USO Tour Veterans Katy Perry and Idina Menzel Set To Take the Stage at Super Bowl XLIX

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As troops around the world head to USO centers to watch the big game, veteran USO performers Katy Perry and Idina Menzel will take the stage during the halftime and pre-game shows, respectively, to entertain the estimated 100 million Americans expected to watch.

Perry, who will be performing with special guest Lenny Kravitz, participated in the 2010 “VH1 Divas Salute the Troops” show presented by the USO, singing classic numbers with other performer like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” in addition to performing her own hit songs.

Menzel, who will sing the national anthem, recently participated in a 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.

In addition to meeting Menzel, the families enjoyed a day full of food and fun in New York City, including a pizza lunch and a trip to Dylan’s Candy Bar.

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“Each family had the most adorable children,” Menzel said. “I got to get to know them a little bit and tell them how much I appreciate the sacrifices they make.

“I also recognize how difficult the holidays can be when they’re apart, so any kind of laughter or joy I could bring to the situation was nice.”

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.

USO Volunteer Steps In to Help Stranded Soldier Get Some Shut-eye

Germany

Lt. Col. M. DeLisa Deutsch poses during her holiday in Germany. (Photo courtesy Lt. Col. M. DeLisa Deutsch)

When Lt. Col. M. DeLisa Deutsch planned to meet up with Army friends in Germany over the holidays, an overnight layover near Washington, D.C., wasn’t part of her original travel itinerary.

Continued delays on her initial flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Dulles International Airport outside Washington — where she would catch her international connection to Germany — left Deutsch facing an unexpected overnight stay at Dulles with nowhere to spend the night.

Luckily, USO Dulles Lounge volunteer and veteran Lee Bauer was there to lend a helping hand.

“When I dragged my bags through the doors of the USO, I was greeted with, ‘Are you coming or going’ and I responded [to Bauer] that I didn’t really know,” Deutsch said in an email.

Bauer, who has volunteered with the USO since October 2012, immediately reached out to surrounding hotels to find Deutsch a place to rest her head.

“Within minutes he came to me with a smile and informed me he had a [free] room for me at a nearby hotel, (the Holiday Inn Chantilly),” Deutsch said. “He walked me to the shuttle, chatting about his time in the service, and wished me a good evening and safe travels. I appreciated him and the other volunteers at this and other USO [centers] more than I can say.”

After arriving in Germany, Deutsch also stopped by the USO Frankfurt International Airport to get some sleep.

“It was small, but the staff was kind and there was a couch and a blanket and pillow,” Deutsch said. “It was the first sleep I had since the redeye flight I was able to get on the following day.”

Epic Fundraiser: Jay Leno’s Muscle Car Raised $565,625 for the USO

Auction houses selling rare and expensive collector cars are usually teeming with excitement, but at Gooding & Company’s 2015 Scottsdale Auctions in Arizona this weekend, there was an extra layer of celebrity buzz when comedian Jay Leno rolled out his prized 2008 Dodge Challenger SRT8—with all proceeds benefiting the USO.

Rare and exotic Ferraris sold for multiple millions, but the highlight of the auction was Leno’s Challenger. The crowd roared as bidders competed for the patriotic prize in the one of the most exciting bidding displays Gooding & Company has ever seen.

The bidding started at $50,000 and when the auctioneer finally dropped the hammer at $360,000—nearly 10 times the car’s blue-book value—USO President and CEO Dr. J.D. Crouch II, present at the event, was filled with pride. The entire auction house stood for applause. However, the giving wasn’t done. Nobody was prepared for what happened next.

“After the car sold, one of the men who lost the bid for Leno’s car stood up and offered an on-the-spot cash donation for the USO—he would match anyone’s donation up to $100,000,” said Crouch.

Paddles began flying and within moments, another man committed to donate the full $100,000. Additional donations kept rolling in to the tune of $5,625, which meant that thanks to Jay Leno and other generous supporters, the USO would receive a total of $565,625!

This isn’t the first time Leno has flexed his charity muscle for the troops. In previous years, he has dedicated his annual Love Ride to the USO, and just two months ago, after returning from entertaining troops on a USO tour in Afghanistan, he joined the TODAY show to “Shine A Light” on troops back home by gifting another of his Dodge Challengers directly to a wounded soldier.

“We’re overwhelmed by the response that we got from those who attended the auction,” said Crouch. “The funds raised here will go far to advance our goals of expanding our services to men and women in uniform.”

Jiffy Lube Franchises Join Forces to Raise over $19,000 for USO Delaware

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Less than a month into 2015, Bob Falter and his Jiffy Lube team have already helped make a huge difference for the USO.

Under the leadership of Falter, a Jiffy Lube Regional franchise owner, locations across Delaware last fall sold key fobs to raise money for the organization. In addition to spearheading the key fob promotion, Falter, whose father served in World War II, agreed to match the fundraising efforts dollar for dollar, resulting in a $19,000 check that was presented to USO Delaware Director Joan Cote on Jan. 15.

“Obviously receiving a check for that amount is not a daily occurrence, so we were completely blown away by the success of the campaign,” Cote said. “None of [USO Delaware’s] important programs could be achieved without the financial support that comes from the generosity of individuals, organizations and companies like Jiffy Lube.”

Falter and his team reached out to customers through direct mail and radio ads and hosted special promotion launch nights at Grotto Pizza to educate Jiffy Lube employees about the USO’s mission.

“It was a wonderful promotion and I’d like to say that I was part of it, but it was truly a team effort to raise this amount of money,” Falter said.

To help motivate Jiffy Lube franchises during the promotion, Mike Tatoian, a USO Delaware council chair and the president of Dover Motorsports, Inc., gave the participating Jiffy Lube locations an added incentive. The location that sold the most key fobs would be his personal guests for an upcoming NASCAR race at Dover International Speedway.

With support from Falter, his Jiffy Lube team and their generous customers, the USO is able to deliver on it’s mission to lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families.

“The many gestures of appreciation and support that the USO delivers on behalf of a grateful community […] make a tremendous impact on the morale of our military personnel and their families,” Cote said.

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