‘I Couldn’t Stop Smiling’: USO Creates a Night to Remember for a Military Couple with CMA Music Festival Tickets

A panorama of the CMA Music Festival on June 5 at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Photos courtesy of the Hendricks Family

A panorama of the CMA Music Festival on June 5 at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee. Photos courtesy of the Hendricks Family

The Hendricks family was due for some quality time, and the USO had just the ticket. Two of them, in fact.

Within weeks of Sgt. Richie Hendricks return from deployment, USO Fort Campbell announced on their Facebook page that a generous donor had given two passes to each night of the CMA Music Festival, the largest country music festival of the year in Nashville, Tennessee. The only requirement to win the tickets was to share a story about why going to the event was so important.

Sgt. Ritchie and Danielle Hendrickson

Sgt. Richie and Danielle Hendrickson

USO Fort Campbell Program Director Kelli Pendleton and others read dozens of stories from spouses seeking to give a gift to a significant other. The first set of tickets was given to the Hendricks family, whose story included the following passage:

“The reason I would love to win these tickets is to surprise my wife with a date night she has not had in over a year-and-a-half,” Hendricks wrote. “She has been a single mom that whole time due to a year deployment I just returned from in March and then immediately afterwards in April I was sent to Texas [to attend the Army’s Advanced Leader Course] and for a few months before I left we were training for deployment. My wife is the biggest country fan I know and she has made me into a huge country fan, and it’s the one genre of music we can listen to and just relax and have a good time. I would love to get these tickets and take her to the concert and give her the one night she has not had in such a long time and make her truly happy.”

The Hendrickses received a pair of tickets to the opening-night show on June 5.

“This was the perfect way to end a long year away from each other,” said Danielle Hendricks, a former soldier, military spouse and mother of two.“Being pregnant and not having your husband by your side through it was hard, plus raising a 2-year-old who was completely attached to her daddy was the hardest part because she didn’t understand why she couldn’t have her daddy with her.”

The Hendrickses have been married for five years, but 24-year-old Danielle, originally from San Bernardino, California, has been country music fan her whole life.

“CMA fest was amazing,” she said. “When we found out we were going to CMA fest I couldn’t stop smiling. I have always wanted to go but never lived close enough or had the opportunity.

“All the artists were better live then I imagined. The fans of country music are always so nice and cheerful it makes for a great experience to be surrounded by people who share the same love for country music.”

The pair of passes the Hendrickses received from the USO, courtesy of a donor.

The pair of passes the Hendrickses received from the USO, courtesy of a donor.

“The shows were absolutely amazing and completely shattered our expectations,” said 24-year-old Richie Hendricks of Monroe, Michigan. “The fans were so great and we were all immediately friends before the concert even started it seemed like.”

As it turns out, this wasn’t the Hendricks’ first — or even second — experience with the USO.

Richie was introduced to a USO volunteer before he even met his first drill sergeant due to a delay getting to boot camp, and USO Northwest rescued his growing family when they were caught in a long delay at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

“It was Christmas and we had our daughter at the time and she was under a year old and this USO had a nursery with cribs and a changing table and extra diapers,” Danielle said. “[It] was such a lifesaver that we had that available to us in such a tight spot.”

“They absolutely saved the day,” Richie said. “The staff was absolutely amazing and made my wife feel really comfortable with the whole situation.

“The USO has been absolutely amazing throughout my military career from literally day one,” he added. “We’re both grateful to be at home, together with our family, and even more grateful to have the support of our fellow countrymen who so generously gave these tickets to us through the USO. You made our year.”

USO, Partners and Donors Help Out Military Families with Back-to-School Supplies

Ashley Sibinski, 10, looks through her new backpack Aug. 2 during the USO of Metropolitan Washington’s Operation Back-to-School event at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Photo by TD Jackson/Courtesy of the Belvoir Eagle

Ashley Sibinski, 10, looks through her new backpack Aug. 2 during the USO of Metropolitan Washington’s Operation Back-to-School event at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Photo by TD Jackson/Courtesy of the Belvoir Eagle

The USO – with a big assist from its donors and partners – is helping children from military families across the world get back to school in style. Here are a few recent stories:

USO Fort Hood, Operation Homefront Team to Help Texas Kids Get a Strong Start

Children from military families from kindergarten through high school received a free backpack containing grade-appropriate school supplies Saturday during a USO/Operation Homefront event at Fort Hood, Texas. Operation Homefront provided the backpacks while the USO hosted a bingo competition, sponsored a raffle and distributed snacks, according to the Killeen (Texas) Daily Herald.

“It’s a little extra something” USO Fort Hood Interim Director Isabell Hubbard told the Daily Herald. “This falls in line with all the family programs we offer. It’s one more USO moment to create.”

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Kmart’s Donation Helps USO of Central Florida Get School Supplies to Kids

With time running short and funding absent, Kmart of Brandon, Florida, came through for the USO by providing $1,000 to buy school supply kits for children of local military families. The Tampa Tribune said Brandon Kmart Manager Tim Burton facilitated the donation when he heard kids of families stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, needed a hand:

“[USO of Central Florida Vice Chairwoman Mary Zolna] had contacted me in regards to supporting them with school supplies for the base,” Burton told the Tribune. “Apparently they had lost funding and had a short window to make all of this happen. I reached out to my district manager, Jeffrey Nanace, and my regional vice president, William Ellis, who did not hesitate in authorizing me to accommodate the USO’s needs. Mary came in and we were able to get everything they needed.”

USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore Provides Backpacks, Educational Games

Earlier this month, the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore handed out an array of back-to-school items at the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Kids ages 5 to 12 had to earn their backpack, according to the Belvoir Eagle, by participating in three learning stations.

“Every little bit helps, especially since we are a one income home,” Sgt. Christopher Sleep of 1st Battalion, Warrior Transition Brigade, told the Eagle. “So, this helps for sure.”

… And if You Missed It, Here’s Our Take on How to Save on Back-to-School Shopping

Check out our 10-step guide on how to save cash when looking for back-to-school supplies.

Hello Dolly! Get To Know The USO With This Week’s Quiz

It’s time for installment No. 4 of the USO quiz. Try your luck with these five questions, and check your answers at the bottom.

1. Who performed a special USO show at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1963?
A. Perry Como and his “Kraft Music Hall” show
B. Sammy Davis, Jr.
C. Raymond Burr
D. Bob Hope and Martha Raye

2. Who was the USO’s 40th anniversary spokesperson?
A. Ann Landers
B. Abigail Van Buren, (“Dear Abby”)
C. Dr. Joyce Brothers
D. Dolores Hope

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons user dcosand

3. In 1947, the USO did which of the following?
A. temporarily ceased operations
B. received its congressional charter
C. received its first memo of understanding with the Department of Defense
D. moved into new national headquarters in Philadelphia

4. What was the name of the USO’s newsletter in the 1950s?
A. USO Report
B. USO News
C. USO Bulletin
D. Wherever They Go

5. Who took a mini-version of the long-running Broadway hit “Hello Dolly” to the troops in Vietnam?
A. Carol Channing
B. Martha Raye
C. Pearl Bailey
D. Les Brown

Highlight the line below to see the answers:
1. A; 2. C; 3. A; 4. B; 5. B

Making the Perfect Care Package: How You Can Help USO Bagram Stock Up for Troops

A group of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington-based airmen  help the USO distribute Girl Scout Cookies. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense

A group of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington-based airmen help the USO distribute Girl Scout Cookies. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense

It’s easy to take the little things for granted. For most Americans, stocking up on snacks, baby wipes and Kleenex is as simple as heading to their local convenience store.

But for troops stationed an ocean away at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, stocking up on every day commodities can mean waiting on, or rationing from, care packages shipped from the United States. However, even the most thoughtful — and jam-packed — of care packages eventually runs empty.

Luckily, USO Bagram is there to help.

Thanks to the generous donations of supporters from around the world who provide USO Bagram with food, toiletries, and other personal care items, troops can head to the USO pantry to stock up on every day items they might need. In order to provide the troops with the supplies they need, the USO Bagram relies heavily on donations of food and personal care items sent to the center from USO supporters back at home.

Right now, USO Bagram is hosting a care package drive to stock up on snacks and toiletries to hand out to troops over the coming months. The USO Bagram staff has even created a wish list of their most needed supplies to help anyone who wants to create the ultimate box of goodies for the troops. Remember, even just one package worth of supplies can brighten a service member’s day!

USO Bagram Care Package Wish List

  • Healthy snacks: Jerky, trail mixes, granola bars and fruit snacks
  • Drink mix packets: Gatorade, lemonade, iced tea and crystal light packets
  • Microwavable food: Easy Mac, popcorn, Cup O’Noodles, Chef Boyardee, oatmeal and other snacks that come in their own bowl (dining ware is scarce in Afghanistan)
  • Non-perishable food: Tuna cans or packets, fruit cups, peanut butter, Nutella, soups and other canned foods
  • Chocolate: Wait until the winter months to send chocolate, as it will melt in the mail if sent now
  • Toiletries: Travel-size shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, body wash, wet wipes and hand sanitizer (Please send these in separate boxes from food — no one likes shampoo-flavored oatmeal!)

Please send all care packages to the following address:

USO Bagram
Pat Tillman Memorial Center
APO, AE 09354

Robin Williams Created Lasting Moments on 2007 USO Tour

Comedian Robin Williams greets troops during a 2007 USO Chairman's Holiday Tour stop at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Dec. 17, 2007. Photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Courtesy of the Department of Defense

Comedian Robin Williams greets troops during a 2007 USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour stop at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Dec. 17, 2007. Photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Courtesy of the Department of Defense

Robin Williams’ personality is too big to fit into one story.

Here are two moments from the 2007 USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour we couldn’t fit into yesterday’s tribute to Williams’ service to the military.

‘You Gave Me Yours, I’ll Give You Mine’

The December 2007 tour – which also included Kid Rock, comedian Lewis Black, cyclist Lance Armstrong, Miss USA 2007 Rachel Smith, Irish tenor Ronan Tynan and was led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen – was a bit of a rough ride. There were travel delays and crazy weather – everything you’d expect when hopping in and out of remote locations in war zones.

At one point on the tour, Williams lost his voice.

“We got on a plane and flew to Afghanistan,” said John Hanson, a USO senior vice president who was on the 2007 tour. “Long flight – got there after the show was supposed to start and the audience had been standing outside in this wet, heavy snow. [Williams] could hardly speak. But he did the show. …

“The next morning … we got on a C-130 with body armor and it was stacked in front of us. … His manager said, ‘Sit next to Robin and whenever he starts talking, tell him to shut up cause he needs his voice this afternoon.’ …

“For some reason, we had to give up our body armor. These troops were coming on and offloading it. It was either a soldier or an airman – I don’t remember – but he said ‘Mr. Williams, I didn’t get to see your show last night, but thank you for coming. It means a lot to us.’ And Robin nodded. And the guy came back on later and said ‘You know, I’ve had this for a while and it’s protected me,’ and he pulled off a St. Christopher medal. And Robin [said] ‘I can’t take that.’

“[And the service member said] ‘It’s done well for me, please take it,’ and he took a couple of the [body armor] vests and walked off. So Robin sat there and he looked at it, and he looked at his manager and me and was puzzled [and] moved.

“The guy came back on to get the last batch of [body armor], and Williams said ‘Wait, you gave me yours,’ and unbuttoned his shirt and pulled out this huge silver cross and said ‘I’ll give you mine.’

“And the [service member] said ‘I can’t take this.’ And [Williams] said ‘if you don’t take that, I won’t take this.’ And so the guy walked off with it.”

Mork at War

Part of the 2007 Chairman’s tour involved officially opening the USO center at Joint Base Balad in Iraq, with some peculiar furniture.

“When we walked in, in the computer room, there was a gaming chair,” Hanson said. “It was a big, white plastic oval. Looked like a gigantic egg.

“And [Williams] ran across, jumped in it and spun around. And it was a weird cultural reference for a lot of the young guys because they didn’t really quite get it.

“And [Williams] said ‘I better stop this [or somebody’s going to get the idea for a TV series.’”

(For everyone under the age of 40, Williams’ breakout role on “Mork and Mindy” – a sitcom that ran from 1978 to 1982 where he played an alien named Mork who came to Earth in an egg-shaped spaceship.)

This Week’s Quiz: What do Steven Spielberg and Alaska have to do With the USO?

It’s time for installment No. 3 of the USO quiz. Try your luck with these five questions, and check your answers at the bottom.

1. The USO opened its 25th airport center on June 6, 1983, in:
A. Boston
B. Indianapolis
C. Baltimore
D. Orlando

2. When did USO headquarters move to Washington?
A. 1974
B. 1976
C. 1977
D. 1979

(via Flickr Creative Commons user smithsonian)

(via Flickr Creative Commons user smithsonian)

3. One of the more popular activities sponsored by the Fairbanks, Alaska, USO in the early 1950s was …
A. dog-sled races
B. igloo construction
C. panning for gold
D. ice skating dances

4. What popular program did the Communications Workers of America help USO with in the 1960s?
A. USO Mail Call
B. “Hi Mom” Christmas Calls
C. USO Calling
D. USO-Vietnam Hotline

5. Among the highlights of Director Steven Spielberg’s 1979 film “1941” were USO dances and entertainment sequences. Where was the USO facility in the movie located?
A. Manhattan
B. San Franscisco
C. Miami
D. Los Angeles

Highlight the line below to see the answers:
1. B; 2. C; 3. C; 4. B; 5. D