Coining a Legend: Richard Roundtree Talks About ‘Being Mary Jane,’ ‘Shaft’ and his USO Tour

"Being Mary Jane" cast members B.J. Britt, Richard Roundtree and Aaron Spears joined the USO during a visit to Naval Base San Diego on Tuesday.

“Being Mary Jane” cast members B.J. Britt, Richard Roundtree, center, and Aaron Spears joined the USO during a visit to Naval Base San Diego on Tuesday.

When Richard Roundtree says you’re cool, is there anything left to accomplish?

Roundtree – the actor who played the title character in the “Shaft” franchise of the 1970s – had the all-too-civilian experience of being unexpectedly coined for the first time when he visited Naval Base San Diego on a USO tour Feb. 17.

He appreciated the base commanding officer’s style.

“He shook my hand and in the palm of his hand – I have it right here in front of me – he had this [coin],” the jovial actor said of his interaction with Capt. Curt Jones. “The way he gave it to me was just too cool.”

Roundtree knows cool. He’s spent five decades exuding it on screen, including his recent run on BET’s hit drama “Being Mary Jane.” Roundtree and co-stars B.J. Britt and Aaron Spears toured the base together last month.

“I was blown away seeing up close and personal what the Navy was about,” Roundtree said. “From a civilian’s point of view, I got to see a lot and it was wonderful.

“The icing on the cake was how appreciative the enlisted [troops] were toward us. It was just great. I loved it.”

The trio of actors mingled with troops and military family members, stopping to pose for photos and talk about their show and, of course, a little nostalgia.

“[Troops] were relating primarily to ‘Shaft’ understandably,’” said Roundtree, who had two paternal uncles who served in World War II. “I tried to push [“Being Mary Jane,” and they would say] ‘Oh yeah, yeah, we know all about that, but “Shaft” …’

“Even watching the Academy Awards the other night, there was the ‘Shaft’ theme in there at one point,” he said, chuckling.

Roundtree has transformed from an action hero to the man who polices the action in “Being Mary Jane.” He plays Paul Patterson Sr., the father of series star Gabriel Union’s Mary Jane Paul. The series has received positive reviews and was recently picked up for a third season.

“The beauty of it is the universality of the story lines are just great to be a part of,” he said. “Gabriele Union – the trials and tribulations she goes through with the extended family and I have to run kind of roughshod over this whole family – very exciting work. And challenging. I’m having a great time.”

Photos: USO Supporting Wounded Warriors at the Marine Corps Trials

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CAMP PENDLETON, California–The road to the Warrior Games starts here.

More than 300 wounded Marines, veterans and international troops from 10 countries are competing at the Marine Corps Trials in Southern California. When they’re done, the top 50 Marines across all sports will advance to compete against wounded warriors from the Air Force, Navy, Army and a team of special operators in June at the Warrior Games in Quantico, Virginia.

Hosted by the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment and support by the USO, the Marine Corps Trials select the best wounded Marine athletes in Paralympic sports including seated volleyball, cycling, shooting and archery.

The event runs through Wednesday and is opened to the public. For more information, go to woundedwarriorregiment.org.

Vice Chairman Brings an All-Star Cast on USO Tour to Greets Troops Around the Globe

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The vice chairman is a popular guy.

Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is currently leading an eight-day, seven-country USO tour with a robust roster of entertainers, celebrities and sports stars.

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 are all circling the globe with the admiral to greet and entertain troops and their families.

“This is my third opportunity to take a group of talented entertainers overseas on a USO trip,” Winnefeld said. “The strength of the USO [is the] vibrancy, character and values which it provides as it helps bring comfort to our men and women in uniform and their families. The USO represents a certain certainty during uncertain times and provides unwavering commitment to service members and their families.”

This is the sixth USO tour for Haysbert, who was the master of ceremonies at the 2013 USO Gala and has also lent his trademark voice to USO public service announcements. It’s the fourth USO tour for DeGarmo, third for  Young, second for Acuna and the first USO experience for Pagano, Luck, Allen, DeCastro, Kazantsev and Phillips.

“This trip has been nothing short of amazing so far,” Phillips said. “We’ve got to meet so many great men and women in uniform, and see so many interesting places. I can’t thank Adm. Winnefeld and the USO enough for this life-changing experience.”

‘It’s a Great Opportunity’: Indianapolis Colts’ Chuck Pagano and Dwayne Allen Talk 2015 USO Vice Chairman’s Tour

BETHESDA, Maryland — Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and tight end Dwayne Allen stopped by Naval Support Activity Bethesda — home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center — on Monday to meet recovering troops and hospital staff before heading overseas as part of the 2015 USO Vice Chairman’s Tour.

While at the hospital, Pagano and Allen met and took pictures with recovering troops along with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, actor Dennis Haysbert, Pittsburgh Steelers lineman David DeCastro, reigning Miss America Kira Kazantsev and Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

During the visit, Pagano also shared why he was looking forward to his first USO tour and the importance of giving back to the military community.

Additionally, Allen, who is also making his USO tour debut, took a moment to talk about growing up near Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and why he was looking forward to his first USO tour.

Small Moment, Huge Difference: Family Eases into Military Life with Communication Help From the USO

Army 2nd Lt. Philip De Rosa, left,  Army Spc. Caroline De Rosa and Army Capt. Alex De Rosa pose at a family event. Photo courtesy of Amy De Rosa

Army 2nd Lt. Philip De Rosa, left, Army Spc. Caroline De Rosa and Army Capt. Alex De Rosa pose at a family event. Photo courtesy of Amy De Rosa

An email made the difference for Amy De Rosa.

“When my oldest [son, Alex,] was applying to college, one of his music teachers left his position at the school to go be a member of the military band at West Point,” De Rosa said. “That opened up a door. [Alex] decided to apply to West Point. He got it. He went, and then it went from there.”

It was De Rosa’s first experience with military life.

Alex was stationed in Germany after he graduated, and deployed to Afghanistan from there. Already separated by an ocean, his family faced the awkward task of saying their deployment goodbyes from afar.

“We talked about if should we go over [to Germany] to say goodbye, but our son told us that we didn’t need to do that,” she said. “He described a little bit of the process of how he would get to Afghanistan. That helped a little bit.

“In his words, he was fine and ready to go, so that set the tone for us.”

But moms worry. While De Rosa was a little nervous for her oldest son – now an Army captain – she knew he was well-trained and ready for his deployment. Still, she didn’t know when she’d hear from him next.

It was less than a day.

“When we got the email [from Alex], it was just great to know he made it and could be in touch with us,” she said, noting Alex sent an email to his grandmother, too. “We didn’t know much, but we knew we got an email from him at the USO. It was a really good feeling, and that was our first introduction to the USO.”

The emails and phone calls kept coming, too. Throughout Alex’s deployment, the family was able to stay close even though they were half a world apart.

And there were more USO experiences, too. De Rosa’s youngest son, Philip, went to West Point, too, and had to travel from New York to Seoul at one point for training. As the family drove him to the airport, he mentioned he’d have a nine-hour layover in California before heading overseas.

“I thought ‘What do you do for nine hours?” De Rosa said. “He later told us ‘Oh, I went to the USO, and I slept there.’ I thought ‘Oh man, this is so great. The USO came through again!’ He got a regular night’s sleep for his flight the next day, and it was another case of the small things being the most reassuring.

“It was a relief, and even though he was 3,000 miles away, he had somewhere to go that was safe and clean. … The USO provides this big safety net. That was a nice feeling.”

De Rosa says all three of her children – her daughter Caroline is a specialist in the Army – have benefitted from the USO, whether they grabbed a meal before a flight or used a center as a safe place to store luggage while traveling.

“We share our story because before we had kids in the military, we really didn’t know what the USO offered,” she said. “It’s much more personal, and they come pretty close to home.”

Full Circle: How One Kind Moment Created A USO Volunteer for Life

The Flores family. Courtesy photo

The Flores family. Courtesy photo

When Nancy Flores stepped off a plane in Germany in 2003 with just her luggage and her cat, there was supposed to be someone from the military there to pick her up. There wasn’t.

“I saw that USO sign and thought, ‘I can go there. They will help me!’”

She was right. A USO volunteer invited her inside the center where more volunteers took the then-23-year-old’s luggage, looked up the phone numbers to her husband’s unit, gave her a snack and even cut down a plastic cup to make a water dish for her cat.

Her husband, now-retired Army communications Sgt. Johnathan Flores, had sent the duty driver to pick her up, but they had left an hour late and were stuck in traffic. It was something the volunteers at the USO at Frankfurt International Airport had seen before.

“At a very young age, I was alone in a foreign country and that was a very huge relief for me to find the USO,” said Nancy, who was 23 at the time. “[My husband is] my security blanket in those situations, so being alone in that situation was scary.”

When the driver arrived, the USO volunteers helped her on her way, and that singular moment of compassion spawned Flores’ lifetime commitment to both the organization and the military community.

“Seven years later I found out we had a USO on Fort Hood and as soon as I could I started volunteering,” she said. “I enjoy every day making soldiers and their families smile.”

She currently volunteers once or twice a week from four to six hours at a time, helping anywhere she’s needed, from flightline welcome home events to working behind a desk in a center.

But her favorite program by far is the Story Time Early Literacy Workshop. She’s volunteered once a month at the USO Fort Hood/Military Child Education Coalition event for the last three years, helping feed breakfast and read books to pre-school-age children who attend with their parents.

But her connection to the USO runs even deeper than a missed ride and the resulting volunteerism. Her son, Johnathan Flores Jr., 10, has watched her husband deploy three times. Nancy says it was the USO that made it possible for her husband and their growing boy to connect.

“We are a family of USO volunteers and we always will be very proud of making moments count for other military families just like the USO did for [us].”

The first time her husband deployed, Jonathan Jr. was only 3 months old. Nancy knew she would have some contact with her husband over the Internet, but didn’t know which moments he’d get to see from afar.

“Daddy does bed time,” she said. “That was a moment every day. And when he left it was sad that we had to break that pattern.

“But then out of nowhere we received these books he recorded at a USO center.”

When the USO/United Through Reading packages arrived, Flores broke down in tears knowing bedtime was back on again.

“I had no idea it was even coming,” she said. “Every night we played the video and, even though it was the same story, it was a moment with Daddy. He knew that Daddy cared.”

“We have that memory,” she said. “And that’s a really cool moment for us. Every time my son was missing Daddy we’d pop in that DVD.

“We were very honest with him that Daddy was away protecting America and doing his job. He learned really young to deal with it and I believe the USO was part of making that happen naturally.

“Now, even though we’re not technically in the military, we’re still very much a part of the military community. We are a family of USO volunteers and we always will be very proud of making moments count for other military families just like the USO did for [us].”