Medal of Honor Recipient Rides Shotgun with Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne at NASCAR Nationwide Series

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PHOENIX–With Veterans Day approaching, Rouch Fenway Racing and USO Arizona teamed up to kick off this year’s festivities with a roar.

Roush Fenway Racing driver Trevor Bayne, had two special additions on his No. 6 AdvoCare Ford Mustang at this weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) event at Phoenix International Raceway to honor those who have served.

In addition to featuring the USO logo on the side and back of his vehicle, Bayne sported Medal of Honor recipient Fred Ferguson’s name on his passenger door. Bayne, who finished ninth in the race, also took a moment to give troops a shout before hitting the track this weekend.

In addition to meeting Bayne and seeing his name on the car, Ferguson, who received the Medal of Honor in 1969 for actions in Vietnam, was formally recognized at the pre-race driver’s meeting with a standing ovation.

Ferguson enjoyed VIP treatment throughout the day Saturday, thanks to Rouch Fenway Racing. He along with Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael  McGuire, USAA Executive Director Military Affinity and retired Marine Lt. Col. Bob Wiedower and other guests got an exclusive behind-the-scenes view of raceday action.

7 Air Force Facts for the Service’s 67th Birthday

Members from the 36th Airlift Squadron walk Aug. 11 during Red Flag-Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Air Force photo

Members from the 36th Airlift Squadron walk Aug. 11 during Red Flag-Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Air Force photo

As the Air Force celebrates its 67th birthday, here’s seven things you may not know about the most recently formed branch of the U.S. military.

1. The Air Force shares its birthday with the CIA. Both were founded on September 18, 1947.

So, can we come in? A "roof stomp" (which is nowdays often a "porch stomp") at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. Air Force photo

So, can we come in? A “roof stomp” (which is nowdays often a “porch stomp”) at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. Air Force photo

2. A “roof stomp” is an Air Force tradition where airmen welcome new commander or celebrate a special occasion by climbing up on the commander’s roof and make noise while others are bang on the windows and doors. The commander then opens the door to welcome in the group for refreshments. (In recent years, some airmen have modified the tradition to a “porch stomp.”)

3. Before the Air Force became its own branch of the military, it was a part of the Army. On Aug. 1, 1907, the U.S. Army Signal Corps formed the Aeronautical Division, which later evolved into the Air Force.

Air Force combat ace Robin Olds and his famous 'stache. Photo via commons

Air Force combat ace Robin Olds and his famous ‘stache. Photo via commons

4. Each March, some airmen participate in a Mustache March, a tradition where airmen grow mustaches to honor Air Force legend and triple ace Brig. Gen. Robin Olds.

5. Johnny Cash, Morgan Freeman and James Stewert are just a handful of the celebrities who have served as airmen. Stewart – who won an Oscar for “Philadelphia Story” before flying missions in World War II and Vietnam – rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve.

6. In 1947, then-Air Force Capt. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 rocket-powered aircraft, beginning a new era of aeronautics in America.

7. Two U.S. presidents — Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — served as airmen. Reagan’s service came when the branch was still the Army Air Forces. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard before transferring to the Air Force Reserve.

Video: USO, Congress and Sesame Street Team Build Warrior Care Packs for Recovering Troops

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

 

Your USO At Work: April 2014 — Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda Opens

USO officials, military leaders and celebrities cut the ribbon to USO's Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda.  USO Photo by Mike Theiler

USO officials, military leaders and celebrities cut the ribbon to USO’s Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda. USO Photo by Mike Theiler

USO Opens New Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda

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.”

USO,What to Expect Foundation Host Baby Showers for Military Moms-To-Be

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.

Best-selling author Heidi Murkoff hugs a service member at a Special Delivery baby shower held in Landstuhl, Germany, in March. USO photo

Best-selling author Heidi Murkoff hugs a service member at a Special Delivery baby shower held in Landstuhl, Germany, in March. USO photo

“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.

Longtime USO of Georgia CEO Looks Back – and Forward

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.

USO of Georgia President and CEO Mary Lou Austin. Courtesy photo

USO of Georgia President and CEO Mary Lou Austin. Courtesy photo

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.”

USO Helps Woman on Journey After Marine Brother’s Death

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.

London Bell poses in front of New York’s Rockefeller Center during her USO/TAPS-sponsored trip to the Big Apple in October. Photo courtesy of London Bell

London Bell poses in front of New York’s Rockefeller Center during her USO/TAPS-sponsored trip to the Big Apple in October. Photo courtesy of London Bell

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.”

NFL Stars Jimmy Graham, Pierre Garcon and Brandon Fields Visit Troops in the Middle East on USO Tour 

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.

From left to right, NFL stars Brandon Fields, Jimmy Graham and Pierre Garcon pose for a photo with troops during their USO tour to the Middle East in March. USO photo by Dave Gatley

From left to right, NFL stars Brandon Fields, Jimmy Graham and Pierre Garcon pose for a photo with troops during their USO tour to the Middle East in March. USO photo by Dave Gatley

“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.”

Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol Delivers $25,000 Check to the USO

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.”

USO Volunteer Wins Keys to Brand New Jeep Wrangler

Norm Hallowell, center, poses with the USO’s Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes, right, and Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois, after winning a new Jeep Wrangler on Oct. 11 in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Jeep)

Norm Hallowell, center, poses with the USO’s Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes, right, and Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois, after winning a new Jeep Wrangler on Oct. 11 in Washington. (Photo courtesy of Jeep)

WASHINGTON – Norm Hallowell, a longtime USO volunteer and Vietnam War veteran, won a brand new A 2014 Jeep Wrangler Freedom Edition last night.

Hallowell, the winner of Jeep’s Hero at Home Award, was presented with the honor during The Daily Beast’s Hero Summit at the Newseum in Washington. The winner, who’s amassed more than 580 volunteer hours at the USO, was introduced by Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois.

“Today, [Jeep] wanted to honor the heroes at home,” said Francois. “So, together with the USO, we thought about an initiative, about recognizing someone — not a hero in uniform — but one who acted as such from behind the scenes.”

To announce the winner, a video clip featuring Hallowell and some of his colleagues played on the big screen. In the video, Hallowell, who volunteers at the USO Family and Warrior Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., said, “I don’t consider myself anybody special. I’m one of 270. … That’s all.”

The award, part of Jeep’s Operation Safe Return program, was voted on by the public. Hallowell beat out two well-deserving colleagues at Fort Belvoir. His humble attitude and dedicated service surely helped him earn the votes needed to win the new Jeep Wrangler.

The USO’s Senior Vice President of Operations Alan Reyes presented Hallowell and his wife with the keys to their new vehicle.

For more information about Operation Safe Return, go here.

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.