USO Centers Around the World Host Eggstravagant Easter and Spring Celebrations

As flowers begin to bloom and birds begin to sing, USO centers are busy planning and hosting special Easter- and spring-themed events for troops and their families.

Here’s a look at what USO centers are doing around the world.

Europe

USO Grafenwoehr, Germany
On Easter Sunday, USO Grafenwoehr will host the Hippity Hoppity Easter Festival featuring crafts, Easter basket drawings, an Easter egg hunt and photos with the Easter Bunny. Military families attending the event can also enjoy a barbecue festival.

USO Kaiserslautern, Germany
On March 28, USO Kaiserslautern supported the 10th AAMDC Easter Egg Hunt on Rhine Ordinance Barracks with its mobile canteen. The USO provided attendees plenty of food to enjoy between hunting for eggs and taking photos with the Easter Bunny. USO Kaiserslautern served a menu of hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy made in its brand new cotton candy machine.

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USO Stuttgart, Germany
USO Stuttgart hosted an Easter egg hunt Thursday for military children ages 5 and under. The Easter Bunny even made a special visit by the center to help the little hunters search for Easter treats.

USO Naples, Italy
USO Naples hosted a children’s activity event March 28 at the local MWR’s Easter Eggstravaganza. Over 1,000 people stopped by the USO tent, which featured face painting, pin the tail on the Easter Bunny, a can toss, bean bag games, a bunny hop relay and more.

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USO Rome, Italy
On March 28, USO Rome participated in the annual Easter Egg Hunt event at the U.S. ambassador’s residence. More than 100 children and their families attended the event and enjoyed the games, prizes, balloons and face painting.

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Pacific

USO Yokosuka, Japan
USO Yokosuka hosted a special egg-dying event Thursday. All of the painted eggs were donated to be part of an egg hunt at an orphanage near Camp Fuji.

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USO Kadena, Japan
Military families looking to ring in the spring season can stop by the Four Diamonds Softball Complex on Saturday for USO Kadena’s annual Eggsplosion event. Visitors can enjoy a giant Easter egg hunt, inflatables, pictures with the Easter Bunny and more from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time.

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Southwest Asia

USO Camp Buehring, Kuwait
On Easter Sunday, troops can stop by USO Camp Buehring at 6 p.m. local time for a special Easter Eggstravaganza celebration.

USO Kandahar, Afghanistan
To celebrate Easter and the start of spring, USO Kandahar will host a special spring pancake event Sunday at noon local time. Troops can enjoy a home-cooked meal of flapjacks and maple syrup while relaxing at the USO.

Stateside

USO Colorado Springs, Colorado
On Saturday , USO Colorado Spring will host a special Easter egg hunt for military children ages 1 to 10 from 1 to 3 p.m. local time. In addition to searching for Easter treats, kids can take pictures with the Easter Bunny and Ernie the Eagle, enjoy entertainment by the Shriner clowns and Cartoon Bill, and enjoy crafts, pizza and other snacks.

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USO Fort Hood, Texas
USO Fort Hood was on the ground at the Fort Hood Warrior Transition Unit’s Spring Fest last weekend, where more than 200 military members celebrated the arrival of spring. As part of the festivities, attendees enjoyed Easter egg hunts, face painting and visiting with the Easter Bunny.

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USO of Wisconsin
The USO of Wisconsin will kick of spring with a bang at its annual USO Easter Eggstravaganza at Cudahy High School on April 11 from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time. This family event, which is open to the public, will feature games, crafts, egg hunts, pictures with the Easter Bunny and more. All proceeds raised from the day’s festivities will go towards supporting military families through the USO of Wisconsin’s various programs. You can register for the event here.

USO San Diego
The Easter Bunny stopped by USO San Diego’s Downtown Center on March 29 to meet with military families over a spring-themed breakfast. Families enjoyed waffles, eggs, bacon and fruit prepared by GR Catering/Gourmet Rotisserie Events before story time with United Through Reading and meeting the Easter Bunny. There was music from the Hullabaloo band, balloon artists and baskets of toys for each child in attendance.

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USO and TAPS Come Through for Army Family After Son’s Suicide

Corey Smith was a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who committed suicide in 2012

Corey Smith, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, committed suicide Dec. 29, 2012. Courtesy of the Smith family

Like every Saturday morning, Kathy Smith expected a phone call from her Army veteran son.

But on this Saturday, it was a call from someone else.

“Corey Jon Smith, what did you do? Oh my God kid! What did you do?” she recalls shouting aloud from her bathroom before gathering the family at her oldest son Travis’ house to share the tragic news.

Their beloved Corey, her youngest child who had struggled with post-traumatic stress for years after serving in Iraq and who was close to graduating with a psychology degree with the intention of helping others going through similar problems, had committed suicide at his home in Anchorage, Alaska.

“You know what, God,” she recalled saying, “I absolutely do not agree with this plan. I don’t like this plan and I don’t agree with it.

“But I believe in you and I trust you, and I’m trusting that you’re going to take care of us now, because we have to get to Anchorage.”

Corey Smith on deployment in Iraq, 2006. Courtesy photo

Corey Smith during a 2006 Iraq deployment.

Kathy said the family had recently spent the last of its savings on her nursing school tuition and were trying to figure out how to get gas and food for the week. There were no funds to get to Anchorage.

“When TAPS stepped into the picture with the USO, they covered all of those areas,” she said. “When I told you they were the answer to a prayer, I wasn’t kidding. They answered our prayers to a ‘T.’ There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t think of the people at TAPS and the USO.”

On Dec. 29, 2012, TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) received a call from a friend who lived near the Smith family in Big Lake, Minnesota, explaining the Smiths’ need to get to Anchorage quickly to comfort their 26-year-old now-widowed daughter-in-law and 3-year-old granddaughter.

TAPS moved quickly to make that happen. The only available flight plan included an overnight layover in Seattle, which meant asking the USO to act as a concierge for the family. Within days, the Smiths were on their way to Alaska, arriving at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport just as the ball was dropping to start 2013 in New York City.

“We were so exhausted,” Tim Smith said. “In a situation like that, you wouldn’t know what you want if you wanted it, your brain is so scrambled and confused — kind of just hanging in limbo.”

USO SeaTac Director Bill Baker greeted them and guided them to the USO, where they stayed until their 6 a.m. flight.

“It was a heartbreaking week to say the least,” Baker said. “My volunteers did an amazing job taking care of them and made them feel so comfortable and welcome when they asked if they could stay in the USO instead of a hotel so they could be closer to military troops.”

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With an early flight and Kathy nursing a broken foot from dropping her laptop bag on it that day, they decided staying at the USO was the most convenient decision.

“I remember we went to bed at about 1:30 or 2 a.m. but the gentleman on duty at the USO said he had an alarm set for us, and that he and another woman would be up all night to look over us” Kathy Smith said. “I know for a fact that they were because I saw them come in and check on us. I couldn’t sleep, so I watched her pull the covers up over my daughter.”

The Smiths made it to Anchorage for the funeral proceedings and back to their home outside Minneapolis without further incident, all the while being watched over by TAPS and USO volunteers.

“Throughout the whole time we would get calls from TAPS asking us if we needed anything or if we forgot anything,” Kathy Smith said. “They called to make sure we got to the USO safely and we got calls shortly after we arrived. Every step of the way they made sure that we weren’t stranded anywhere at any point in time.

“In that moment and in so many others, USO volunteers made a grieving family feel more comfortable and gave them such care during a very difficult time,” said Bonnie Carroll, President and Founder of TAPS. “It’s the perfect example of why and how our organizations rely on each other to care for military families during their most difficult moments.”

His sister Autum set up a peer support foundation called Coreysadventuresfoundation.org, to memorialize Corey by connecting veterans with each other and by connecting the families dealing with the aftermath of PTSD-related suicides. Corey believed in “Faith, Family, Friends, and Freedom,” but at his heart he was an adventure-seeker who believed in the brotherhood of one soldier to another. The Smiths believe the key is to facilitate outdoor adventures and activities where veterans and families can meet and connect.

“I miss him very much,” Kathy Smith said. “But there are still Saturdays when I wake up thinking Corey’s going to call today.”

After Father’s Sudden Death, Soldier Turns to the USO for A Crucial Assist

Photo courtesy Army Spc. Austin Hunsinger

Army Spc. Austin Hunsinger at work. Photo courtesy Army Spc. Austin Hunsinger

Losing a parent can be devastating.

But losing a parent while on military duty adds a new set of obstacles that can overwhelm the most prepared soldier. Army Spc. Austin Hunsinger knows this all too well.

In December 2012, after learning his father suddenly passed way, Hunsinger — who was stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina — had to juggle an emergency leave request, funeral arrangements and booking last-minute flights all in a matter of hours.

When he finally arrived at the airport to go back to Rochester, New York, he was exhausted. He’d been up all night speaking with his family. So he sat down in the airport, fell asleep and missed his flight.

When Hunsinger woke up and realized what had happened, he knew he needed help fast. He headed straight to the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport USO. A little shaken up and worried he wouldn’t be able to get another flight in time for the funeral, Hunsinger explained what happened to the USO staff.

The grave of Charles Hunsinger, Army Spc. Austin Hunsinger's father. Photo courtesy Army Spc. Austin Hunsinger

The grave of Charles Hunsinger, Army Spc. Austin Hunsinger’s father. Photo courtesy Army Spc. Austin Hunsinger

“The USO is always there and they’re always the first people I go to when I’m traveling,” Hunsinger said.

Within a matter of minutes, a USO volunteer helped Hunsinger re-book his flight to Rochester, getting him home just in time for his father’s services the next day.

“That was a really hectic time for me and [the USO] just relieved the stress at the right point,” Hunsinger said.

“[The USO had] perfect timing, for them to be there and for them to help me get a flight and to provide me with a place to rest my head [was great].”

USO Fort Drum‘s Allen Jones contributed to this story.

Girl Scouts from Kansas, Missouri Bringing Sweet Treats to Troops at USO Fort Riley

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Whether they’re stateside or abroad, troops love Girl Scout cookies. The colorful boxes, iconic cookie names and familiar flavors provide service members around the world with a taste of home.

So when the Girl Scouts of Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri wanted to support troops in their communities via their donation-based Cookie Share Program, they partnered with the local USO at Fort Riley, Kansas.

“This is a really great partner for us — the USO,” said Gina Garvin, Girl Scouts of Northeast Kansas and Northwest Missouri’s vice president of brand and marketing.

Sharing is Caring

As the troops’ 2015 Cookie Share partner, USO Fort Riley will receive boxes of cookies sold door-to-door, online and at booths through March 15.

The girls give their customers the option to buy a box of cookies to donate directly to the USO, even if they don’t want to purchase a box to for themselves.

Once the cookies are delivered, USO Fort Riley will distribute the boxes to troops on local bases in the surrounding area.

“I hope that that box of Girl Scout cookies, whether they’re coming home or they’re here working at home, it gives [troops] a sense of … ‘Welcome home,’” Garvin said.

Although this is the first time USO Fort Riley will be the official Cookie Share partner, the troops have donated cookies USO Fort Riley before. In 2014, the local Girl Scout troops raised enough cookies for USO Fort Riley to use at programming events throughout the entire year.

Cookies Close to Home

Garvin said the large local military population was the main reason the troops chose to partner with USO Fort Riley.

In fact, a number of troops supporting this year’s Cookie Share Program, like Fort Riley’s Brownie Troop 5682 and Junior Troop 5683, are entirely composed of military children.

“We know these Girl Scouts. We want to support them,” Garvin said. “We want to put our arms around them and so this is just a really great way to do that.”

Troop 5682 and 5683 co-leaders Crystal Buotte Lary and Christina Glassford said their troops were immediately on-board with the USO connection, especially since they’d just prepared and sent boxes to troops overseas for the holidays.

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“What the USO does for families and especially deployed spouses, soldiers, single soldiers, we wanted our troops to be a part of that, to give back,” Glassford said.

From including the USO in their door-to-door sales pitch to decorating their cookie booths red, white and blue, the girls of Troops 5682 and 5683 took the 2015 Cookie Share cause to heart.

“We’re seeing them all get behind the USO and I think it’s because they can now see the military in their communities,” Garvin said.

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.”