There’s only one week left to help the USO break the Guinness World Record for most signatures on a flag.
Sign your name to the Every Moment Counts flag today at USOmoments.org and show your support of our troops and their families!
WASHINGTON—The USO enlisted help from Sesame Street and members of Congress to assemble 1,500 USO Warrior Care Packs for wounded, ill and injured troops at a service project Tuesday on Capitol Hill.
“The USO has always symbolized the outward expression of America’s commitment to our warriors, and now more than ever I think it’s so important,” said Congressman Tim Walz, a USO Congressional Caucus Co-Chair. “The American people care deeply, but they’re busy. … That’s where you and the USO come in to make sure to let them know that we are thinking of them — every moment of every day.”
Elmo, Cookie Monster, Grover and Katie – a muppet created especially for the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families – helped Congress members and their aides assemble packages in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building. Those packages will head overseas for troops who need them most. Learn more about the USO Warrior Care Pack program and the Sesame Street/USO tour at USO.org.
–Video by Joseph Andrew Lee
AFGHANISTAN–USO Bagram had the special pleasure of helping two soldiers welcome their baby boys into the world this week via Skype!
Spc. Kaznica, left, and his wife welcomed their 7-pound, 14-ounce baby boy and Pfc. McElroy, right, and his wife welcomed their 8-pound son, Evan. Both babies and both moms are doing well and the dads couldn’t be any prouder! The USO congratulates the Kaznica and McElroy families!
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — Wounded warriors came together April 7-11 to compete at the inaugural Air Force trials competition at the Warrior Fitness Center and USO volunteers were there to supply an oasis of refreshments and support.
The trials are an adaptive sports camp used to identify which athletes will be selected as members of the Air Force Warrior Games team and compete against other military branches in September. Athletes competed in seven different events including archery, cycling, track and field, swimming, shooting, wheelchair basketball and seated volleyball.
On April 18, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the USO hosted Air Force Command Chief Master Sgt. Tommy Mazzone and other high-ranking officials from MacDill Air Force Base for a game on Nation seminar at One Buccaneer Place. The seminar focused on leadership, teamwork and communication. Watch the clip now on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ website.
After a year of construction and several years of planning and fundraising, the ribbon was finally cut on April 1 at the USO Warrior and Family Center located on Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.
The center – which is the sister structure to the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. – opened to troops, families and caregivers the next day and provided a much-needed home away from home for wounded, ill and injured troops and their families and caregivers living on the installation.
More than 200 people – including Department of Defense officials, wounded warriors, esteemed donors and even Miss America – attended the ceremony at the new center.
“This is where the future begins,” USO President and CEO John I. Pray, Jr., said. “We built this Warrior and Family Center to serve all troops and their families who pass through this healing center of excellence.”
The 16,217-square-foot center has places for recovering troops and their families and caregivers to relax and plan their futures away from the grind of the hospital. Outfitted with state-of-the-art technology, the Warrior and Family Center has a classroom for recovering troops to take college courses, plenty of computers and a fireside lounge and kitchen where they can relax and grab a bite to eat.
Troops seeking to have a good time can hit the sports lounge, where they can watch the biggest games, or visit the studio, where they can work on creative projects or jam on house instruments.
“It’s hard to capture in words what a center like this means to recovering warriors and their families,” said Adm. James A. Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “To be able to get away – in the midst of it all – to such a beautiful, peaceful and comfortable place right here on campus … is more than just nice to have. It is an essential part of recovery.”
Cheryl Laaker Hall, vice president of operations for USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore, spoke with confidence when she talked about the center’s future.
“We’re very certain, after the last few days of being here, that we have a winner,” she said. “We know that troops and families want to be here. They need a place like this, where they can go and be themselves. … We’re just so proud to have this facility and be able to be that space for them.”
The time-honored tradition of celebrating the birth of a child with a baby shower is one of the moments many of our expectant military moms miss out on, especially if they live overseas. To help fill that void, the USO, in collaboration with the What to Expect Foundation and author Heidi Murkoff, brought “Special Delivery,” a very special baby shower to military moms in Landstuhl, Germany.
“Motherhood is the ultimate sisterhood,” said Murkoff, the best-selling author of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” “For military moms-to-be, far from their immediate family and friends, these baby showers are more than gift bags and cake. They are about connecting and sharing a common bond and creating friendships with women experiencing the same mix of emotions.”
Over three days, the USO and the What to Expect Foundation hosted three baby showers for hundreds of new and expecting military moms in Germany. Each baby shower featured food, gifts and games as well as a question-and-answer session and book signing with Murkoff.
“Military families sacrifice countless everyday moments in service to our country,” said USO Europe Regional Vice President Walt Murren. “It is such an honor for USO Europe to host a program like Special Delivery, because for many of these women this may be their only baby shower. We want to make sure it’s an experience they won’t soon forget.”
Find out how you can show your support for military moms by visiting USOmoments.org.
As the Vietnam War was raging in late 1968, a USO ad in a newspaper caught the eye of Mary Lou Austin, who was teaching in Washington, D.C. After interviewing for a job, she was hired and sent to New York City – then the home of USO headquarters.
Forty-five years later – after holding numerous USO jobs and traveling around the world – Austin is still with the organization, serving as president and CEO of the USO of Georgia.
“I guess you can say the ad made me curious,” she said. “The organization interested me, and the mission compelled me. … I started in January of 1969, and thus began my wonderful, meaningful journey serving troops.”
She’s been able to support thousands of service members and their families over the years and taking care of them has always been her top priority—and her favorite part of the job.
“We [at the USO] have unique opportunity to provide a myriad of programs and services to the committed and courageous men and women serving our country. … You see them in happy times and in times of sadness, but at the USO, you represent a living symbol of respect and honor for their service.”
Austin said she’s been fortunate to have had such a gratifying career, and even after helping countless troops and families, she remains dedicated to our spirit-lifting mission.
“USO receives many accolades and awards, but the most meaningful part is knowing that you truly helped someone in some way, through a program, service, or even a smile.”
On Nov. 30, 2011, Marine Staff Sgt. Vincent J. Bell, 28, was killed by an IED in Afghanistan. The youngest of three children, he was on his first tour of duty in Afghanistan after having served four tours in Iraq.
“He was the sweetest, most gentle, loveable man I have ever known. He was the love and light in our family, and every day without him feels so painful,” his sister London Bell said.
In October, Bell was approaching the anniversary of her brother’s 2011 death in Afghanistan when the USO and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) offered her a chance to take a trip with others who lost siblings to war. Weeks later, she was making unexpected friends in Manhattan. She was also finding out that she wasn’t alone.
“I started out on the journey as a lone traveler, but I left meeting several people who were really just like me,” Bell said. “It was a good way for me to bond.”
Bell lives in Chicago and relies on TAPS retreats for emotional assurance that is critical to brothers and sisters who lost so much during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. On her retreat, Bell and her fellow sibling survivors were able to enjoy a weekend in New York City together, sharing stories, sightseeing and attending a live taping of “The Daily Show.”
“I feel that it is important that I continue to reach out to TAPS to find support,” Bell said. “I’m the only person in my circle of close friends who has lost a sibling in battle and it can be very isolating.
“I need to be able to share my story as a sibling,” she said. “I do a lot to support my mom and dad and my sister in their grief, but I also need that support for myself.”
She’s learned a lot about life since Vincent died and wants to be a support to other siblings.
“I can be an ear, a hug and a friend to other sibling survivors, and I want to be able to do that for others on this journey.”
While the official NFL season ended in February, a trio of professional football players continued the tradition of traveling to the Middle East for an offseason USO tour. New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, Washington Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon and Miami Dolphins punter Brandon Fields met up with U.S. troops downrange.
“This experience for me has truly been life-changing,” said Graham, who caught an NFL-best 16 touchdowns last season. “The personal connection I’ve been able to make is something that will be with me forever. I grew up in a military home and this just makes me more of a patriot. I have more of an appreciation for the little things we have back home each and every day.”
“The best part of this trip [was] being able to spend time with the troops and interact with them,” said Fields. “We are truly blessed because of the sacrifices that our men and women of our armed forces are willing to make.”
What would you do if the Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol showed up on your doorstep?
Staff and volunteers at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., were jumping for joy in January after receiving a $25,000 check from the Publishers Clearing House recent Facebook promotion, The Give Back.
“We’re really grateful,” said USO Vice President of Operations Glenn Welling, who was presented the check by the Prize Patrol. “This was our first opportunity to get involved with the Publishers Clearing House Give Back promotion, and just to be able to be recognized by the Americans who went online each day is awesome. For 73 years, the USO has been the connection between America and her military, and donations like this one will allow us to continue doing what we are do for another 73 years.”
This year’s The Give Back event featured three charities: the USO, ASPCA and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Fans were allowed to vote for their favorite charity once per day, with the charities earning prizes based on where they finished in the voting.
“We love being able to give back to the charities our customers care about,” said Danielle Bertellotti, assistant manager for digital marketing development at Publishers Clearing House. “Our audience has been very vocal on social media, and they have made it clear that the USO is a charity they care deeply about, so we are very happy to give.”
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
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
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.
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