Ayla Brown Performs for Troops and Families at Nashville Yellow Ribbon Event

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Country singer Ayla Brown preformed in Nashville for Army National Guard troops and Army reservists. USO photos by Joseph A. Lee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — More than 1,500 Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers and their families from 43 states enjoyed an intimate USO performance by country music singer and former American Idol contestant Ayla Brown on Saturday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center here.

Brown is the oldest daughter of former United States Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.), who also happens to be a colonel in the Army National Guard, so she’s no stranger to the military scene. In fact,  she entertained 15,000 troops at  Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, in November 2010.

“With a grandfather in the Air Force and my father in the Army, an appreciation for the military is something I’ve grown up with,” Brown said. “After moving out here to Nashville, I told the USO that if they ever need me to donate my time, just pick up the phone and call — and here I am.”

Her latest album, written specifically for military families, is called “Heroes and Hometowns.” The seven-song EP features a studio version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” in addition to original, patriotic songs. Fans can purchase her new single – “Pride of America” – through her website or iTunes.

The Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program is a congressionally mandated program for soldiers in the deployment cycle. The one- or two-day events feature experts who brief soldiers and their family members on topics such as healthcare, financial readiness, legal issues, employment services, child and youth services, health and wellness, education benefits and veteran’s affairs.

Story and photos by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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Brown’s performance got the crowd on its feet.

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Brown took time to meet attendees after her show.

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USO, Jack Daniel’s Team Up to Toast to the Troops

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More than 5,000 Operation USO Care Packages were assembled Thursday by military spouses as part of the 20th “Toast to the Troops” care package assembly event. USO North Carolina volunteers and Jack Daniel’s employees took part in the event at the Fort Bragg fairgrounds. Following the assembly event, country music star and Army veteran Craig Morgan treated more than 3,000 troops, military families and members of the Fort Bragg community to a free concert.

“If it were not for these men and women who are serving, the people we are packing these bags for, we would not live in the country we live in today,” Morgan said.  “And it is imperative that we take care of them.”

The USO and Jack Daniel’s have worked together on these events for eight years. The USO has distributed more than 2.3 million care packages since the program began in 2003.  In addition to providing service men and women with needed items, the care packages serve as a touch of home and a reminder to our troops that America is always by their side.

–Story by USO Story Development

News Roundup: A Day in the Park for Stuttgart Students, Milwaukee-Area Troops

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USO volunteers and staff served food to Patch High School seniors June 4 as part of graduation week festivities. USO photo

With 72 years of practice, the USO knows how to throw a party.

And after sitting through ceremony practice last week, 170 graduating students from Patch High School in Stuttgart, Germany, needed a break.

USO Stuttgart – with help from the parents of the graduating seniors – held a barbecue for the grads June 4, with USO staff and volunteers served up hamburgers, hot dogs, sides and desserts.

When they were done eating, students were treated to an afternoon of lawn games including a water balloon toss, volleyball and croquet.

“We appreciate the USO so much for coming out and supporting the seniors,” said Sheryl Wagner, the Patch High School Guidance Department secretary and mother of a senior.

USO of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Brewers Honor Troops with Mass First Pitch

Fifty-eight troops participated in a mass first pitch May 27 at Miller Park in Milwaukee. USO photo

Fifty-eight troops participated in a mass first pitch May 27 at Miller Park in Milwaukee. USO photo

Fifty-eight people lining the infield of Miller Park were all thinking the same thing: “Just don’t let me throw it in the dirt.”

On Memorial Day, the USO of Wisconsin and the Milwaukee Brewers teamed to do something special for thousands of troops. Not only did they combine to donate and distribute 5,000 tickets to the May 27 Brewers game against the Minnesota Twins, but they also placed 58 troops on the field before the game to throw out simultaneous ceremonial first pitches.

The Brewers Community Foundation also held a 50/50 raffle that afternoon, with proceeds going to the USO of Wisconsin.

–Story by USO Story Development

Are You A Rugged Maniac? Series of Obstacle Races Support Team USO

How far are you willing to go to support our troops?

Would you leap over burning coals? Low-crawl through the mud under barbed wire? Traverse cargo netting, hop through a series of tires and navigate a balance beam over a pit?

The USO was well-represented at the May 4 Rugged Maniac 5K Obstacle Race in Richmond, Va. USO photos by Joseph Andrew Lee

The USO was well-represented at the May 4 Rugged Maniac 5K Obstacle Race in Richmond, Va. USO photos by Joseph Andrew Lee

If you want an opportunity to challenge your endurance and reach physical goals you never thought possible in support of troops and their families, then you should join Team USO this year in the Rugged Maniac 5K Obstacle Race.

“We’re very excited about the good things we can accomplish together,” said Rugged Races CEO Bradford Scudder. “The USO’s mission aligns with that of Rugged Maniac by recognizing and supporting our troops and their families.”

Rugged Maniac – which has announced 22 events in 2013 and expects more than 200,000 participants – hopes to raise $1 million in support of the USO.

“It’s a realistic goal,” Scudder said. “If each of our participants donates $5, we’ll get there. And this is a wonderful cause, so of course there will be individuals who’ll go above and beyond that $5 donation.”

As an official Team USO fundraiser, each participant’s goal is to raise $300 for troops and their families. In turn, the USO will deliver free training designed to fit each runner’s lifestyle, a fully customizable personal fundraising webpage, coaching, mentoring, registration to the event of your choice and a Team USO T-shirt to wear at the event.

From boot camp to battlefield back home again, the USO is the only organization that always stands by the side of troops and their families.

“Being able to stop in just about any airport in the United States and around the world … in every country I’ve ever been deployed to, there’s always a USO there that’s set up,” said Fort Lee NCO Academy 1st Sgt. Charles Badgley after the Rugged Maniac 5K in Richmond, Va. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a trailer, or if it’s a tent, or whatever the case may be, it gives us that touch of home, and we know that it’s almost 100 percent volunteer effort to give back to the soldiers so, it’s a really great thing.”

Team USO will enter teams in Rugged Maniac races around the country from now through December.

Team USO will enter teams in Rugged Maniac races around the country from now through December.

Team USO members are crucial to supporting that cause. On race day, they get VIP treatment including free parking and race photos from the official photographer. All the money raised by Team USO participants goes directly to their local USO.

“We’ve run in a couple of these and for us, because fitness is such a big deal, you know, and you have to make it exciting for yourself, this is one of the best ways to do it,” Badgley said. “It’s good to get out here and bang your knees up a little bit but also get a good run in at the same time.” – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Why I Volunteer: Suzy Hicks – USO Fort Drum, N.Y.

The USO is highlighting its volunteers from around the world to mark National Volunteer Week, which runs April 21-27. We asked a few of them to tell us why they give their time to the USO. Here is a reply from Suzy Hicks, a former service member, combat veteran and the current USO Volunteer of the Quarter for the Continental United States Region:

Volunteering with the USO Fort Drum is a fun and enjoyable way to give back to our service members who give so much of themselves every day.

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USO Fort Drum volunteer Suzy Hicks, center, is a former soldier who did four combat deployments. USO photo

As a prior service member, I know firsthand the value that the USO has to the troops. From a comfortable place to grab a snack or a cup of coffee on base, at an airport, or even in deployed locations, the USO volunteers can be counted on for a smile and a friendly hello. Our mission is to lift the spirit of America’s troops and their families, and that is exactly what we do at the USO Fort Drum.

The family of volunteers at USO Fort Drum is made up of civilians, family members, veterans and even soldiers who work together to keep the center running smoothly six days a week while operating numerous other events we have going at any given time. I enjoy working with my fellow volunteers towards our goal of putting a smile on our soldiers’ faces. We have so many volunteers who selflessly give hours of their time each week to be there for our troops and their families.

Perhaps the most rewarding mission that I have had the opportunity to be a part of is Here When They Land. As a USO volunteer, I am able to be one of the first people to welcome our brave heroes back from deployment. After a long journey back to the states, these soldiers are always happy to see us with our fresh hot coffee and snacks. It is an honor to personally welcome home and thank our troops for a job well done. I can’t think of a better organization to be a part of!

–Suzy Hicks, USO Fort Drum volunteer

Why I Volunteer: Capt. (Select) Mark Kleinhenz, USO of North Carolina

The USO is highlighting its volunteers from around the world to mark National Volunteer Week, which runs April 21-27. We asked a few of them to tell us why they give their time to the USO. Here is one of their replies.

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Navy Capt. (S) Mark Kleinhenz

My name is Mark Kleinhenz. I am a USO Volunteer. I am also an active reservist in the Navy. I have been proudly volunteering at the USO of North Carolina’s Charlotte Douglas International Airport center for just over a year.

It was an honor to be selected as a volunteer. It is something I plan to do for many years to come. Why? Because after 21 years of service to our country, it was time to give back to those I am so proud to serve alongside and those who have served before me.

My volunteer experience has been outstanding and rewarding to the point where I actively recruit my friends to sign up to volunteer with me. I want to share this experience because my fellow volunteers at our USO in the Charlotte airport are family, and they each feel as I do. Every time you volunteer, you see familiar faces – fellow volunteers, folks flying out for their drill weekends and other veterans who are frequent fliers. I volunteer because while I feel serving your country is important, serving those who serve our country is equally important. I get a kick out of the fact that the young soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen and spouses who come through have now idea who just made them a cup of coffee or welcomed them in the door. That is the way it should be at a USO. Rank doesn’t matter when you walk in our doors – only that you served or are serving your country.

Throughout my Navy career, I have stopped into every USO I have run across – Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar, Vicenza and Naples, Italy, both of Dallas’ excellent facilities and many others, including the two best USOs I have ever been to – the USO in Guam and our own USO of North Carolina’s Charlotte airport center. I have always received warm welcomes, something to eat or drink, a free phone call if I needed it, an Internet connection and the ability to swap out a good book out for a trip wherever I was heading. This service year after year while flying in and out of Charlotte and stopping by my USO is what motivated me to volunteer.

USO facilities are great. However, it is USO volunteers that truly make the difference. I can confidently say that USO volunteers are cut from the same cloth in every location. To a person, every volunteer does their best to make every service member – active, reserve and retired – feel special. We strive to ensure people feel welcome and are made to feel at home during their visit. If you want to do something very positive in your life, become a USO Volunteer!

–Story by Navy Capt. (Select) Mark W. Kleinhenz, USO of North Carolina volunteer