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.

Apple Valley Optimist Club Recieves USO/Optimist International Patch

Members of the Apple Valley Optimist Club at Los Domingos on April 2, 2013 (Photo Credit: Apple Valley Optimist Club)

Members of the Apple Valley Optimist Club at Los Domingos on April 2, 2013 (Photo Credit: Apple Valley Optimist Club)

The Apple Valley Optimist Club has reached their goal of raising $1000 to support United Through Reading’s Military Program. The USO along with its partner United Through Reading® give deployed troops the opportunity to record themselves reading books to their children, and the recordings are then mailed back to the family along with a copy of the book.

“Think how wonderful it would be for these children to have something so memorable, not to mention the moral support this offers to the parent at home,” Apple Valley Club Chairwoman Julie Whittingham said.

For the past year, the Apple Valley Optimist Club has tirelessly held various fundraisers to support this program. Some of the events the club held includes partnering with their local Barnes & Noble’s to gift wrap books over the holidays. The club also had a booth at a local festival fairgrounds passing out information to the general public asking them to step up and support the United Through Reading’s Military Program through the USO.

The Apple Valley Optimist Club was the first Optimist Club to receive the USO/Optimist International commemorative patch for their outstanding support of military families. All Optimist Clubs raising $1,000 or more earn this patch. Congratulations, Apple Valley Optimist Club!

Curtain Call for “Nate The Great” at Military Child of the Year Gala

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Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, delivers remarks Thursday in Arlington, Va., as James Nathaniel Richards looks on. Department of Defense photo

In case you missed it, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had a photo op with James Nathaniel Richards – otherwise known as “Nate the Great” – on Thursday in Arlington, Va. The two were together for the fifth annual Military Child of the Year Gala.

If the name doesn’t ring a bell, Nate – whose mom, Lorraine, is a USO San Diego volunteer – contributed to this blog last April. He was the 2012 Navy Military Child of the Year and writes about being a military kid on his own blog, natethegreatmilitarybrat.

The USO continues to celebrate the Month of the Military Child by highlighting programs that help boost morale and provide opportunities to military families worldwide like Trevor Romain presentations and kits and United Through Reading’s Military Program.

–Story by USO Story Development

USO Tampa Bay’s Lamerton Receives Community Honor from NHL Team

On Jan. 18, 2012, the USO Board of Governors did something it hadn’t done in 20 years: it voted to grant a charter to a new USO.

The doors to the new USO Tampa Bay center have been open since September, and just last week, the man who made it all happen was honored by the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning as the 32nd Lightning Community Hero of 2013.

Tampa Bay Lightning player Nate Thompson, left, and Lightning Chief Operating Officer Steve Griggs, right, present a $50,000 check to Walter Lamerton and Brenda Schwarzkopf, the wife of the late General Norman Schwarzkopf. Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning player Nate Thompson, left, and Lightning Chief Operating Officer Steve Griggs, right, present a $50,000 check to Walter Lamerton and Brenda Schwarzkopf, the wife of the late General Norman Schwarzkopf. Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning

USO Tampa Bay CEO Walter Lamerton – a retired Air Force senior master sergeant from Trinity, Fla. – was presented with a $50,000 check from the Lightning Foundation and the Lightning Community Heroes program. How much does he care about the USO? He donated the entire check back the USO of Tampa Bay.

Lamerton – a jet engine mechanic when he served – didn’t realize at first that there wasn’t a USO at the Tampa Bay International Airport.

“Like many others in this community, I would see all of the 300,000 military personnel going through the airport every year, but I must have just assumed there was a USO,” he said.

When he realized there was no place for the traveling troops to decompress, he launched an initiative to build a USO. In two years, Lamerton secured funding, attracted 550 volunteers and formed local versions of what he calls a “blue collar” board of directors, an advisory board and committees.

“I was told, ‘This has been tried before,’” Lamerton said. “And I simply responded with, ‘I don’t know anything about that. All I know is what’s needed now.’”

The stars aligned when CEO Joe Lopano took over at Tampa Bay International Airport after leaving an executive role at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport – where the USO has an impactful presence – and Gen. (Ret.) Richard B. Myers took over as chairman of the board for the USO worldwide.

“It was at that moment, when the new CEO came in to town and Gen. Myers announced that he would be the new chairman, that I knew it could happen,” Lamerton said. “I had served under Gen. Myers, so I called him up to congratulate him and at the same time ask for his help.”

Myers facilitated conversations between Lamerton and the Tampa Bay airport’s executive committee. Lamerton submitted a financial plan, and approvals from the USO’s Board of Directors and the airport came in nearly simultaneously.

“Walter Lamerton was a driving force behind submitting this ultimately successful proposal to the USO Board of Governors,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, before Congress last May. “He worked closely with volunteers throughout the Tampa Bay area and effectively conveyed their message of support for our service members and their families to both the local community and to the USO Board of Governors, under a compact timeframe.

“Mr. Lamerton’s leadership and attention to detail were critical in the effort to bring the USO Center to Tampa. As a result, many of our nation’s service members and their families will directly benefit from his efforts for years to come.”

— Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Faces of the USO: An Invaluable Liaison

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 4.30.20 PMBefore coming to the USO, Tomoko McManus lent her skills to some of Japan’s largest, most influential companies, including Nissan, Sony and Fukuda Denshi.

She called on her English language proficiency as she worked with engineers to translate technical documents and manuals. In 2009, McManus learned about the USO during an area orientation at Yokosuka Air Base. She also learned that USO Japan was looking for an administrative assistant.

At home, she told her husband, a retired U.S. service member, about the vacancy.

“He told me that the USO is a great organization,” she said. “It made me think this is an organization I could be a part of.”

Since then McManus, a native of Tateyama in Chiba prefecture, has been an invaluable member of the USO Japan staff. On a daily basis, she fields emails and phone calls and works on reports. She manages the area director’s schedule, arranging travel and meetings.

And she’s still putting her dual language skills to use. She serves as translator when the area director meets with host-nation companies, Japanese government officials or members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces.

During bazaars, McManus is a liaison to international vendors, coordinating base access. And she is intimately involved in planning and executing the annual Service Salute.

“Working with the USO as a volunteer or a staff member is a lot of work but it truly is rewarding,” she said. “When you get a thank you and a smile from a service member that has been deployed or away from home, it makes all of the hard work worth it.” - Derek Turner, USO Sr. Editor