Sons of Anarchy Bring Smiles to the Pacific

Is there a word or phrase that conveys “happily exhausted?” When I first meet Kim Coates, Mark Boone Junior and Dayton Callie of Sons of Anarchy on the last day of their whirlwind tour of the Pacific, that is the first thing that comes to my mind.

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Clockwise from top left: The line snaked around the parking lot; Kim Coates and Mark Boone Junior admire a framed photo of the cast before signing; The actors met with hundreds of troops and their families in the morning

Over the past seven days the trio of actors had visited troops and their families stationed in Japan and Guam, and now Hawaii. This was be the second USO tour for Coates and Boone and the third for Callie. In 2010, the cast set out on their first USO tour together, along with fellow actor Theo Rossi, and delivered cheer and a touch of home to more than 2,000 troops in Kuwait and Iraq. Last year, Callie and Rossi, along with fellow “Sons of Anarchy” star Ron Perlman, spent a day visiting troops and military families at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms in California.

They had just landed the night before, but no time for sun and surf – we were immediately off to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a meet and greet event!

The line of hundreds of military members and families wrapped around the parking lot in the hot sun, but it was all cheers smiles as we arrived! For three hours straight, the actors gave out hugs, took pictures and signed posters and t-shirts.

"I'm star struck!" explained one pregnant military spouse after the actors signed her tummy!

“I’m star struck!” explained one pregnant military spouse after the actors signed her tummy!

After a brief lunch, filled with signing more posters, it was off to tour a ship and meet with some of the crew members. Dayton Callie, a Navy veteran who served during the Vietnam War, joked, “In my day we were still using cannon balls!”

Then it was off again to meet hundreds more excited military fans. By this point my back and feet had begun to ache and I couldn’t fathom how they were still standing. Yet they were excited to meet more people and ready with big smiles as they spent two more hours taking pictures and autographing items.

Coates, Boone and Callie at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Coates, Boone and Callie at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor

Finally, we spent the evening taking a private boat tour of Pearl Harbor, stopping by the USS Arizona Memorial. Awed by its significance, Coates, Boone and Callie agreed that our men and women in the military sacrifice so much and deserve the utmost respect.

Wrapping up the long day and tour with a dinner, the actors were weary but content… and already contemplating what they’ll do next with the USO! - Vyque White, USO Director of New Media

 

USO Comforts Family of Korean War Soldier

Army Pfc. Roosevelt “Jack” Clark's Yearbook Photo

Army Pfc. Roosevelt “Jack” Clark’s Yearbook Photo

Four volunteers reported for duty hours before dawn this morning at Los Angeles International Airport’s Bob Hope Hollywood USO to greet the remains of a fallen soldier.

As the flag-draped coffin containing the remains of Army Pfc. Roosevelt “Jack” Clark slowly rolled from the rear of the plane, his family could hardly contain their joy to finally bring him home.

It’s not that they’re happy he died. His family’s grief has lasted nearly 62 years. Clark was first reported missing-in-action while fighting with the 35th Infantry Regiment in North Korea in 1950. He was just 18.

His remains were recently identified among 208 boxes of human remains turned over to the United States by North Korea in the early 1990s. It was determined that he had died just three days before he was reported missing, when his position was overwhelmed by elements of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces.

“A dignified transfer is usually a very somber event,” said Bob Kurkjian, executive director of USO Greater Los Angeles Area. “We are always there to support families of the fallen, but this time was different.”

The USO is committed to supporting families of the fallen through our centers and partnerships with airport and service honor guards, as well as organizations such as the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). USO staff and volunteers provide comfort for family members along the journey to the final resting place of the service member.

“This was the celebration of a soldier’s return home,” added Kurkjian. “We helped bring his family the closure they haven’t had for decades.”

Two of Clark’s cousins and his great-niece were there — alongside USO volunteers, airport police and firefighters — to welcome Clark’s remains.

“It’s a closure for us,” his cousin, Rennie Hunter, told KABC-TV. The hardest part about having a family member go missing, she said, is that “you just never know what had happened or if they will ever come back home.”

Clark grew up close to his cousins in rural Arvin, located just southeast of Bakersfield, Calif., and though it was his mother’s lifelong dream for Clark to return home, neither of his parents lived to see it.

Clark’s remains will be buried Friday in Bakersfield, KTLA-TV reported.

Questions about the USO’s support for families of the fallen can be directed to Wendy Fish, Families of the Fallen Support program manager, at wfish@uso.org. – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Volunteers Ready to Serve at New USO Warrior & Family Center

The largest USO Center ever built!

The largest USO Center ever built!

“Give the service member 100% of your attention.”  I wrote this down during today’s volunteer training at the new Fort Belvoir USO Warrior and Family Center.  Simple statement, HUGE impact.

I was attending training to better understand the new Center and all of its features, but in my head I kept circling back to that statement.  “100% of your attention.”  I was having a hard time devoting 100% of my attention to the training!  My virtual to-do list racing through my head:  Did that reporter email me back?…What is the deadline on that press release?…Expense reports are due!

Of course, for these volunteers, devoting time and attention to our nation’s troops and their families is second nature.  350 individuals signed up to volunteer at the new Warrior and Family Center in just a few short months, all before the Center is even open.  350 Washington, DC area residents.   Moms, dads, retirees, college students- all with one thing in common: a desire to support our nation’s men and women in uniform.

This new Center may be unique in size (the largest USO Center in history) and design (20 rooms with unique functions and purpose), but it shares something in common with our more than 160 USO locations around the globe- our volunteers will serve as the heart and soul of the Center.

From our active duty military who work patrols in the field during the day and spend their free evening volunteering in our Centers in Afghanistan and Kuwait, to the many military spouses who take time away from their own families to support those deployed troops serving in Europe and the Pacific regions, to the volunteers stateside who serve “no dough dinners” at USO Centers on military installations.  We also can’t forget the airport volunteers who greet traveling service men and women with hot coffee and a comfortable seat, and those volunteers that we hope to never meet, those who take the call, anytime, day or night, and support the families receiving their fallen soldier.

These individuals, thousands of them around the globe, are the life force of every USO Center.  They give 100% of their attention to our nation’s heroes.  I don’t know your names, but I know your passion.  You do what so many of us cannot, devote fully of yourself and your talents.  Thank you for your service. – Andrea Sok, USO Communications Manager

** See what volunteer opportunities are available near you at USOVolunteer.org! **

USO Brings Food and Football to the Troops

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Pictures from the tailgate and watch party held at the new USO Warrior & Family Center on Fort Belvoir

Last night millions of people got together with their friends and family to eat party food and watch one of the most popular TV events of the year: the Superbowl. But there are still countless troops deployed far away from the comforts of home. That’s where the USO steps in.

At USO centers around the globe, troops got to settle in for food and football and smiling faces! Here is just a sampling of some of the fun:

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Faces of the USO: A New Way to Serve

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 2.22.26 PMElizabeth Vallette’s first experience with the USO wasn’t exactly life-changing, but it lifted the spirits of a cash-poor West Point cadet making her way through an airport en route to a training assignment.

“Another cadet came running … up the terminal at us, screaming ‘Free hot dogs at the USO,’” Vallette said.

Later, during a 12-month deployment to Iraq with III Corps in 2004, the USO brought comedian Robin Williams to her base in Baghdad. “His show was perfect timing,” Vallette said. “It was just sinking in that things were not going well. We really needed the pick-me-up, and he delivered.”

After leaving the Army, Vallette spent time as an MBA student at the University of Houston and worked for a Canadian nonprofit in Kabul, Afghanistan.

When the project ended, she saw a job listing for a center director at USO Houston.“It hadn’t ever really occurred to me that you could actually work for the USO … and get paid,” she said.

Since July 2011, she has led a team that serves nearly 35,000 troops and family members with the help of a team of 400 volunteers.

Anyone who wants a taste of Vallette’s Houston hospitality should check out the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo’s World’s Championship in February and checkout the USO’s entry in the bar-b-cue contest. – Derek Turner, USO Sr. Editor

Away from Home for the Holidays: USO Events Spread Seasonal Cheer to Troops and Families

Among the many sacrifices our troops make, being away from family during the holidays is near the top of the list. The USO understands this and is constantly working to make sure troops all over the world know how much their efforts are appreciated.

Here’s a brief (and far from all-inclusive) look at holiday events the USO held for troops and families in the last week:

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Holiday cheer in the desert. USO photo

USO Bagram Duty Manager Michelle Turner, front bottom left and USO Forward Operating Base Fenty Duty Manager Jason Lewis, center right in red, helped troops deliver Christmas cheer to Forward Operating Base Torkham in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, with a little help from Molson Air.

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Thanks to generous donations, military children in New England will get a few extra gifts this holiday season. USO photo

Thanks to generous donations, military children in New England will get a few extra gifts this holiday season. USO photo by Sarah Kelley

Instead of preselected gifts from anonymous donors, USO New England’s Little Elf pilot program allowed military families to shop for their gifts at Target. Each family was given a set amount to spend on their children, with USO staff and volunteers on hand to pay the bill with funds specifically donated for the endeavor and to wrap the gifts on site.

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Apparently, you’re never too old for a visit with Santa. USO photo

Santa and company found ways to make things festive at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Check out their robust photo collection from December events here.

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A special guest at USO Fort Hood's Story Time. USO photo

A special guest at USO Fort Hood’s Story Time. USO photo

USO Fort Hood’s Story Time went down a different path last week when children got a visit from Santa. The recurring event–held for children up to 4 years old–featured a reading of “Santa Bear” and the distribution of stockings filled with a USO teddy bear, a juice box and animal crackers.

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Business and individuals from around the Washington, D.C., area pitched in big for USO Metro's Project Elf. USO photo

Businesses and individuals from around the Washington, D.C., area pitched in big for USO Metro’s Project Elf. USO photo

USO of Metropolitan Washington’s Project Elf brought hundreds of gifts to military children last week. USO Metro took toys and clothes purchased by donors for military kids in the local area, wrapped them and distributed them at Fort Meade, Md., and Fort Belvoir, Va.

–USO centers around the world are America’s way of supporting the troops. Show your support by making your year-end donation today here.