Sons of Anarchy Bring Smiles to the Pacific

Is there a word or phrase that conveys “happily exhausted?” When I first meet Kim Coates, Mark Boone Junior and Dayton Callie of Sons of Anarchy on the last day of their whirlwind tour of the Pacific, that is the first thing that comes to my mind.

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Clockwise from top left: The line snaked around the parking lot; Kim Coates and Mark Boone Junior admire a framed photo of the cast before signing; The actors met with hundreds of troops and their families in the morning

Over the past seven days the trio of actors had visited troops and their families stationed in Japan and Guam, and now Hawaii. This was be the second USO tour for Coates and Boone and the third for Callie. In 2010, the cast set out on their first USO tour together, along with fellow actor Theo Rossi, and delivered cheer and a touch of home to more than 2,000 troops in Kuwait and Iraq. Last year, Callie and Rossi, along with fellow “Sons of Anarchy” star Ron Perlman, spent a day visiting troops and military families at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms in California.

They had just landed the night before, but no time for sun and surf – we were immediately off to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a meet and greet event!

The line of hundreds of military members and families wrapped around the parking lot in the hot sun, but it was all cheers smiles as we arrived! For three hours straight, the actors gave out hugs, took pictures and signed posters and t-shirts.

"I'm star struck!" explained one pregnant military spouse after the actors signed her tummy!

“I’m star struck!” explained one pregnant military spouse after the actors signed her tummy!

After a brief lunch, filled with signing more posters, it was off to tour a ship and meet with some of the crew members. Dayton Callie, a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War, joked, “In my day we were still using cannon balls!”

Then it was off again to meet hundreds more excited military fans. By this point my back and feet had begun to ache and I couldn’t fathom how they were still standing. Yet they were excited to meet more people and ready with big smiles as they spent two more hours taking pictures and autographing items.

Coates, Boone and Callie at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Coates, Boone and Callie at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Finally, we spent the evening taking a private boat tour of Pearl Harbor, stopping by the USS Arizona Memorial. Awed by its significance, Coates, Boone and Callie agreed that our men and women in the military sacrifice so much and deserve the utmost respect.

Wrapping up the long day and tour with a dinner, the actors were weary but content… and already contemplating what they’ll do next with the USO! - Vyque White, USO Director of New Media

 

Sisters in Arms, Comrades at Heart: A Valentine’s Day Celebration

Kelli Picker Skypes with service women at the USO in Kandahar

Kellie Pickler Skypes with service women at a USO in the Middle East

Songs have been written about them and movies made but nothing beats a real-life GNO! What’s that, you ask? Well, it’s a good old-fashioned “Girls Night Out,” and lets be honest, most of us need one every now and again.

No matter the reason or occasion, women around the world have been getting together to laugh, bond and make some life-long memories and friendships. And our servicewomen in Afghanistan and Kuwait are no exception.  Amidst desert conditions, high-stress missions and the added strain of missing their family and loved ones, they’ve managed to take comfort and find strength in their sisterhood.

You won’t find them at their favorite restaurant, or catching the latest tearjerker at the local movie theater, because they’re on a mission to protect and serve and are deployed in theater.  But once a month, you can find them at their local USO centers taking a break from the stresses of deployment, letting their hair down and getting as glammed as one can in the middle of warzone.

Always looking for innovative ways to serve our troops, USO centers in Southwest Asia recognized that the deployed female military population was in need of some Tender Loving Care and instituted their monthly “Ladies Night” events, where troops are given a private space (women only) to pamper themselves.  From nail polish, to sweet treats and chick flicks, USO centers supply servicewomen with the touches of home they’ve been missing.

When six-time USO tour veteran Kellie Pickler traveled to Afghanistan, to perform and show her support for servicemen and women, she came home realizing just how hard it is to for a woman to feel like a woman when she spends her days and nights in the desert, dressed in camouflage.  Once she heard about the USO’s “Ladies Nights,” Pickler knew she wanted to get involved and what better time than Valentine’s Day.  That’s why this Feb. 14th, the singer/songwriter and a team of her sponsors shipped off a supply of items to USO Centers in Afghanistan and Kuwait– so that our servicewomen could have an extra special day of pampering.

“I am grateful to all of our servicemen and women for the sacrifices they make, but I have a special place in my heart for servicewomen. They are some brave, beautiful and dedicated women. That’s why I wanted to do something special just for them this Valentine’s Day.  While our servicewomen are spending this time away from their families and loved ones I wanted them to be able to take a moment and pamper themselves” – Kellie Pickler

Pickler’s support didn’t end there.  She wanted our servicewomen to know exactly how much she appreciated their sacrifices and she told them via Skype.  Troops at USO Kandahar and USO Shindand in Afghanistan and USO Camp Buehring in Kuwait LIVE chatted with the songstress and heard first-hand about how much their service means to America.  And for those USO centers that couldn’t participate, due to connectivity restraints, Pickler recorded a special message of support.

Everyday that our deployed servicewomen are away from home they are missing out on the opportunity to fulfill their roles as mother, wife, sister, daughter or friend.  And there is no doubt that they are missed by their families and loved ones. Even in the harshest of conditions and when the heartache of homesickness seems overwhelming, our troops know that they can lean on each other and that no one understands what they are going through more than their sisters in arms. While we can’t recreate the moments in life that they are missing, we can show our appreciation and let them know how much their service means to us all.   With support from the American public and celebrity volunteers like Kellie Pickler the USO will always be there for our troops delivering goodness and support wherever they serve.   – Sharee Posey, USO Senior Communications Specialist

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See more pictures at the USO Kandahar Facebook Page and USO Camp Marmal Facebook Page!

Google, USO Honor Military With Circus Performance

Screen Shot 2012-12-07 at 1.00.37 PMAs a part of Veterans Week NYC, the USO and Google teamed up with Big Apple Circus to provide laughs for more than 1,500 veterans, active duty service members and their families! This special performance opened with a full military color guard, with the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ performed by the USO Liberty Bells, and an had a guest ringmaster, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Paul Bucha of the U.S. Army. The show was held in NYC’s Lincoln Center and also streamed live on both YouTube and Google+.

Jenny Milewski, wife of SSGT Bryan Milewski  said “We were thrilled to have the opportunity to see the Big Apple Circus! Each family member had a favorite part—we had never been to the Big Apple Circus, but we are now going to make it a family tradition! This was one of the highlights of Veterans Week, and the USO has been so wonderful to our family.”

Watch some of the highlights with your family now!

Trevor Romain Addresses Bullying with Military Children

For some children, “back to school” can mean back to bullies.

Bullying is especially common for military children who, according to the Military Child Education Coalition, move about six to nine times from kindergarten to twelfth grade.

So where’s the good news? Trevor Romain is setting out to help military children in Europe identify and change bullying behavior! During his USO tour, Trevor will also discuss how to recognize the signs that your child is being bullied (or is bullying others), how to talk to your kids about bullying and ways families can cope with this important issue together.

You can hear Trevor’s thoughts about bullying behavior and how to handle it and how Trevor discusses these problems with military children in his interview with the Department of Defense Education Activity.

Bullying Statistics

  • About 71 percent of students report bullying as an on-going problem they face at school.
  • Over half of all students have witnessed a bullying crime take place while at school.
  • A reported 15 percent of all students who don’t show up for school report it to being out of fear of being bullied while at school.
  • About one out of every 10 students drops out or changes schools because of repeated bullying.
  • About 282,000 students are reportedly attacked in high schools throughout the nation each month.

As a nationally-recognized children’s motivational speaker and author, Trevor will also share the USO’s With You All the Way program with military children. Through a partnership between the USO and the Comfort Crew for Military Kids and the Trevor Romain Company, this program focuses on helping children and families cope with deployment, reintegration, and what happens when a parent returns from combat with wounds, both seen and unseen.

People often forget about the sacrifices and hardships that are unique for military children. At the USO, we understand the difficulties military children endure and we are so proud to partner with Trevor in our mission to support and connect with our military children around the world.

Thank you Trevor!

- Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

With Parents Deployed, Military Toddlers Confront Monsters

He’s the baby on the block, but he already knows his A, B, C’s; his 1, 2, 3’s; and his Do-re-mi’s. He’s perpetually turned 3-and-a-half for nearly 20 years, but he’s still “got new shoes.”

For toddlers, he’s an A-List celebrity. For parents, he’s nothing short of a red felt superhero.

Elmo is back with the Sesame Street gang in the USO’s longest-running traveling show and the first-ever designed specifically for military families.

The Rood family and the Mowry family got a chance to meet the whole gang back stage, May 16, at the Wallace Theater on Ft. Belvoir. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Families like the Roods, who saw the Sesame Street/USO Experience at Fort Belvoir just three weeks before moving to a new duty station. Their 2-year-old son Deyvian may be too young to absorb what’s happening, but his older brother, 4-year-old Marques, will have to make new friends for the first time.

“I think it’s pretty cool how they incorporated a new character to talk about relocation,” said Army Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Rood, who came with his two sons and his wife, Kimberly, to see the show May 14 at the Wallace Theater.

Make no mistake—Marques and Deyvian are both diehard Elmo fans. But they might find they have a lot in common with the new kid on Sesame Street.  Her name is Katie, and she’s a 6-year-old military child moving to a new place. She is confronted with the same concerns of today’s real life military families like the Roods—the separation and anxiety of a deployment, and the stress of packing up every few years and relocating to a new base, a new city or a new country.

Ella Terry, 5-year-old daughter of Navy LCDR Ronald Terry, connects with Sesame Street character Katie, a 6-year-old girl who understands what it’s like to move to a new duty station. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Ella Terry is just 5 years old, and she likes that “Katie had a daddy in the military too.”

“I am a military child and you are a military spout (spouse),” she said, pointing to her mom, Beth, wife of Navy LCDR Ronald Terry.

“Ella has already moved from Maine to San Diego to Washington D.C. in just her first 15 months of life,” said Beth Terry. “And though the transitions were great and she had no idea it was happening, in a couple years we will move again, and I appreciate being able to remind her of Katie.”

Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Mowry is currently deployed to Afghanistan. His 2-year-old daughter, Keirah, attended the show with her mom, Crystal. At night, Keirah dances with her Rock and Roll Elmo doll and spins around giggling every time she hears him laugh. Her mom recalls doing the same thing when she was young.

“I remember learning so much from Sesame Street,” Crystal said. “Now, being able to watch her enjoy and grow up with the same characters, it is just incredible.”

Before the show, the Mowrys and the Roods had the chance to actually meet Elmo, Katie and the whole gang face to face. After her one-on-one with the not-so little red monster, Keirah was elated.

When asked what her deployed daddy would think about her meeting Elmo, her jubilation quickly subsided and her brows began knitting. She responded quietly, staring down at her feet.

“Daddy’s far, far away for work,” she said. ~ Story and photos by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour has performed more than 371 shows on 115 installations in 33 states and 12 countries – lifting the spirits of 222,000+ military families. Tour dates, character bios and tour information can be found at www.uso.org/sesame

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A Place Not So Far From Home

Actor Gary Sinise hits the stage to perform for troops and military families at U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis

When we think of our troops serving in remote locations, far from the comforts of home, we typically envision them in the desert on the frontlines of war but that isn’t always the case.

Countless troops serve our nation right here on the home front, including the thousands of Guardsmen and military families stationed on the small island of Kodiak in Alaska, home to one of the largest U.S. Coast Guard bases in the world.  I recently visited the island with USO tour veteran Gary Sinise and his band, The Lt. Dan Band, and discovered that you don’t have to live in a foreign land to feel far from home.

“Alaska isn’t another country, but sometimes it feels like it is”

From our first stop in Anchorage to our last stop in Kodiak we heard over and over how much troops and their families appreciated Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band’s USO visit and how much it meant to them.  “We never get any famous people here, it’s just too far,” said one military spouse, who explained how much she missed just being able to attend a concert.  The men and women stationed in Alaska may not be serving overseas or in combat zones, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t missing some of the same comforts of home as those who are.   When a celebrity volunteer like Gary Sinise drops by to say thank you and deliver a high-energy, family-friendly USO show, it lets them know that America recognizes their service comes at a price and appreciates their sacrifice.

(L-R) Medal of Honor recipient Drew Dix, actor Gary Sinise and Capt. Bill Deal, commanding officer of Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, pose for a photo with the crews of the air station. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that make the biggest differences.  Petty Officer 3rd Class David Call, who escorted our group for most of our time in Kodiak, pointed out,  “What I miss the most is being able to get in my car and drive.”Kodiak hosts less than 100 miles of drivable road, and when you’re used to hopping in your car to relax or clear your mind the open highway can become as welcome a sight as a good friend.  That’s why, no matter what it is our troops are missing or wherever they serve the USO and partners like Gary Sinise and TriWest Healthcare Alliance – who help to fund many of the Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band tours – are there for them. While the USO may not be able to bring the open road to our men and women in uniform, like Petty Officer Call, we can bring them a good time and some memories to last a lifetime.

Petty Officer 3rd Class David Call, who can be seen as part of the Weather Channel Series “Coast Guard Alaska,” provides medical support to a 5-month-old baby girl. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Charly Hengen

To see a glimpse of the action tune into The Weather Channel’s hit series “Coast Guard Alaska,” which airs Wednesdays at 9/8c and follow the men and women serving at Kodiak as they train, work, and tackle the harsh environment of rugged Alaska.  USO and Gary Sinise fans can also look forward to a special USO themed episode in season three.  To learn more about the USO and how you can support our forward deployed troops, military families and our ill, injured and wounded warriors please visit us online at www.uso.org.  – Sharee Posey, USO Senior Communications Specialist