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.”

Bringing the Big Game to the Troops: USO Centers Around the World Prep for Super Bowl XLIX Festivities

1779696_831008323606850_488918148582461606_nAs America sits down to watch the Seattle Seahawks take on the New England Patriots this Sunday, troops at home and overseas will head to their local USO centers to catch the big game.

Here’s a roundup of some of the Super Bowl festivities at USO centers around the world.

Southwest Asia

USO Kandahar, Afghanistan
Super Bowl festivities will start bright and early at USO Kandahar, where the party begins at 2:30 a.m. local time.

The base will provide roughly 300 pizzas to be split between the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) center and the USO, where the game will be playing all morning long. During halftime, troops can win a number of prizes, including a new bike and an iPad Mini, as well as participate in Super Bowl trivia.

Check out some of the photos from last year’s festivities:

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USO Camp Buerhring, Kuwait
Troops stationed at Camp Buehring can get into the Super Bowl spirit with a pregame tailgate party beginning at 6 p.m. local time.

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In addition to a hot wing eating contest, service members can participate in video game competition, listen to music and win a number of prizes before tuning into the game. At kickoff, partygoers can fill up on a subway and milkshake bar and participate in a raffle to win prizes every quarter.

Take a look at some of the fun from last year’s event:

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USO Bagram, Afghanistan

Troops stationed at Bagram can head to the USO for an early morning pre-game party at 4 a.m. local time. There will be drinks, chips, football-shaped pancakes and waffles for everyone to enjoy. Partygoers can also participate in football-themed trivia during the game. Here’s a few snaps from last year’s fun:

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Europe

USO Grafenwoehr, Germany
Service members and their families stationed near Grafenwoehr and Vilseck, Germany, can enjoy finger foods and drinks at a special pregame tailgate party before enjoying dinner at 7:30 p.m. local time.

Although the game doesn’t start until 12:30 a.m., troops will be able to win raffle prizes and participate in poker tournaments and other fun activities before kickoff.

USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany

The USO Warrior Center will host a Super Bowl Party on game day for patients, families and medical staff. Service members can watch football-themed movies all day leading up to an Italian dinner kicking off the evening’s festivities at 8 p.m. local time. From 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. local time, troops can enjoy finger foods, watch the game and win football movie DVD giveaways.

USO Ramstein Air Base Passenger Terminal, Germany

The USO at the Ramstein PAX will host a special PAX personnel chili cookoff to celebrate Super Bowl XLIX. Troops on the move through Ramstein will be able to feast on all the competitors’ dishes while enjoying cornbread with honey butter and other refreshments before settling in to watch the game.

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center USO, Germany

On Friday before the big game, the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center USO center will be decked out in football decor to help staff members get in the mood for Sunday’s showdown. Service members can face off in team trivia to win USO tour vouchers as well as play table football and enjoy tailgate appetizers.

Pacific

USO Guam
For troops stationed in Guam, where they say “America’s day begins,” the party starts at 7:30 a.m. local time. Breakfast, lunch and snacks courtesy of Triple J Five Star Foods and the Pacific Islands Club will be served at various time throughout the morning.

Guam

In addition to watching the game on 10 screens throughout the center, service members can also enjoy cake to celebrate the USO’s upcoming 74th Anniversary.

USO Camp Courtney, Japan
Service members can head to USO Camp Courtney for Super Bowl festivities starting at 7 a.m. local time.

In addition to food and beverages, troops will also be able to showcase their video game skills on PS4 or Xbox One.

USO Camp Schwab, Japan
USO Camp Schwab will be ready for football-loving troops at 7 a.m. local time with finger food, popcorn and drinks in addition to nine televisions tuned into the big game.

Want a glimpse of what the party will look like? Check out photos from the 2013 event:

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USO Sasebo, Japan
Starting at 8 a.m. local time, troops stationed near Sasebo can head to the Fleet Landing for a USO Super Bowl party. Service members can enjoy snacks while rooting for their favorite team.

USO Camp Hansen, Japan
Starting at 8 a.m. local time, troops can chow down on freshly prepared waffles and sausages as they cheer on their favorite team. Take a look at some of the fun from last year’s Super Bowl breakfast party:

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USO Camp Foster, Japan
Troops can head over to the USO on Camp Foster for a Super Bowl party kicking off bright and early at 6 a.m. local time.

USO Kadena, Japan
Service members can kick off their morning with USO Kadena’s Super Bowl festivities starting at 6 a.m. local time. There will tailgate snacks and refreshments for troops to enjoy while watching the game on the center’s HDTV!

Take a look a last year’s photos to see what’s in store for this Sunday:

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USO Futenma, Japan
Troops can head over to USO Futenma for a Super Bowl party kicking off at 6 a.m. local time.

USO Camp Walker, South Korea
USO Camp Walker will be partnering with the MWR to host a Super Bowl party at the Hilltop Club, starting at 6 a.m. local time. To get a vibe of this year’s festivities, take a look at some snaps from the 2013 event:

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USO Camp Casey, South Korea
USO Camp Casey for kickoff at 8:30 a.m. local time for a Super Bowl party sponsored by Mr. Nam, Judie’s Realty, Red Cross and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association (NCOA).

Camp Casey

Troops can enjoy food, fun and prize giveaways while cheering on their favorite team.

USO Seoul, South Korea
Doors open at 6 a.m. local time at USO Seoul, where service members can enjoy a free breakfast and cheer on their favorite team.

Seoul

The party, sponsored by the NCOA, will also feature a dance competition and prize giveaways.

USO Humphreys, South Korea
Troops can head over USO Humphreys at 8:30 a.m. local time to grab a free breakfast and catch the big game.

Humphreys

Stateside

USO Coast Guard Base, Boston
Friday before game day, troops near Boston can gear up for a great weekend of football starting at 11 a.m local time. Stop by the USO center for games, popcorn, pizza and the chance to win Patriots-branded prizes.

USO Logan Center, Boston
Starting Friday, USO Logan will be decorated in a football theme as they rev up to cheer on the Patriots. Traveling troops can test their skills with a Super Bowl Trivia game or take the New England Fan Challenge to win prizes.

Guests can also catch all the local pregame television coverage and watch the game in Super Bowl style and comfort on Sunday.  The popcorn machine will be running and there will be plenty of snacks for everyone to enjoy!

USO SeaTac Airport Center, Seattle
Troops traveling through Seattle can catch the game at the airport center while enjoying snacks and other refreshments.

USO Veterans Rake in the Awards Nominations and Wins

For some people, January is just another long, cold winter month that follows the excitement of the holidays.

But for a handful of USO tour veterans, January and the first few weeks of February means the chance to win big at one of the three big award ceremonies: the Golden Globes, the Screen Actor Guild Awards and the Academy Awards.

Here’s a look at this year’s award nominees and winners who have also volunteered their time and talents to entertain troops and their families on USO tours around the world.

“How to Train Your Dragon 2”

Golden Globes
Best animated feature film; Nominated & won

Academy Awards
Best animated feature film; Nominated

In June 2014, actors Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera and writer/director Dean DeBlois treated more than 450 troops and military families to an advance screening of DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2” at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. The event also included a question-and-answer session with the trio.

Watch the highlights from the event here:

“Louie”

Golden Globes
Best actor in a TV series, musical or comedy (Louis C.K.); Nominated

Screen Actor Guild Awards
Outstanding performance by a male actor in a comedy series (Louis C.K.); 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.

“The Big Bang Theory”

Screen Actor Guild Awards
Outstanding performance by an ensemble in a comedy series; Nominated

Actor Johnny Galecki and executive producer Steve Molaro from the CBS hit comedy went on a USO tour to meet troops in the Pacific in 2012.

“I am so very honored and personally thrilled to be traveling to the Pacific with the USO,” Galecki said in a 2012 USO.org story. “It’s been a dream for many years to have the opportunity to show my deepest gratitude face-to-face to the men and women who serve.”

“Sons of Anarchy”

Screen Actor Guild Awards
Outstanding action performance by a stunt ensemble in a comedy or drama series; Nominated

Actors Kim Coates, Mark Boone Junior and Dayton Callie headed on USO tour to the Pacific in 2013 but the show has always been very supportive of the troops and the USO, participating in USO tours in 2010 (Kuwait and Iraq) and 2012 (Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, California).

“I’d do this every year if I could; there is no feeling like visiting our troops where they serve and having the chance to tell them ‘thank you’ face-to-face,” Callie said in a 2013 USO.org story. “One of the things that surprised me most, from our first USO tour, was how big of a hit the show is with the military. As a veteran myself, it was a proud moment for me.”

"Sons of Anarchy" stars Dayton Callie (front row center), Mark Boone Junior (second row l-r) and Kim Coates pose for a group photo with Marines in Japan, March 14, 2013. USO Photo by Michael Clifton

“Sons of Anarchy” stars Dayton Callie (front row center), Mark Boone Junior (second row l-r) and Kim Coates pose for a group photo with Marines in Japan, March 14, 2013. USO Photo by Michael Clifton

See more pictures from the cast’s tour to the Pacific here.

“Unbroken”

Screen Actor Guild Awards
Outstanding action performance by a stunt ensemble in a motion picture; Nominated & won

Academy Awards
Best cinematography; Nominated
Best sound editing; Nominated
Best sound mixing; Nominated

In December 2014, as part of its partnership with Universal Pictures, the USO brought a quintet of service members and their guests to the premiere of “Unbroken” at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. While Jolie was home sick with chicken pox, her husband, Brad Pitt, stood in for her at the premiere, stopping by to shake the hands of the USO guests including Army Staff Sgt. Blake Sistrunk.

Watch highlights from the “Unbroken” premiere here:

In 2010, Jolie also traveled to Germany to visited wounded troops and the service members taking care of them.

Watch a moment from Jolie’s visit here:

“American Sniper”

Academy Awards
Best actor in a leading role (Bradley Cooper); Nominated
Best picture; Nominated
Best film editing; Nominated
Best sound editing; Nominated
Best sound mixing; Nominated
Best adapted screenplay; Nominated

Bradley Cooper is a USO tour staple, having now traveled to Cuba, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and a seven-day, three-country tour with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen in 2010.

Actor Bradley Cooper takes a moment to pose with service members stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a week-long USO tour in 2008.  Cooper was in the region on his first tour to show support to U.S. troops and bring them a touch of home.

Actor Bradley Cooper takes a moment to pose with service members stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a week-long USO tour in 2008. Cooper was in the region on his first tour to show support to U.S. troops and bring them a touch of home.

A Look at Holidays Around the World with the USO

St. John's School, Guam National Junior Honor Society donated 12 beautiful Gingerbread Houses to the Guam USO. USO photo

St. John’s School, Guam National Junior Honor Society donated 12 Gingerbread Houses to USO Guam. USO photo

USO Guam

USO Guam invited all unaccompanied and single military members to join their annual “Home for the Holidays Christmas Drop In” on Christmas Day. There was a free holiday buffet available from 1100 to 1400.

USO Vicenza, Italy

Military children receive gifts from Santa at USO Vicenza, Italy.

Military children receive gifts from Santa at USO Vicenza, Italy. USO photo

More than 30 volunteers helped spread holiday cheer to over 250 troops and families at USO Vicenza, where they had a Santa’s area decorated with a chimney and stockings, a Christmas tree and even a 15-foot Snowman. Holiday music played as volunteers set up a bouncy castle, a holiday movie area and a coloring area for the kids. When Santa arrived, he gave gifts to more than 150 children as well as single troops and volunteers gifts and even offered to take pictures. At the conclusion of the event, attendees read letters from people all over the world thanking them for their service.

USO Kaiserslautern, Germany

Military families help themselves to holiday treats. USO photo

Military families help themselves to holiday treats provided by the USO. USO photo

On Tuesday, USO Ramstein provided free photos with Santa for 475 military children and their parents. Attendees were able to have their photo taken, print it out, put it in a card and even go online and download them. Best of all, Santa and his elves gave each child an age-appropriate gift after their picture was taken. The patrons had an assortment of cookies, drinks, popcorn, hot dogs with chili and cheese and hot cocoa. The elves assisted the children, the flow of traffic and serving the food and desserts. USO staff reported one family was so grateful that they teared up.

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USO Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Japan

Marines enjoy a Christmas meal at the Camp Courtney  USO in Okinawa, Japan. USO photo

Marines enjoy a Christmas meal at the Camp Courtney USO in Okinawa, Japan.

Volunteers came together to decorate the USO Camp Courtney center for their Holiday Around the World event on Dec. 10, with holiday trees, lights and other festive décor. The event was open to all DoD ID card holders, but largely focused on serving service members. The event offered holiday-themed games, movies,  music and food. Volunteers baked and cooked side dishes and desserts for the event, and a large portion of the food (turkey with all the fixings) was contributed by an anonymous donor. 

“Events like this are important because they allow service members to get together and have a good time during the holidays,” said 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Austin Stigall of California. “It helps with the morale of service members because not all of us are able to be with our loved ones during the holidays.”

USO Camp Walker, Korea

Expecting couples were able to gift their unborn children with a message of love at USO Camp Walker.

Expecting couples were able to gift their unborn children with a message of love at USO Camp Walker.

Expecting active duty mothers and fathers took advantage of the United Through Reading Military Program to record DVDs of themselves reading a book and heartfelt messages for their unborn children to watch as they grow up. Guests enjoyed popcorn, snacks, fruit and gifts. Special thanks to Disney for assisting with Christmas gifts for their new babies.

USO Hawaii

USO Hawaii centers offered new treats and givaways on each of the 12 Days of Christmas. USO photo

USO Hawaii centers offered new treats and givaways on each of the 12 Days of Christmas. USO photo

USO Hawaii celebrated the holidays with special treats, giveaways and activities in both their Hawaii Centers as they counted down the 12 Days of Christmas. Every day featured something different.

USO of North Carolina

The third annual Breakfast with Santa on Fort Bragg, North Carolina — presented by USAA — was a big hit for military families. The event was held at the Fort Bragg Club and featured family photos with Santa, Jingle Bell the Elf and barbershop-style entertainment by the Golf Capital Chorus from Pinehurst, North Carolina.

More than 350 family members attended and each family received a gift bag filled with children’s crafts, a recordable book, red, white and blue leis, a bag of candy, Christmas tree-shaped sunglasses for each child, gift cards to Texas Roadhouse, coloring books and several other items. A full breakfast buffet was available along with choice of beverages while the USO raffled off 13 bicycles with helmets, a family four-pack of tickets to Disney’s Frozen On Ice, Movie Night bags which included several children’s  DVDs, a sleeping bag, flashlight and microwave popcorn packets.

At the conclusion of the event, Santa joined the children in the ballroom and he read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

The room was full of military families celebrating the holidays with the USO.

The room was full of military families celebrating the holidays with the USO.

Meanwhile, the USO of North Carolina’s Jacksonville center hosted “Breakfast with Gunny Claus” for the children of the Marines and sailors of Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River. Each child gets a stocking filled with goodies and a Christmas ornament, inscribed at 1st Reindeer Division, Marine Corps Base North Pole.

Children of Marines and sailors at Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River receive gifts from Gunny Claus. USO photo.

Children of Marines and sailors at Camp Lejeune and MCAS New River receive gifts from Gunny Claus. USO photo.

USO Fort Campbell, Kentucky

It’s Christmas Eve and if you need a little holiday cheer, stop by the USO. Santa’s helpers are there now, busy serving up cocoa, cookies and cupcakes to our soldiers!

Volunteers at USO Fort Campbell serve up holiday cheer on Christmas Eve. USO photo

Volunteers at USO Fort Campbell serve up holiday cheer on Christmas Eve. USO photo

‘A Much Needed Shot In The Arm': Navy Commander Talks About the Impact the USO has on Deployed Troops

USO Sailor of the Year Petty Officer 1st Class Troy Cromer and his wife,

USO Sailor of the Year Petty Officer 1st Class Troy Cromer and his wife, Laura, last week in Washington. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Even bona fide heroes can use a pick-me-up.

Troy Cromer has an Army Commendation Medal, a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Valor, a Combat Action Ribbon an is credited with saving multiple lives during his 2013 deployment to Afghanistan with Navy SEAL Team 10.

Last week, the petty officer first class added 2014 USO Sailor of the Year to his trophy case at the 2014 USO Gala. According to his commanding officer, it was a timely show of appreciation.

“Last week [the] USO lived up to my own personal memories of your dedication to our troops,” Navy Cmdr. Matthew Andrews wrote in an email. “EOD1 Cromer and his family are extremely appreciative for the opportunity to participate. Troy has given so much of himself, and I know that the burdens of his personal sacrifices are shared by his family. It is absolutely phenomenal that the USO recognized Troy, and even more impressive that you were also able to include [and] recognize the critical role our families play.”

According to his gala program citation, Cromer — an explosive ordnance team leader — directed suppressive fire against enemy forces while neutralizing an improvised explosive device planted between two of his team’s vehicles during an ambush in Afghanistan. On another mission, he led four vehicles through an area littered with IEDs, dismantling three of the bombs. And on a third mission, he located a system of caves, destroying the weapons inside and then making sure enemy forces couldn’t use them any longer as underground bunkers.

For Andrews, who also attended the USO Gala, the recognition brought back memories of a USO moment he had during a deployment seven years ago.

“Before this event, my most vivid experience with the ’21st Century USO’ was the reception I received at the Atlanta airport on my mid-deployment R&R layover back in 2007,” he said. “Words would not do justice to the amount of gratitude I felt for the tremendous outpouring of sincere care [and appreciation] as we marched through the airport to resounding applause. That was an extremely tough deployment for me, and that was a particularly tough time during that long deployment. USO provided a much needed shot in the arm. Thank you.”

“The support [the USO gives] the families and forward-deployed guys is above and beyond all,” Cromer said at last week’s USO Gala. “It’s a phenomenal organization.

Deployed Guardsman Witnesses Birth, Builds Relationship with Child, Thanks to USO

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When his Marine father deployed during Desert Storm, 3-year-old Joseph Rainbolt had no idea he would one day nearly miss moments with his own child.

“He was in Saudi Arabia for nine months when I was only 3, so I can only imagine,” said Rainbolt, now a 26-year-old sergeant in the Louisiana National Guard who might have missed the birth of his first child had it not been for the USO.

Knowing his wife Brittany would be giving birth just five months into a year-long deployment, Rainbolt told the USO and his command of his situation when he arrived in Afghanistan. When she went into labor, the USO set him up with an Internet-connected computer and Skype.

“I was able to stay [at the USO] for hours and be with my wife and see my daughter,” he said.

April Rose, now 8 months old, didn’t just get to see her father the day she was born. Rainbolt also took advantage of the USO’s Tiny Tots program and the USO/United Through Reading Military Program for the seven months that followed, allowing him to keep a presence in his daughter’s life.

“The [Tiny Tots] gift bag was fabulous,” said Brittany Rainbolt, a 26-year old high-school English teacher. “It came with some really awesome stuff. There’s some soap in there, a USO bib, a onesie and some other general baby care products. We used all of it.”

In fact, little April-Rose has even worn the bib immediately before going on stage at a “Red White and Blue” beauty pageant, where she took first place.

“It’s her lucky USO bib,” Brittany Rainbolt said. “United Through Reading was also fabulous. We got so many books for April before she was born and after she was born and I think hearing his voice helped her to make a connection with him. When she saw him the first time she went straight to him. I was like, ‘go to Daddy’ and she held out her little arms for him. It was so cute.”

“Being away was really hard,” Rainbolt said. “As National Guard, I’m usually home. Being away is not my thing. But through the USO we definitely got to have a relationship together.

“I got to talk to her every day, not just every now and then,” he added. “We’ve come a long way since the ‘80s and ‘90s. The USO was great in helping us be able to keep communicating. Even though I wasn’t there, I still got to feel like I was involved in her life, and that meant everything to me.”