USO South Carolina Moves Quickly to Support First Responders, Military Community Amid Flooding

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Joanie Thresher tried to explain the situation through the tears.

“The roads are gone. They’re not just covered in mud. They’re gone.

“It’s just so heartbreaking.”

At least 18 dams were breached and more than 100 bridges washed away in South Carolina after a five-day deluge of rain from Hurricane Joaquin. The weather caused more than a dozen deaths and potentially more than $1 billion in damage statewide.

The flooding has been especially hard on the state’s military community. USO South Carolina has kept its Columbia Metropolitan Airport center open to troops while providing aid to service members and families around Fort Jackson – where the Army trains more than half its new soldiers – and 1,300 National Guard first responders.

“This flood is hitting the heart of our military community,” said Thresher, the director of USO South Carolina, in a Tuesday night phone call. “There are so many military families who live in the areas worst hit, and it’s supposed to get worse before it gets better.”

Hurricane Joaquin put an all-stop to base operations Saturday, leaving dozens of troops stranded overnight at nearby Columbia Metropolitan Airport, where hundreds typically pass through the USO lounge daily on their way to and from basic training.

USO South Carolina has called on its volunteers and donors for logistical support to help deliver basic supplies like water to military families in need.

“Everyone is bringing in supplies from water to food, diapers, formula and baby wipes, everything you can imagine they are just bringing in truckloads to us to give to service members,” Thresher said. “It’s just unbelievable.”

Thresher said most of the USO support is focused on the Guardsmen working search-and-rescue missions along the coast, where water and energy drinks are crucial. Volunteers are also delivering water, food and supplies to the inland areas and communities near Fort Jackson.

Starbucks came through with almost 300 pounds of ground coffee, water and individually wrapped food. The Columbia Chamber of Commerce, GEICO, Lowes and other businesses made financial donations.

“[It’s like the USO is] the only bridge that’s still intact,” Thresher said, “because we’re blessed to be able to get onto the installations and on to the flight lines where we can help load Chinooks and sling-load pallets to be taken across the city to the people who need it because our roads are gone.”

USO Cincinnati Volunteer Builds Makeshift Crib for Overwhelmed Family


Brooke Moore, the daughter of Army Staff Sgt. Jason and Beth Moore, sleeps in a makeshift crib at a USO center at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in June. Photo courtesy of the Moore family

It started as an ordinary trip. Army Staff Sgt. Jason Moore and his wife Beth traveled from Fort Hood, Texas, to Ohio for a wedding, their two young children in tow.

After finding out a close family member in Ohio was diagnosed with cancer, Beth and the two kids stayed a few days longer while Jason went back to his duty station to report for work. But when the trio went to catch their flight at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, nothing went as planned.

“First the plane had some sort of maintenance issue which delayed us for hours,” she said. “Then it was announced it would be even a few more hours and then finally the flight was was outright cancelled.

“Fortunately we were right next to the USO, so I was able to bring the kids in there and wait for who knows how long.”

Thinking her husband would be there traveling with her for the duration of the trip, Beth left the family stroller at home and was ill-prepared to handle both the needs of a 7-month-old and a newly potty-trained 2-year-old toddler, who, of course, had to use the bathroom at the exact moment the 7-month-old needed to be put down to sleep.

Recognizing the needs of the overwhelmed mother, quick-thinking USO volunteer Peggy Littrell fashioned a makeshift crib from two chairs she found inside the USO lounge, facing them toward each other and lining the furniture with a blanket. Littrell watched the 7-month-old so Beth could take care of the 2-year-old.

“It was amazing,” Beth said. “I didn’t know people still do that anymore.”

Littrell kept the USO center open until midnight, when she contacted airport security to help the family their gate for departure.

“When I got home my husband couldn’t believe it when I told him what happened,” Beth said. “He saw the photo it was one of the rare times I’ve seen him cry. He typically doesn’t share something like this on social media, but It really touched him that someone would take so much time out to care for his family.”

“There’s no training orientation or anything like that in the world which teaches people to do stuff like this,” USO Cincinnati Volunteer Coordinator Kathy Williams about Littrell’s compassionate actions that night. “It’s instinct.”

‘This is for Me’: One Woman’s Journey to the USO Caregivers Seminar in Tacoma


Carleeh Mullholland, right, smiles as she watches the opening remarks of the USO Caregivers Seminar in Tacoma, Washington.

TACOMA, Wash. — Carleeh Mullholland didn’t choose to be a caregiver.

But when her husband, medically retired Army Sgt. Cy Mullholland, was diagnosed with severe PTSD and TBI after serving several tours in the Middle East as a tank commander, she stepped into the caregiving role — whether she was ready or not.

“It fell in my lap,” she said. “[I had to] take care of my husband and I didn’t really get a say-so.”

After receiving his official diagnosis, Cy served for several more years before eventually being medically discharged. During the family’s transition process out of the military, Carlee notes that her husband’s condition added another dimension to an already difficult and confusing time.

“You’re in this place where you don’t know where you are, you don’t know what’s going to happen, there’s no job for your spouse if he is unable to work [like my husband, who is disabled],” Carleeh said. “So you got to figure something out.”


Carleeh Mullholland, center, takes notes during the USO Caregivers Seminar.

Over the past few years, Carleeh, a mother of three, has started to figure it out

Around the same time her husband was diagnosed and medically discharged, fitness, health and wellness became her passion, career and coping mechanism to positively manage the added stress of being a caregiver. She also discovered a slew of other resources for caregivers, including the USO Caregivers Seminar, which she attended with a group of her friends in Tacoma earlier this week.

“I [came to the seminar because I] did really want more knowledge and more education so I can really be a better caregiver,” she said.

The USO Caregivers Seminar features a day of engaging speakers, workshops and presentations designed to address the immediate needs of caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members. At some Caregivers Seminars, like the recent session in Tacoma, attendees also have the option to stay in a hotel the night before the event, which allows them to fully relax and engage during the seminar

“The only time for me to be able to come to anything is when it’s all in one,” Carleeh said. “So when I heard that there was going to be [optional] overnight [accommodations, I knew I could plan, stay overnight and not] be stressed out so I could just come and kind of get that free time for myself too.”

Although she has been to other programs for caregivers of wounded, ill and injured soldiers, Carleeh said her experience at the USO Caregivers Seminar was enjoyable and different.

Steve Shenbaum of gameonNation (right) plays a game with an attendee.

Steve Shenbaum of gameonNation, right, plays a game with an attendee.

In particular, she enjoyed seeing her fellow caregivers relax and open up during the individual presentations, like the interactive game-dynamics session held by Steve Shenbaum, gameonNation’s founder and president.

“I got to see the fun side of them instead of the caregiver side which is usually, ‘My veteran has this injury and I have to do this’,” Carleeh said. “When we all got in there and had a bunch of laughs and … you could really see them as they are.”

Carleeh appreciated the opportunity to spend the day learning about tools and techniques that could help her take care of herself as well as improve her caregiving skills.

“From coming to these things, you learn the tools that you need,” she said.

“If it’s geared towards caregivers, I don’t have to tell [my husband] I’m going to another session to learn about [PTSD or TBI]. … This is for me. This is for caregiving.”

For more information on future USO Caregivers Seminars, go to

CORRECTIONS: The timing description of Cy Mullholland’s diagnosis has been updated. Cy received official diagnosis several years before transitioning out of the military.

CORRECTION: The official language of Cy Mullholland’s diagnosis has been updated. Although Cy suffers from severe PTSD and TBI, he is not 100 percent disabled.

Longtime USO Supporter Gen. Martin E. Dempsey Says Goodbye to the Military

Outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey speaks at his retirement ceremony last week. DOD photo

Outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey speaks at his retirement ceremony last week. DOD photo


The USO said goodbye to one of its biggest champions last week when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey retired after 41 years of service.

The Army general served a pair of two-year stints as the highest ranking officer in the military and went on several USO Chairman’s Tours during that assignment, bringing celebrities overseas during the winter holidays to lift the spirits of deployed troops. Dempsey’s final USO tour in December visited five countries in six days and included country star Kellie Pickler, comedian Rob Riggle, “Glee” co-star Dianna Agron, former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, “Suits” co-star Meghan Markle and Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister.

“In my dealings with the USO over the past few years, spearheading tours around the globe, I can confidently say that the USO is as helpful and comforting today as it was back [when I joined the Army],” Dempsey said at the time.

Dempsey also gave some of the most memorable speeches at recent USO galas, including a story relating how a USO volunteer helped him find his first duty station in Germany in 1970s and the memorable Irish Ditty he sang at last year’s event.

Brewing Success: USO Partner Starbucks Helps Lead the Way on Military Transition

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington—Any coffee lover can tell you how they got hooked on their favorite drink. Retired Army Maj. Steve Chavez has a story about how he got hooked on an entire coffee company.

To mark National Coffee Day, the USO is shining a light on how one of the USO’s coffee partners — Starbucks — has taken the lead in the military transition space, committing to hire 10,000 veterans by 2018.

The Seattle-based coffee giant — which has donated thousands of servings of its VIA coffee as well as thousands of pounds of ground coffee to the USO to distribute to troops around the world and is also financially supporting the USO Transition 360 Alliance — hired Chavez to work at their Joint Base Lewis-McChord location and empowered him to advance up the management chain. Watch his story.

Yandel and Leslie Grace Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with USO Concert at Fort Bliss

Yandel, left, and Leslie Grace played a USO show for troops and families on Sept. 26 at Fort Bliss, Texas. USO photos by Dave Gatley

Yandel, left, and Leslie Grace played a USO on Sept. 25 at Fort Bliss, Texas. USO photos by Dave Gatley

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Sony Music Latin Artists Yandel and Leslie Grace teamed with the USO over the weekend to play a free concert for more than 1,700 service members and their families at Fort Bliss, Texas. It was the first USO show for both 2015 Latin Grammy nominees.

“If we can make as many troops feel at home through music, in this case, Latin-american troops through Latin music … I don’t think there’s any reason why we shouldn’t,” Grace said.

Grace, also known as the “Princess of Bachata,” performed a 30-minute set followed by a high-energy arrangement by Yandel, complete with professional dancers, multi-color lights and snippets from his HBO special “Yandel: Legacy, De Líder a Leyenda Tour.”

“Thank you to all the soldiers who support me that are here at this event … I hope that they enjoy [my performance],” Yandel said from the stage.

In addition to performing, Yandel and Grace spent the afternoon at Fort Bliss meeting, thanking and taking photos with military families. Grace even took a tour of the base and visited service members at the USO El Paso’s East Fort Bliss center.

“It’s very close to home to be able to bring that sort of comfort that I know music can bring and that you guys at [the] USO focus so much on bringing to these troops,” Grace said.

Prior to performing in their first USO show, both Yandel and Grace appeared in the USO’s first bilingual PSA in support of the Every Moment Counts campaign titled “¡Gracias!” Sony Music Latin stars Arthur Hanlon, Carlos Vives, Diego Boneta, Luis Coronel, J Rythm and others also appeared in the PSA.

“I have a few friends … who serve. And I am very close to these people,” Grace said. “So, it was something that I thought was a great opportunity just to say thank you to all our troops and take that moment and let them know that they’re appreciated.”

Oname Thompson, Hee Suk Ko and Mari Villalobos contributed to this story.