From Enlisted to VIP: Trio of USO Events Turn Troops into Guests of Honor

This September, we’ve helped treat recovering troops to an exclusive meet-and-greet, distributed tickets for an exclusive basketball game and brought some accomplished cartoonists downrange to create some exclusive drawings.

Here’s a look at a few USO news items – from New York to Ohio and all the way to Afghanistan – that have happened the last few weeks:

Jon Stewart Hosts Recovering Troops During USO Visit

A group of wounded, ill and injured troops and their guests meet with "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, center, in New York City on Thursday. Stewart hosted the USO outing. USO photo

A group of wounded, ill and injured troops and their guests meet with “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, center, in New York City on Thursday. Stewart hosted the USO outing. USO photo

Jon Stewart, the popular anchor of Comedy Central’s long-running “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” hosted a USO contingent of wounded, ill and injured troops at the show’s New York City studio on Thursday. Comedians from “The Daily Show” – including summer interim host John Oliver – recently visited troops downrange, too.

Cleveland Cavaliers Turn Annual Exhibition into Military-Only Event

The NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers’ annual Wine and Gold game – the intra-squad scrimmage that traditionally kicks off their preseason – will be a private event this year for troops and their families. Tickets for the game, which will be played at Baldwin Wallace University, will be distributed through the USO of Northern Ohio.

Toons for the Troops in Afghanistan

Army Spc. Jovi Prevot of the Mississippi Army National Guard has his caricature made by two-time Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez on Sept. 6 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Tynes

Army Spc. Jovi Prevot of the Mississippi Army National Guard has his caricature made by two-time Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez on Sept. 6 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Scott Tynes

A group of eight National Cartoonist Society artists visited troops in Afghanistan on a USO tour earlier this month. See this DVIDS story for more details.

Barbecue Hosted by Fox News Reporter and Orioles Pitcher Raised More than $23,000 for USO

From left Orioles pitcher Darren O'Day and his wife, Fox News' Elizabeth Prann, pose with USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore's Elaine Rogers and John Fallon. Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles

From left Orioles pitcher Darren O’Day and his wife, Fox News’ Elizabeth Prann, pose with USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore’s Elaine Rogers and John Fallon. Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Darren O’Day and his wife, Fox News reporter Elizabeth Prann, presented a check for $23,463 to the USO during a ceremony on Thursday. The funds were raised during a Barbecue for the Troops event the couple held for the USO at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Aug. 4.

The August event featured a bullpen picnic-area barbeque that included a silent auction featuring many one-of-a-kind items provided and autographed by Orioles players. The Orioles also auctioned off the special Stars and Stripes hats the players wore during the team’s July 4 game against the Texas Rangers.

And to top it off, the Orioles  donated 50 tickets to USO Metro for Thursday night’s game so that local troops and their families could enjoy a night at the ballpark.

–Story by the USO

Drowning Pool Rocks 3 Stateside Bases on Latest USO Tour

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Multi-platinum hard rockers Drowning Pool are no strangers to life on the road. Having just concluded their summer tour and announcing their upcoming tour dates in Russia, one might think the band would be taking a much-needed break. Instead, they are busy showing their support for troops and military families as part of their second USO tour this year.

The band is traveling more than 1,300 miles over seven days to put on three USO concerts for troops and families. Having already hit Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. and F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo., they’ll wrap their tour up tonight with a show at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.

–Story by Sharee Posey, USO Senior Communications

Ayla Brown Performs for Troops and Families at Nashville Yellow Ribbon Event

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Country singer Ayla Brown preformed in Nashville for Army National Guard troops and Army reservists. USO photos by Joseph A. Lee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — More than 1,500 Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers and their families from 43 states enjoyed an intimate USO performance by country music singer and former American Idol contestant Ayla Brown on Saturday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center here.

Brown is the oldest daughter of former United States Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who also happens to be a colonel in the Army National Guard, so she’s no stranger to the military scene. In fact,  she entertained 15,000 troops at  Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, in November 2010.

“With a grandfather in the Air Force and my father in the Army, an appreciation for the military is something I’ve grown up with,” Brown said. “After moving out here to Nashville, I told the USO that if they ever need me to donate my time, just pick up the phone and call — and here I am.”

Her latest album, written specifically for military families, is called “Heroes and Hometowns.” The seven-song EP features a studio version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in addition to original, patriotic songs. Fans can purchase her new single – “Pride of America” – through her website or iTunes.

The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program is a congressionally mandated program for soldiers in the deployment cycle. The one- or two-day events feature experts who brief soldiers and their family members on topics such as healthcare, financial readiness, legal issues, employment services, child and youth services, health and wellness, education benefits and veteran’s affairs.

Story and photos by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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Brown’s performance got the crowd on its feet.

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Brown took time to meet attendees after her show.

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USO, Jack Daniel’s Team Up to Toast to the Troops

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More than 5,000 Operation USO Care Packages were assembled Thursday by military spouses as part of the 20th “Toast to the Troops” care package assembly event. USO North Carolina volunteers and Jack Daniel’s employees took part in the event at the Fort Bragg fairgrounds. Following the assembly event, country music star and Army veteran Craig Morgan treated more than 3,000 troops, military families and members of the Fort Bragg community to a free concert.

“If it were not for these men and women who are serving, the people we are packing these bags for, we would not live in the country we live in today,” Morgan said.  “And it is imperative that we take care of them.”

The USO and Jack Daniel’s have worked together on these events for eight years. The USO has distributed more than 2.3 million care packages since the program began in 2003.  In addition to providing service men and women with needed items, the care packages serve as a touch of home and a reminder to our troops that America is always by their side.

–Story by USO Story Development

A Journey to Brotherhood

“Brotherhood is not defined by the bond of blood, but the common tint of the soul” – Frisco Cruise

I’ve watched enough war movies and sports themed dramas to realize that the bonds of brotherhood run deep, but growing up in a household of four women, I never had the opportunity to see those bonds forming in real life.  Well, that was until my recent trip to Kuwait and Germany as part of the weeklong Power 106 & Nick Cannon N’Credible All-Star USO Basketball Tour.

Ready to play some ball!

Ready to play some ball!

Think seven guys (platinum recording artist Baby Bash, Power 106 radio personalities Big Boy, DJ E-man and DJ Thirty Two, actors Arlen Escarpeta and NaNa as well as professional athlete Michael “AirDogg” Stewart) and me, the lone female, packed into one vehicle and you get the story of how I learned about brotherhood on a bus in Kuwait.

A team of 20, we were divided into two groups.  The first included multi-faceted entertainer Nick Cannon and artists from his N’Credible record label Kristinia DeBarge, boy band 4Count and hip-hop artists PWD, and we were the second group.  The objective of the trip, boost troop morale with some good-old fashioned team competition – basketball, anyone?

Our first stop was Camp Buehring in Kuwait.  Our mode of transportation, two 12-passenger vehicles.  Travel time, two hours.  As we headed toward our destination, I was unaware that I was undertaking a journey all my own.

The bus was alive with chatter.   From the Power 106 players recalling their “best of” moments on the court to USO tour veterans Baby Bash and Big Boy reliving their previous USO tour together, it seemed that every sentence began with “Remember that game…” or “Remember that time when…” followed by the laughter that can only come from shared memories.   And then there was me, quietly listening because it was clear that what was happening here was the same thing that could’ve been happening in locker rooms thousands of miles away, or here in Kuwait, in the middle of the dessert where the soldier next to you quickly becomes the brother who protects you – a brotherhood was forming.   And in what seemed like a blink of an eye, two hours had passed and we had arrived at our destination.

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 2.02.46 PMGame time and its standing room only on the outdoor basketball court. A sandstorm on the horizon and you could feel the energy and excitement from both teams.  Cheers and laughter erupted from the sidelines as Big Boy emceed the game, and if it weren’t for the glare of reflector belts, the camouflaged uniforms and the blast walls, I could have been watching any pick-up game at a neighborhood court.

Both teams played hard and it was the Power 106/N”Credible team who finished with top points.  At the end of the game, players from both teams met center court to shake hands, hug and extend their compliments for a game well played. These men and women had sweated together, competed with and against each other, laughed with each other and from what I could tell neither team walked away with winning or losing on their mind, it was the experience they were taking away with them.

As we loaded into our buses and I settled back into my seat of anonymity, the chatter began again but this time it wasn’t about past experiences.  It was about the day, the people they’d met, the servicemen and women they played against and how the experience had changed their lives.  It was clear that being able to say ‘thank you’ to our troops, to bring them a break from their day-to-day activities and to hear from our servicemen and women how much that meant to them, was something that would forever connect these men to our troops.

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 2.01.53 PMOften we think that something really big has to happen to have an impact on our lives, but sometimes it’s a combination of experiences that do the trick.  Being able to listen and watch as these men grew closer over their experience, combined with my own history with the military – hearing from troops how during deployments your fellow soldiers become your family –made me realize that there are brothers who we are born to love, and those whose bonds are forged in experience.  And those kinds of bonds don’t take a lifetime to make, sometimes the time it takes to play a basketball game or travel from one point to another is all you need.

We can’t all go to the places our troops are deployed to show our support, but there are ways that we as Americans can let them know that we are always by their side, and that we recognize the sacrifices they make to serve our country.  To find out how you can help visit us online at www.uso.org.   - Sharee Posey, USO Senior Communications Specialist