, reuniting them on the pit road on Father’s Day before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

But that’s not all.

In the spirit of making moments count, the USO turned the tables on Brady and gave him a Father’s Day surprise, too. Check out the video to see what happened:

 

 

3. A Happy Ending: USO Steps in to Make a Wedding Happen for a Young Military Couple

The unpredictable military lifestyle can making planning big life moments, like weddings, a little difficult.

This was the case for Pvt. Chase Howard and his then-fiancee, Brittany, who had been trying to find a date to tie the knot for months. So when a Chase received a four-day pass over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend last year, the couple finally had the perfect opportunity to say ‘I do.’

The only problems were that the couple only had a week to plan the ceremony and had no nearby family to help make the arrangements. That’s when Howard called his mother, who got in touch with the USO.

With some quick planning and a few good Skype connections — one with Chase’s father in Afghanistan and another with Brittany’s parents at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington — the Howards had a day to remember at the USO Warrior and Family Center in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

4. USO Sets Up Surprise Homecoming for a Soldier’s Family on “The Meredith Vieira Show”

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Every service member deserves a special homecoming.

But for Lt. Beau McNeff and his wife Ceci, who had missed their last two wedding anniversaries due to deployments and work-ups, something a bit more extravagant seemed to be in order.

The USO, which benefitted from more than 250 hours of McNeff’s volunteer service while he was stationed at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan, selected the McNeff family for a surprise reunion on “The Meredith Vieira Show” and also arranged three days of fun for the family in Manhattan. Read more about the homecoming here.

5. A Perfect Proposal: USO San Antonio Helps an Army Private Pop the Question (Again)

Volunteers hold up signs during the surprise proposal at USO San Antonio. USO photo

Volunteers hold up signs during the surprise proposal at USO San Antonio. USO photo

When most girls dream about their perfect proposal, they imagine their future husband down on one knee — not a long-distance call from a boyfriend hundreds of miles away.

Unfortunately for Pvt. Zoe Tunchez and Pvt. Emmanuel Aleman, who were stationed at different Army bases, a happy phone conversation seemed like the closest to a fairy-tale proposal they would get.

That is, until Aleman, his mother, Marita Maldonado, and the team at USO San Antonio joined up to give Tunchez the surprise proper’ proposal of a lifetime just hours before the wedding ceremony. Read more about the couple’s magical USO moment here.

USO Tour Veterans and Supporters Have a Big Night at the Grammys

The Grammys recognize the best and brightest singers, songwriters and music producers, many of whom are also USO entertainment veterans.

This year, 18 USO supporters or entertainment veterans were nominated for Grammys, including one who was up for the coveted Album of Year award. Here’s a look:

Beyoncé

Troops smile after watching On the Run. USO photo

Troops smile during a special screening of “On the Run Tour: Beyoncé and Jay Z” downrange. USO photo

Best R&B performance (“Beyoncé”); Nominated and won
Best R&B song (with Jay Z, “Drunk in Love”); Nominated and won
Best surround sound album (“Beyoncé”); Nominated and won
Album of the year (“Beyoncé”); Nominated
Best urban contemporary album (“Beyoncé”); Nominated
Best music film (with Jay Z, “On the Run Tour: Beyoncé and Jay Z”); Nominated

Beyoncé and Jay Z treated approximately 2,000 troops stationed in Kuwait and Afghanistan to USO screenings of HBO’s “On the Run Tour: Beyoncé and Jay Z” on New Year’s Eve. The screenings each kicked off with a pre-taped message from Beyoncé who thanked troops for their service and sacrifice and wished them and their families back home a happy new year.

Paramore

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Best rock song (“Ain’t it Fun”); Nominated and won

Paramore went on USO tour to the Persian Gulf in 2010 to entertain troops. The group also recorded a special segment for the USO’s 2010 “VH1 Divas Salute the Troops” show at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, while traveling overseas.

Anthony Hamilton

Anthony Hamilton performs in Fort Bragg, NC. USO photo

Anthony Hamilton performs in Fort Bragg, NC. USO photo

Best traditional R&B performance (“As”); Nominated

In December, Anthony Hamilton performed in his first USO show at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Hamilton sand an assortment of original songs and holiday classics off his latest studio album “Home For The Holidays.”

Jack Black (of Tenacious D)

Best metal performance (“The Last in Line”); Nominated and won

Black, who also starred in Tropic Thunder, visited Camp Pendleton, CA in 2008 for a special USO screening of the film with co-stars Ben Stiller and Robert Downey Jr.

Babyface

Superstar recording artist/music producer Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds delivered musical delight to soldiers and their families stationed at Fort Benning on September 23, 2011. USO photo by Mike Clifton

Best R&B album (with Toni Braxton, “Love, Marriage & Divorce”); Nominated and won

In 2011, Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds performed for troops in Fort Benning, Georgia, as part of the “BRAC to the Future” celebrating the arrival of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, an armor school that moved from Fort Knox, Kentucky, to Fort Benning.

“It’s a different feeling, playing for the troops,” Edmonds said in a 2011 USO story. “You feel like you’re giving something back to [those who] have done so much for us. At this particular point … it means more to me. I appreciate what the service men and women and their families do for all our lives.”

Nicki Minaj

Best pop duo/group performance (with Jessie J, Ariana Grande, “Bang Bang”); Nominated
Best rap song; Nominated

Minaj performed for troops alongside other female music stars in the 2010 “VH1 Divas Salute the Troops” show presented by the USO.

Katy Perry

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Best pop vocal album (“Prism”); Nominated
Best pop duo/group performance (with Juicy J, “Dark Horse”); Nominated

Perry, who recently performed during the Super Bowl halftime show alongside Lenny Kravitz, also performed for service members during the USO’s 2010 “VH1 Divas Salute the Troops” show.

Hunter Hayes

Best country solo performance (“Invisible”); Nominated

Hayes helped create scores of USO moments throughout his Tattoo (Your Name) Tour in this fall, making exclusive USO show stops for troops in Norfolk, Virginia, and at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England. The 2012 CMA New Artist of the Year also created a unique USO moment for one military family this fall, surprising them onstage with complementary tickets to the 2015 CMA Awards during an a USO concert in Nashville.

“Every Moment Counts – I love those three words,” Hayes said in a 2014 USO blog post. “I love that that’s what our current focus is. And the message is the fact that they give so much for us, that every moment with them, we never want to take it for granted.”

Carrie Underwood

Country music singer Carrie Underwood greets service members during a USO stop at Camp Anaconda on December 16, 2006. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Country music singer Carrie Underwood greets service members during a USO stop at Camp Anaconda on December 16, 2006. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Best country solo performance (with Miranda Lambert ,”Somethin’ Bad”); Nominated and won
Best country duo/group performance (“Something in the Water”); Nominated

Underwood visited troops during a 2006 holiday tour to the Persian Gulf.

The Band Perry

Best country duo/group performance (“Gentle on my Mind”); Nominated and won

In 2014, The Band Perry performed at their first USO show at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the United Kingdom, entertaining over 1,000 military family members.

“They were such a responsive audience, and that’s what we love most about playing shows, is whenever the crowds are crazy and are singing along,” Neil Perry said in a 2014 USO story. “It was just fun having all the families there.”

MercyMe

Best contemporary christian music performance/song (“Shake”); Nominated and won
Best contemporary christian music album (“Welcome to the New”); Nominated

In 2011, MercyMe entertained troops during an eight-day USO tour of Southwest Asia.

“We’ve always appreciated our armed forces and anytime we can give them an escape at one of our shows, we’ll do it,” said the band in a 2011 USO story. “Several guys in the band had fathers and other loved ones serve in the military, so yes all of this hit pretty close to home.”

Louis C.K.

Best comedy album (“Oh My God”); Nominated

Louis C.K. has gone on two USO tours — including a 13-base trip to Afghanistan in 2008 — and even worked the USO into an episode of his hit FX show.

Little Big Town

Members of Little Big Town perform for fans at the second annual Academy of Country Music/USO concert event at Nellis Air Force Base April 2, 2011. USO Photo by Fred Greaves

Members of Little Big Town perform for fans at the second annual Academy of Country Music/USO concert event at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, on April 2, 2011. USO Photo by Fred Greaves

Best country duo/group performance (“Day Drinking”) ; Nominated

In 2014, Little Big Town performed for troops and the Virginia Beach, Virginia, community as part of the city’s Patriotic Festival, which coincided with the USO’s inaugural Warrior Week. The also group performed for troops and their families at a free concert in 2011 hosted by The Academy of Country Music and the USO for military members and their families at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Great Big World

Best pop duo/group performance (with Christina Aguilera, “Say Something”); Nominated and won

The group signed the USO’s “Every Moment Counts” flag to help break the Guinness World Record this year.

Dierks Bentley

Country music artist Dierks Bentley performs during the USO/ACM Lifting Lives concert at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, NV, April 17, 2010. USO Photo by Fred Greaves

Country music artist Dierks Bentley performs during the USO/ACM Lifting Lives concert at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, NV, April 17, 2010. USO Photo by Fred Greaves

Best country album (“Riser”); Nominated

Bently performed for military families at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, NV in 2010 as part of the first USO/ACM Lifting lives concert.

Lee Ann Womack

Best country album (“The Way I’m Livin'”); Nominated

In 2010, Womack entertained troops as part of the first USO/ACM Lifting lives concert at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Songwriters of “Let it Go,” performed by USO entertainment veteran Idina Menzel

Best song written for visual media (“Let it Go”); Nominated and won

Menzel, who recently sang the national anthem at the Superbowl, participated in a 2014 USO satellite media tour promoting USO Wishbook, an alternative giving catalog that supports troops and their families. Menzel also met with three New York City-area military families before performing at Bloomingdale’s Holiday Concert and Window Unveiling show in November.

Songwriters of “Moon Song,” sung by USO supporter Scarlett Johannson and Joaquin Phoenix

Best song written for visual media (“Moon Song”); Nominated

In 2008, Johansson visited troops during a USO tour to the Persian Gulf.

“This USO tour to the Gulf region truly means a lot,” Johansson said in a press release. “I’ve wanted to go over and visit for some time, and now my moment has  arrived. It’s one thing to reply to a letter or extend your thanks to  service members in a speech, but it’s another thing to visit them and spend time with those that do so much for us back home.”