‘I Couldn’t Stop Smiling’: USO Creates a Night to Remember Military Couple with CMA Music Festival Tickets

A panorama of the CMA Music Festival on June 5 at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Photos courtesy of the Hendricks Family

A panorama of the CMA Music Festival on June 5 at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Photos courtesy of the Hendricks Family

The Hendricks family was due for some quality time, and the USO had just the ticket. Two of them, in fact.

Within weeks of Sgt. Richie Hendricks return from deployment, USO Fort Campbell announced on their Facebook page that a generous donor had given two passes to each night of the CMA Music Festival, the largest country music festival of the year in Nashville, Tennessee. The only requirement to win the tickets was to share a story about why going to the event was so important.

Sgt. Ritchie and Danielle Hendrickson

Sgt. Richie and Danielle Hendrickson

USO Fort Campbell Program Director Kelli Pendleton and others read dozens of stories from spouses seeking to give a gift to a significant other. The first set of tickets was given to the Hendricks family, whose story included the following passage:

“The reason I would love to win these tickets is to surprise my wife with a date night she has not had in over a year-and-a-half,” Hendricks wrote. “She has been a single mom that whole time due to a year deployment I just returned from in March and then immediately afterwards in April I was sent to Texas [to attend the Army’s Advanced Leader Course] and for a few months before I left we were training for deployment. My wife is the biggest country fan I know and she has made me into a huge country fan, and it’s the one genre of music we can listen to and just relax and have a good time. I would love to get these tickets and take her to the concert and give her the one night she has not had in such a long time and make her truly happy.”

The Hendrickses received a pair of tickets to the opening-night show on June 5.

“This was the perfect way to end a long year away from each other,” said Danielle Hendricks, a former soldier, military spouse and mother of two.“Being pregnant and not having your husband by your side through it was hard, plus raising a 2-year-old who was completely attached to her daddy was the hardest part because she didn’t understand why she couldn’t have her daddy with her.”

The Hendrickses have been married for five years, but 24-year-old Danielle, originally from San Bernardino, California, has been country music fan her whole life.

“CMA fest was amazing,” she said. “When we found out we were going to CMA fest I couldn’t stop smiling. I have always wanted to go but never lived close enough or had the opportunity.

“All the artists were better live then I imagined. The fans of country music are always so nice and cheerful it makes for a great experience to be surrounded by people who share the same love for country music.”

The pair of passes the Hendrickses received from the USO, courtesy of a donor.

The pair of passes the Hendrickses received from the USO, courtesy of a donor.

“The shows were absolutely amazing and completely shattered our expectations,” said 24-year-old Richie Hendricks of Monroe, Michigan. “The fans were so great and we were all immediately friends before the concert even started it seemed like.”

As it turns out, this wasn’t the Hendricks’ first — or even second — experience with the USO.

Richie was introduced to a USO volunteer before he even met his first drill sergeant due to a delay getting to boot camp, and USO Northwest rescued his growing family when they were caught in a long delay at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“It was Christmas and we had our daughter at the time and she was under a year old and this USO had a nursery with cribs and a changing table and extra diapers,” Danielle said. “[It] was such a lifesaver that we had that available to us in such a tight spot.”

“They absolutely saved the day,” Richie said. “The staff was absolutely amazing and made my wife feel really comfortable with the whole situation.

“The USO has been absolutely amazing throughout my military career from literally day one,” he added. “We’re both grateful to be at home, together with our family, and even more grateful to have the support of our fellow countrymen who so generously gave these tickets to us through the USO. You made our year.”

Teeing Up Military Kids for Success: Lockheed Martin Volunteers Help Quicken Loans National Golf Tournament Attendees Build Deployment Kits

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BETHESDA, Md.–When children are faced with a parent’s deployment — or worse, a parent who doesn’t return from deployment — they encounter emotions which may be difficult to express.

Understanding this, volunteers from Lockheed Martin are helping Quicken Loans National spectators at Congressional Country Club — including many military families — assemble hundreds of With You all The Way Deployment Kits for military children this week.

The USO — in partnership with the Trevor Romain Company and the Comfort Crew for Military Kids — uses the With You All the Way program to support children ages 6 to 18 tackling difficult issues unique to growing up in a military family.

The unique kit helps children deal with deployment challenges and even establishes valuable knowledge for the reintegration process.

“This is just a great cause, and it’s so awesome to see kids — a lot of military kids, in fact, but others as well — coming in to pack deployment kits for other kids,” said Laura Stewart of Lockheed Martin. Stewart is one of many Lockheed Martin volunteers staffing the USO deployment kit assembly tent this week at the Quicken Loan National.

The deployment kit is centered around the “With You All the Way! Dealing With Deployment” DVD, which was created as a collaboration between The Comfort Crew and the USO. The Comfort Crew was founded by humorist Trevor Romain, who frequently tours with the USO, sharing life lessons with military children such as how to deal with bullies, facing fears, coping with separation and understanding grief.

“I am a full-on supporter of the USO and what they do for military families,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Tyler Barnes, a military caddy who helped construct a deployment kit Wednesday. “I’ve seen all of the support here at home and downrange. It’s just a great organization and they do a lot of great stuff for the military.”

The deployment kits include:

  • The animated “With You All the Way! Dealing with Deployment” DVD
  • A guided writing journal with prompts, calendar, map, and activities
  • The “With You All The Way! Dealing With Deployment Family Guidebook
  • A set of 10 postcards featuring original artwork by Romain
  • Cuzzie, a plush bear for military kids
  • A pair of imprinted dog tags to share with a deploying parent

A Long Way for a Surprise: USO Helps Mom Continue Tradition of Getting Unlikely Gifts to Air Force Daughter on Birthday

Emily Arthur received a birthday surprise courtesy of USO Bagram thanks to her enterprising mother.

Air Force Capt. Emily Arthur received a birthday surprise in 2012 courtesy of USO Bagram thanks to her enterprising mother.

No matter where she’s been stationed the last decade, Air Force Capt. Emily Arthur’s mother Jeanne McConnell has always found a way to surprise her on her birthday.

The challenges differed from year to year, base to base. McConnell snuck a cake into the Air Force Academy during Arthur’s freshman year. McConnell also embarrassed her in front of her first command with a sheet cake made from a childhood photograph of 12-year-old Arthur in a Star Trek costume.

“She’s usually absolutely horrified,” said McConnell, a USO Delaware volunteer. “She’s got a prankster for a mother, and of course most of the time it’s totally embarrassing. But I know she loves it.”

Arthur deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, presenting McConnell her most challenging surprise birthday connection to date.  The Taliban were attacking Arthur’s base nightly to protest the burning of a Koran.

“It was my 30th birthday, so it was kind of a big one,” said Arthur, who was born Feb. 28, 1982. “And you know, I was sad, because it’s hard enough being away from home. I’d pretty much written off any chance of receiving anything.”

Arthur had just arrived at Bagram Air Base. Her mail wasn’t showing up yet. And with all the mortar attacks there wasn’t much celebrating going on.

McConnell knew there was a USO at Bagram, so she thought she would at least give it a try.

“It’s always been a challenge, but I’ve never been unsuccessful,” McConnell said. “But I really thought Bagram was going to be my Waterloo.”

Through a sequence of emails, however, Jeanne was connected with Scott Wilhite, the director of the Pat Tillman Memorial USO at Bagram East, who told McConnell he’d find a way to make the moment happen.

“It may not be the traditional birthday cake,” Wilhite wrote, “but we will think of something.”

Working only with the information that Arthur worked in contracting near the main gate, the USO was able to track her down and deliver the birthday surprise.

“A group of people came into the building and I thought for sure they were just more customers,” Arthur said. “But when I saw the USO logo, I just knew my mom sent them and the tears started flowing.

“It made a huge difference for me I just thought ‘Wow, I cannot believe she was able to get something to me from halfway across the world through the USO.’”

“It still makes me cry to think about all those people helping us reach out and touch our daughter in the war zone,” McConnell wrote in a thank you email to Wilhite. “THIS is why I volunteer … to pay it forward for all the USO’s around the world that have been there for Emily and her husband during their [Air Force] careers. I want to be that volunteer that makes that ‘special day’ for someone else’s son or daughter.”

This year, Arthur’s parents flew out to Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, to visit her on her birthday.

But this Feb. 28, Arthur had a surprise of her own. And it has to do with McConnell’s birthday later this fall.

“We already got your present,” Arthur told her mother. “But you have to come here to get it. It’s going to be delivered on your birthday.”

“What is it?” McConnell asked.

“Your first grandchild. I’m pregnant!”

By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Multimedia Journalist

Support in Reverse: Guardsmen Help Out USO South Carolina Staffer Who Got a Flat Tire on Way to Restock Camp McCrady

South Carolina National Guard Sgt. Gene Parker - along with Sgt. 1st Class Charles Boone - provided clutch roadside assistance for the USO over the weekend. USO photo

South Carolina National Guard Sgt. Gene Parker – along with Sgt. 1st Class Charles Boone – provided clutch roadside assistance for the USO over the weekend. USO photo

For the past three years, the USO has provided a day room at Camp McCrady, South Carolina, a remote installation where the Army trains some Navy personnel before deployment. Because of its remote location, National Guardsmen maintain the day room and USO staff checks in on it and delivers supplies as needed.

Last weekend, USO South Carolina Program Manager Katie Kennedy got a flat tire on her way to restock the day room. She immediately called range operations to let them know she would be delayed. She didn’t expect what happened next.

“I wasn’t even on Camp McCrady yet,” Kennedy said. “But they dropped everything to come to my rescue.”

South Carolina National Guard Sgt. Gene Parker and Sgt. 1st Class Charles Boone drove out to Kennedy’s Jeep, changed the flat tire and got her back on the road.

“They knew I was coming out to support the deployment, so I was basically essential personnel,” she said. “It really tells you a lot about how valued your services are when troops act with such haste to make sure you get there on time.

“We’re out there trying to make moments count for them, and here they turn around and make one count for me.”

An Inside Look: How 272 Volunteers, Dozens of Sponsors and 14 Celebrities Helped the USO Make Dreams Come True for Military Teens

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NEW YORK—When fashion designer Sherri Hill donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in prom dresses to military teens, volunteers and sponsors from around the nation stepped up to make the event as special as possible.

How many exactly?

Two hundred seventy-two volunteers donated 4,294 hours of their time, and dozens of sponsors – including  cash sponsors like CNN – donated goods and services totaling $750,000 to make the New York City version of USO Operation: That’s My Dress a success.

Forty-five Miss USA and Miss Teen USA contestants flew into Manhattan on their own dime to model the dresses in a runway show produced by the USO and TAJ Events with music by celebrity DJ Marlon Bizzy. The models also served as stylists, assisting teens in picking out the perfect prom dress and fashion jewelry.

Fourteen celebrities carved time out of their schedules to make appearances, including Sadie and Korie Robertson from “Duck Dynasty” and the reigning Miss USA Erin Brady. A dozen hair stylists and make-up artists from L’Oreal USA plus jewelry donations from Fashion Delivers helped the teens glow and glitter. And local donors like UHAUL, MTV, Neapolitan Pizza, Au Bon Pain Catering, Indelible Impact and venue managers like the Paramount Hotel and The Marriott Marquis New York helped to make the day’s event possible.

The event couldn’t have been secure without New York’s Empire Shield Task Force. And Tukaiz Marketing Services made sure it had the same look as a New York Fashion Week event.

And of course there was Hill – who has been part of every USO Operation: That’s My Dress to date and has donated more than $1 million in apparel all-time to the events.

“The support we receive from our corporate partners sends a resounding message of gratitude and appreciation to military families for their service and sacrifices,” said Brian Whiting, CEO of USO of Metropolitan New York. “This program would not be possible without the generous support of Sherri Hill and an incredible group of volunteers that traveled from more than 25 states to be with us at the event.”

It takes a village to raise a child, but takes a nation of volunteers and corporate sponsors to support and care for the children of our men and women in uniform.

National Volunteer Week: Frank and Helen Marsh

Frank and Helen Marsh represent the lifeblood of the USO: our volunteers. Frank served as a parachute rigger in the Marines from 1955 to 1957, and was promoted to the rank of sergeant before he got out. He and his wife Helen found their USO volunteer opportunity through the Knights of Columbus, where Frank has been a member for almost 50 years.

We caught up with the Marshes at the USO Marine Corps Trials at Camp Pendleton, Calif.,  where they handed out energy bars, snacks and refreshments to wounded warriors competing in the archery event.