USO Operation: That’s My Dress! and Sherri Hill Create Cinderella Moments for Jacksonville Military Teens

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JACKSONVILLE, Florida–It was an afternoon filled with fairytale moments and Cinderella transformations.

Just in time for the holidays, USO Operation: That’s My Dress! gave 400 Jacksonville-area military teens day filled with glamour, pampering and fun while they each selected a formal dress designed by Sherri Hill.

“We hope they’re thrilled,” Hill said. “Some girls have never tried on a dress like this. So it’s almost like playing dress-up”

In addition to leaving with a new gown, teens also received Stella & Dot jewelry, L’Oreal make-up and hair products and other beauty items to complete their outfit. Teens could even get their hair and make-up done as well as consult with celebrity stylists and pageant contestants about their new look.

“My biggest wish is that these women leave feeling empowered, that they feel like they can do anything and accomplish anything they want to,” said Ray Kennedy, Vice President of Programs for USO of Metropolitan New York. “I want them to feel like they are rock stars and whatever dream they have, it can be attained.”

Before the beautification process, teens also enjoyed a fashion show featuring Miss USA and Miss Teen USA state titleholders, as well as a performance by the USO Show Troupe.

But that’s not all.

To help the entire family get in on the fun, the Greater Jacksonville Area USO expanded USO Operation: That’s My Dress! to include the entire family Homecoming Football Party, including a tailgate, a football game viewing and giveaways for the whole family courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars, ESPN and L’Oreal.

Marie Callender’s USO Kitchen Renovation Brings Comforts of Home to Troops in Germany

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Even the smallest things — like home-cooked meals — make a big difference when it comes to helping military families.

That’s why Marie Callender’s renovated the kitchen at the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, giving troops a spacious, state-of-the-art place to re-create the culinary comforts of home. In addition to featuring two ovens, the new kitchen is also equipped with more storage space and beverage coolers.

As part of its Comforts From Home Project, Marie Callender’s also brought its famous pot pies to wounded, ill, and injured troops at a special picnic at the USO Warrior Center.

You can watch videos of the USO kitchen renovation and behind the scene footage of Marie Callender’s picnic in Germany here.

But that’s not all.

Marie Callender’s also teamed up with Chef Robert Irvine and Gary Sinise to thank a hero in Hawaii and give him the homecoming he deserved. The event was showcased on Nov. 11 on Food Network, HGTV, DIY Network, Travel Channel, Great American Country and Cooking Channel’s special Veterans Day program, “A Hero’s Welcome.”

To top it all off, you can still support the Marie Callender’s Comforts From Home Project just by buying the products you already eat. Through Jan. 31, for every code* entered off specially marked packages at ComfortsFromHome.com, Marie Callender’s will donate 50 cents to USO2GO, a USO program that brings electronics, sports gear, books, games, and more to troops stationed in remote locations.

*For every entry by Jan. 31 of an 8-digit code found on participating products, Marie Callender’s will donate $.50 to the USO2GO program. Guaranteed minimum donation $100,000. Maximum donation $250,000. Limit five code entries per person/computer each day. Valid in U.S. Only.

–By Kate Vasko

Medal of Honor Recipient Rides Shotgun with Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne at NASCAR Nationwide Series

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PHOENIX–With Veterans Day approaching, Rouch Fenway Racing and USO Arizona teamed up to kick off this year’s festivities with a roar.

Roush Fenway Racing driver Trevor Bayne, had two special additions on his No. 6 AdvoCare Ford Mustang at this weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) event at Phoenix International Raceway to honor those who have served.

In addition to featuring the USO logo on the side and back of his vehicle, Bayne sported Medal of Honor recipient Fred Ferguson’s name on his passenger door. Bayne, who finished ninth in the race, also took a moment to give troops a shout before hitting the track this weekend.

In addition to meeting Bayne and seeing his name on the car, Ferguson, who received the Medal of Honor in 1969 for actions in Vietnam, was formally recognized at the pre-race driver’s meeting with a standing ovation.

Ferguson enjoyed VIP treatment throughout the day Saturday, thanks to Rouch Fenway Racing. He along with Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael  McGuire, USAA Executive Director Military Affinity and retired Marine Lt. Col. Bob Wiedower and other guests got an exclusive behind-the-scenes view of raceday action.

Trace Adkins and Casey James Thank Troops Before Performing at Fort Hood

Before hitting the stage to perform for military families at a free concert at Fort Hood, Texas, this weekend, nine-time USO veteran Trace Adkins took a moment to thank troops around the world for their service.

Country music newcomer Casey James, who opened the concert for Adkins, also gave a quick shout out to troops before the show began.

The concert, sponsored by the USO, Fort Hood MWR and Pentagon Federal Credit Union (PenFed), featured nearly three hours of music at Fort Hood Stadium.

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‘I’ve Got Their Back’: Trace Adkins Gears Up to Perform a USO Show at Fort Hood

Multi-platinum country music recording artist, Trace Adkins. Photo courtesy Trace Adkins

Multi-platinum country music recording artist Trace Adkins. Courtesy photo

When Trace Adkins steps off stage after performing in Fort Hood, Texas, this Saturday, he knows he will feel the guilt. It’s a guilt the eight-time USO tour veteran says he feels after every USO show.

“You’ll never find a more appreciative audience than the members of the military,” Adkins said. “Every USO tour I’ve been on, I leave there feeling a little guilty every time. I always feel like they gave me more than I gave them. And it’s always felt like that.”

The multi-platinum country artist, who previously performed at Fort Hood during the 2010 WWE and NBC ‘Tribute to the Troops,’ says there’s something special about entertaining troops and their families that he’s looking forward to experiencing again at Saturday’s show, sponsored by PenFed Credit Union.

“[The band] just play[s] and we’ll dance and sing and laugh and clap and all have a good time, you know?” Adkins said. “And just, for a few minutes [the troops] get to just be at a concert. And not have to worry too much about the day gig.”

In addition to providing troops with an escape, Adkins, who’s entertained over 39,700 military family members on USO tours since 2002, hopes that his concerts give military members, especially those deployed overseas, a much-needed taste of home.

“Hopefully we’ll do something, we’ll do a hit that they were listening to on the radio when they were riding around in the truck in their hometown,” Adkins said. “And those kind of things trigger memories for people and make them feel just a little closer to home. You know? That’s what we hope to be able to bring them.”

Most importantly, Adkins, who’s smash hits include “You’re Gonna Miss This” and “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” says that he hopes troops who attend Saturday’s show will leave with their morale boosted and smiles on their faces.

“I just want them to know that I support them 100 percent. That I’ve got their back,” Adkins said. “They’ve always had mine.”

After 73 Years, USO Fort Drum Bids Farewell to Longtime Volunteer Mary Parry

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After 73 years, Mary Parry’s volunteer mission at the USO is officially complete.

Earlier this month, Parry, 91, moved to a retirement home in Ohio to be closer to her daughter, Barbara Miller, and will no longer be able to serve at the USO Fort Drum center in upstate New York.

The Geneva, New York, native, who has volunteered at many different USO centers, will be sorely missed.

“I think of Mary as a national treasure,” USO Fort Drum Director Karen Clark wrote in an email. “She started volunteering for the USO in 1941, worked at the Watertown Chamber for years, and volunteered with Rotary, the Salvation Army and Red Cross.”

Parry’s volunteer career at the USO began in 1941, just after she graduated high school.

As the American Profile reported in 2008:

Parry was 18 when she and her girlfriends signed up to help at a USO center housed in a former automobile showroom in her hometown of Geneva, N.Y. (pop. 13,617).

“The fellas were all joining the military,” she says. “So we thought, ‘Hey, we’ll go down there and dance. What else are we gonna do?’ Were we in for a rude awakening.”

[…] Over the decades, the jovial Parry has volunteered at several USO centers while living in various towns in the Northeast with her husband, Walter. In fact, when she moved to Watertown in 1959, Parry spotted a USO sign in a downtown window and soon she was running the place. When the building closed, she operated the organization out of her home, hosting cookouts for servicemen and sometimes taking in weary soldiers for the night to give them a small taste of home.

USO Fort Drum Director Karen Clark poses in front of a portrait of Mary Parry in 2008. The portrait still hangs in the USO Fort Drum center today. USO photo by Jason Cutshaw

Parry’s daughter, Barbara Miller, who’s father served in the Navy, says Parry loved every moment she spent volunteering for the USO and has many stories from her years of service.

“The USO was her life. It was totally her life,” Miller said.

Thank you, Mary Parry, for your decades of service to troops and their families.

Want to learn more about Marry Parry and her service? Check out this 2010 USO blog post about honoring Parry and thanking her for her service.