Trace Adkins Brings Opry Circle Experience Overseas on 10th USO Tour

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For nearly a century, country music legends have all stood on a single piece of oak floor while playing at the venue of all venues — the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.

The Opry Circle was the center part of the stage at the Ryman Auditorium when the legendary show moved there in 1943. In 1974, when the current Grand Ole Opry House was built, a 6-foot circle was cut from the oak stage floor and installed center stage in the new auditorium.

Generations of country music greats have performed inside the circle, and to celebrate the Opry’s 90th anniversary, Grammy-nominated artist Trace Adkins brought a replica of the circle on his recent USO tour to share that experience with troops and military families overseas.

Far from a stranger in supporting troops, Adkins first volunteered with the USO in 2002 and became one of the first entertainers to travel to the Middle East with the organization. To date, the Louisiana native has participated in 10 USO tours and traveled to seven countries – visiting, entertaining and creating moments for more than 43,218 troops and military families. His most recent tour — which spanned April 12-21 — included stops in the Middle East.

“Trace says he’s had a heart for our troops for a long time, and we know they have a heart for him as well,” said J.D. Crouch II, CEO and President of the USO. “His enduring commitment to our military is legendary, and this time he’s taking along another legend with him: a piece of the Grand Old Opry.”

In collaboration with the USO, Adkins is also a part of the Opry’s Cause for Applause: Salute the Troops activities in May, which will benefit the USO and MusiCorps throughout Military Appreciation Month.

“One of my very first, big performances was at the Grand Ole Opry,” Adkins said. “I remember that day very well. I also fondly remember the day, back in 2003, when I was invited to become a member. The Grand Ole Opry is a lot like family to me – as is the USO.”

Cute Overload: After a Cross-Country Move, USO Arizona Helps Military Family Welcome Quintuplets

The Hoffman quintuplets. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

The Hoffman quintuplets. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

It was a far-fetched scenario that became reality.

In 2013, Roxanna Hoffman, a former Air Force reservist, and her husband, Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael Hoffman, found out they were expecting quintuplets.

A few weeks after receiving the big news, the Hoffmans, who were living at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, decided to move to Phoenix to be close to Dr. John Elliott, a physician who specializes in multiples pregnancies.

The Hoffman family. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

The Hoffman family. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

While Michael worked to arrange the cross-country move, Roxanna went ahead of her family to Phoenix and spent the rest of her pregnancy on bed rest, far from her husband and 9-year-old son, Connor. After receiving a new post at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, Michael and Connor reunited with Roxanna in Arizona just two days before the babies were born.

It was a lot of changes and excitement, all in a new place. Still, the Hoffmans were welcoming five newborns thousands of miles away from family, friends and their established support system. That’s where USO Arizona came in.

USO Arizona Center Director Tara Mogan heard about the Hoffmans, their cross-country move and their new bundles of joy at a monthly meeting with Luke Air Force case representatives. She immediately knew the USO had to help.

“It is crucial that we address the needs of the entire military family, because they are all pulling their weight to support the service member’s commitment to serve our country,” Mogan said in an email.

USO Arizona Center Director Tara Mogan poses with the baskets with Staff Sgt. Hoffman's commanding officer.

USO Arizona Center Director Tara Mogan poses with the baskets with Staff Sgt. Hoffman’s commanding officer.

Mogan quickly reached out to USO Arizona volunteers Sue Fogel and Susan Armor, who helped put together two gift baskets full of handmade baby blankets, bottles, diapers, wipes, gift cards, USO onesies and other supplies.

“We sincerely hope that it lifted their spirits, … provided some financial relief and reminded them how much we appreciate and recognize their service to our country,” Mogan said. “And, we knew our USO onesies would create a super cute photo opportunity!”

Once the baskets were assembled, Mogan presented them to Michael, along with his first sergeant, at the following month’s meeting with Luke Air Force Base representatives.

“That they took the time to make us something was just special and kind of eye opening for what [the USO does] for different service members,” Roxanna said. “It was really … special because we didn’t at the time really know anybody in this area or anything.

“It’s just been a great organization.”

After receiving the baskets, the Hoffmans took photos of their newest family members sporting the green USO onesies and, several months later, snapped another USO onesie photo to show how much the babies have grown.

The Hoffman quintuplets in their USO onesies. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

The Hoffman quintuplets in their USO onesies. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

 CORRECTION: The rank of the service member in one of the photos above was changed. He is a first sergeant.

USO Entertainers Rake in Nominations and Statues at the ACM Awards and MTV Movie Awards

USO entertainers raked in nominations and wins at the 50th Annual ACM Awards last night and the MTV Movie Awards last weekend. Here’s a look at the USO performers and supporters who were recognized for their performance.

MTV Movie Awards

Actor Bradley Cooper greets a soldier at a remote forward operating base as part of a seven-day summer USO tour to the Persian Gulf to boost troop morale in 2009. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Actor Bradley Cooper greets a soldier at a remote forward operating base during a 2009 USO tour. USO Photo by Fred Greaves

Bradley Cooper
Best Male Performance; Nominated and won

Bradley Cooper traveled to Cuba, Kuwait, Afghanistan for the USO and also took part in a seven-day USO tour with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen in 2010.

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Channing Tatum
Best Comedic Performance; Nominated and won

Earlier this year, actors Channing Tatum, Adam Rodriguez and Nick Zano took a six-day USO handshake tour to visit troops in Afghanistan. During his inaugural visit,  Tatum visited seven bases and spent time with more than 1,500 troops, including these folks from Oregon.

“My trip with the USO was a once-in-a-lifetime window into the sacrifice and duty that these brave soldiers and their families devote every day to,” said Tatum, whose “Magic Mike XXL” will hit theaters this summer. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the experience. Safe travels home and until then, keep holding it down there and in every other place that flies the stars and stripes.”

Scarlett Johansson
Best Female Performance; Nominated
Best Kiss; 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.”

Robert Downey Jr.
Recipient of MTV Generation Award

After starring in Tropic Thunder, Downey visited Camp Pendleton, California, in 2008 for a special USO screening of the film with co-stars Ben Stiller and Jack Black.

50th Annual ACM Awards

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

Dierks Bentley
Male Vocalist of the Year; Nominated
Album of the Year (Riser); Nominated
Song of the Year (“I Hold On”); Nominated
Single Record of the Year (“Drunk on a Plane”); Nominated
Video of the Year (“Drunk on a Plane”); Nominated and won
Vocal Event of the Year (“The South” with Florida Georgia Line and Mike Eli); Nominated

Bentley performed for military families at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas in 2010 as part of the first USO/ACM Lifting Lives concert.

Luke Bryan
Entertainer of the Year; Nominated and won
Male Vocalist of the Year; Nominated
Song of the Year (“Drink a Beer”); Nominated
Vocal Event of the Year (“This Is How We Roll” with Florida Georgia Line); Nominated and won

In 2011, Bryan performed as part of a free concert for troops and their families hosted by The Academy of Country Music and the USO at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

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 April 2, 2011. USO Photo by Fred Greaves

Little Big Town
Vocal Group of the Year; Nominated
Album of the Year (Painkiller); Nominated
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 group also 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.

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Brad Paisley
Male Vocalist of the Year; Nominated

Brad Paisley entertained over 1,200 troops and their families at the July 4, 2012, “Salute to the Military” event at the White House. Paisley has also spent time visiting wounded service members at hospitals and a burn unit at the San Antonio Military Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in 2007.

“I’m a big believer in the power of motivation and I see the USO as something that has existed to boost the morale of our fighting men and women since before I was born,” Paisley said in a 2012 interview.

“We are talking about the people responsible for our freedom. And their job is VERY hard. So I think back to Bob Hope, telling jokes and adding sunshine in the middle of wartime devastation and it occurs to me that you can’t underestimate what that did for those brave souls.”

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Rascal Flatts
Vocal Group of the Year; Nominated

In August 2005, Rascal Flatts headed on a USO tour to entertain troops stationed in the Persian Gulf.  During their visit, the trio also signed autographs and took photographs with service members.

“We’re here because we want our service members to know we’re proud of what they are doing, and that we’re deeply grateful for their dedication and sacrifice,” said lead singer Gary LeVox in a 2005 interview with the Air Force. “We are offering our music as a way to show our gratitude for what they do.”

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Blake Shelton
Vocal Event of the Year (“Lonely Tonight” with Ashley Monroe); Nominated
Male Vocalist of the Year; Nominated

In 2014, Shelton helped kick off a new partnership between jcpenney‘s philanthropic arm, jcp cares, and the USO with a sold-out concert at the Watertown Fairgrounds Arena in Watertown, New York. Three hundred complimentary concert tickets were donated for troops and their families by jcpenney.

“Supporting the USO is second nature to me,” Shelton said in a 2012 interview. “My dad was a Korean War veteran. My brother was a veteran of the Army. It’s a charity that’s near and dear to my heart.”

The Band Perry
Vocal Group of the Year; Nominated

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.”

The Swon Brothers
Vocal Duo of the Year; Nominated

In 2014, the Swon Brothers, along with Jana Kramer, entertained troops at a special USO concert at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

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Carrie Underwood
Vocal Event of the Year (“Somethin’ Bad” with Miranda Lambert); Nominated
Female Vocalist of the Year; Nominated
Video of the Year (“Something’ Bad” with Miranda Lambert); Nominated

Carrie Underwood travelled overseas with the USO to entertain troops during the 2006 holiday season.

Country music singer Zac Brown gets up close and personal with troops during a USO show in Mosul, Iraq, on April 16, 2010. (USO Photo by Erick Anderson)

Zac Brown gets up close and personal with troops during a USO show in Mosul, Iraq, on April 16, 2010. USO Photo by Erick Anderson

Zac Brown Band
Vocal Group of the Year; Nominated

The Zac Brown Band is a long-time supporter of the USO.

In 2008, Brown traveled on his inaugural USO tour as part of the the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff USO Holiday tour. A year later, he performed with his band at the USO Fort Hood Community Strong event in 2009.

In 2010, the band traveled overseas to entertain troops in the Persian Gulf, where they also recorded their music video for their hit single, “Free.”

Your USO at Work: April 2015 — USO Celebrates Expecting Military Moms

Heidi Murkoff, left, laughs with Gretchen Stradley during a group baby shower at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria in Germany on March 13. The USO and Murkoff, author of "What to Expect When You're Expecting," hosted the shower for over 70 expectant moms. U.S. Army photo

Heidi Murkoff, left, laughs with Gretchen Stradley during a group baby shower at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria in Germany on March 13. The USO and Murkoff, author of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” hosted the shower for over 70 expectant moms. U.S. Army photo

USO Celebrates More Than 70 Military Moms With Baby Shower in Germany

Whether you’re having your first child or your third, the experience is a cause for celebration. For some military moms-to-be, sharing the experience with extended family is not always an option.

To help fill that void, the USO, in partnership with the What to Expect Foundation and best-selling author Heidi Murkoff, hosted a Special Delivery baby shower for more than 70 military moms in Germany.

“It’s never easy being a mom, especially for first time,” Murkoff said in an Army.mil story. “But, these families and these women are so far-flung and so separated from their net of support; they’re completely on their own.”

The March 13 baby shower at U.S. Army Garrison Bavaria featured food, gifts and games in addition to a Q&A session  with Murkoff. The event also gave expecting moms a chance to form bonds and friendships with each other.

Valerie Pamphile said she attended because she wanted to be around other pregnant women because studies show that “when you’re around other women at your gestational age, you thrive.”

You can help the USO create special moments for military moms by visiting USO.org/donate.

Mother of Fallen Soldier Finds a Moment of Solace Through Visit to USO 

Vicki Dickinson doesn’t remember much about the two years after her son was killed. Between the funeral, the tears and the coping, everything felt like a blur.

Army Staff Sgt. Michael Dickinson hugs his mother, Vicki. Photo courtesy of Vicki Dickinson

Army Staff Sgt. Michael Dickinson hugs his mother, Vicki. Photo courtesy of Vicki Dickinson

But she does recall one moment in perfect detail. While walking through an airport about a year after Army Staff Sgt. Michael Dickinson II’s 2006 death in Iraq, she visited her first USO.

Michael, a Battle Creek, Michigan, native, told his mother about his visits to USO centers around the world.

“He would always try to find the USO and [relax],” she said of her son, who was killed in a firefight nine days before he was supposed to come home. “And he’d say, ‘They’ve always got great snacks, things to drink. They’ve got nice comfortable places to lie down, take a little nap if you need it.’”

So when she had a few minutes between flights that day, Vicki went to a USO airport center to see for herself. She walked into the center and told a volunteer about her son and his fondness for the USO.

After a volunteer offered her a quick tour and refreshments, Vicki settled into one of the cozy couches and quietly pictured her son resting on a similar couch a few years prior.

“[I thought] ‘I can see him here. I can see him on that couch, playing a game,’” she said. “It made me feel good that my son got to do that. That he knew that he was cared about.”

The USO Spring Troop Visit led by Admiral James A. Winnefeld, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brought lots of smiles to troops stationed around the world during an eight-day, seven country USO tour. Troops stationed at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, got a short reprieve from their duties on March 6 to enjoy a USO show and to take a group photo with the athletes and entertainers on the tour. USO photo

The USO Spring Troop Visit led by Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, brought lots of smiles to troops stationed around the world during an eight-day, seven country USO tour. Troops stationed at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, got a short reprieve from their duties on March 6 to enjoy a USO show and to take a group photo with the athletes and entertainers on the tour. USO photo

Vice Chairman Takes All-Star Cast on USO Tour Around the World

Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led a full roster of entertainers, celebrities and sports stars on a USO tour around the world in March.

NFL players Andrew Luck, Dwayne Allen and David DeCastro, Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, musicians Phillip Phillips, Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young, actors Dennis Haysbert and Jason “Wee Man” Acuna and Miss America 2015 Kira Kazantsev all circled the globe with the admiral to greet and entertain troops and their families.

The group visited troops in Germany, Italy, Bahrain, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS New York in the Arabian Gulf, Afghanistan, Diego Garcia, South Korea and Hawaii before closing out the tour at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

“It was a huge honor of mine to get to go overseas and thank them in person,” Kazantsev told DoD News. “I’m so honored that I got to be a part of it. This crew and the cast were amazing. We were like a family.”

By visiting USO.org/donate today, your support will help the USO  deliver top-notch entertainment to troops and families all over the world.

USO Tour Vet’s Victory in Checkers Challenge Benefits Troops and Families

Country music star Kellie Pickler performs a USO show for troops stationed in Italy as part of the 2014 USO Holiday Tour. USO Photo by Dave Gatley

Country music star Kellie Pickler performs a USO show for troops stationed in Italy as part of the 2014 USO Holiday Tour. USO Photo by Dave Gatley

Country music star Kellie Pickler, an eight-time USO tour veteran, topped fellow musician Thomas Rhett in the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Country Checkers Challenge on Saturday.

After Pickler’s big victory in Arlington, Texas, the Cracker Barrel and ACM‘s Party for a Cause presented her team with a $25,000 check that will help support USO programs and services. Rhett, who played for Disabled American Veterans, received a $10,000 donation for the organization.

After presenting the trophy to wounded warrior and retired Marine Spanky Gibson, Pickler told CountryWeekly.com that her team’s victory was great, but there were more important things at stake.

“It’s not about us, or winning,” she said. “It’s about raising awareness and money for a great cause.”

USO Opens New Facility at Seattle’s SeaTac Airport

The USO was joined by local officials and military leaders as it welcomed guests into its new center at SeaTac Airport in February.

From a full-service kitchen to enhanced entertainment amenities, the 7,500 square-foot center will provide a touch of home for service members and their families as they travel through the airport and beyond. With major Army, Navy and Air Force installations nearby, the region is home to one of the largest concentrations of military personnel in the United States.

“This is the pointed edge of the spear of the USO,” said J.D. Crouch II, CEO and President of the USO. “This is where we meet the men and women and their families who we are dedicated to supporting. It’s places like this all around the world … which allow us to always be by their side.”

With support from USO Northwest staff and volunteers, the new center will be open to visitors 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Why Volunteer? Denee Hammond Explains Why She Gives Her Time at USO New England

Whether it’s about patriotism, family or being part of something bigger than themselves, USO volunteers each have personal reasons for giving their valuable time.

USO New England volunteer Denee Hammond took a moment recently to talk about why she does it.

“When they see the USO in an airport thousands of miles from home, they come back to that one moment when they may have met a USO volunteer,” she said. “Maybe they saw us at a Patriots game, maybe they came with us on a Polar Express event for their kids Š but they remember those letters and it immediately brings them back home, and they feel connected.”

Iron Man: Why One Volunteer Has Shown Up at the USO (Almost) Every Day it’s Been Open the Last 5 Years

Henry Edmon talks with troops at the Fort Leonard Wood USO center. USO photo

Henry Edmon talks with troops at the Fort Leonard Wood USO center. USO photo

If you’ve been to the Fort Leonard Wood USO center recently, you’ve probably seen Henry Edmon.

A familiar face to new recruits and longtime area residents, the Sudbury, Ontario, native has proudly volunteered at the USO every Thursday through Sunday, which are the days the center is open, for the past five years — minus the two days he took off to attend his daughter’s wedding in May 2013.

“Everyone here at the USO thought it was funny he would worry about missing his shift for his daughter’s wedding,” wrote USO Fort Leonard Wood Center Director Kelly Gist in an email. “But that just goes to show you the level of commitment he has to the USO. [He] loves all that we do here, we are his extended family, but we sure weren’t going to let him miss his daughter’s wedding.”

According to his daughter, Janis Edmon, her wedding wasn’t the first time Henry has worried about missing his volunteer shift for a special occasion. When Janis visits Henry, he always tells her that he’ll still be volunteering at the USO, and she is welcome to join him.

“When I used to come home for Christmas, Easter and everything, we were at the USO,” Janis said.

“He loves working there and he always wants to make sure that, you know, he’s dependable and there for them, and it’s awesome, because it’s like a little family. So, he likes going there, and I like him going there.”

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A Canadian and American Army veteran of three and 23 years, respectively, Henry began volunteering at the USO center in central Missouri after he retired.

“I will always remember the help that the USO was to me during the Vietnam War,” Henry wrote in an email. “It was the least I could do to give back to an organization that helped me so much.”

According to Gist, Henry takes the USO’s spirit-lifting mission to heart, making him a popular guy on base.

“Just to see that every day, the compassion he has, the loyalty … we wish there was more like him,” Gist said.

Henry especially enjoys chatting with new recruits going through basic training. He frequently shares his military experiences with young soldiers to both encourage them and ensure them they’re not alone.

“These soldiers are learning from our volunteers, and him especially,” Gist said. “When you have a solider just come in from basic and he might be sitting there wondering, ‘Am I going to make it through the next few weeks?’ And [then] Henry comes up and says, ‘It’s okay. You’ll make it.’ They really take that to heart.”

Those heart-to-heart interactions have led some troops to seek Henry out when they return to Fort Leonard Wood years later.

“It’s really neat to see them come back around and they remember him,” Gist said. “You can just tell they have a love for him and it’s really neat to see that.”

Henry says he hopes troops he serves will pay the encouragement forward.

“Maybe, one day, when they have the time to give back, they will remember what we did here, just as I remembered the impact the USO [had] on me,” he said.