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‘He Came to Us’: USO Staffer in Germany Takes Action to Save the Life of Despondent Soldier

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How do you know if someone’s contemplating suicide?

For Shannon Huffman, it’s instinct. Huffman, a USO employee in Landstuhl, Germany, received extensive suicide prevention education during her 20 years in the Air Force. Late last year, that training may have saved someone’s life.

One evening, Huffman was at Landstuhl’s USO Warrior Center in Germany teaching a volunteer how to make chili. A service member approached her, looking distressed, and asked if she would help mail some belongings for him. Even though Huffman could sense something was wrong, it wasn’t until the he gave her his mother’s mailing address that she realized he was in a fragile, possibly suicidal, state and needed immediate help.

Huffman, an information specialist at the center, asked a volunteer to watch the service member while she alerted the hospital’s medical staff. Within minutes, Huffman subtly asked the service member to step outside the center and speak with medical personnel, who later escorted him to the hospital for treatment.

“She didn’t just help an individual – she helped all of his family and friends who may have had to suffer an irreplaceable loss,” said Laura Ponzo, the USO Warrior Center Manager and Huffman’s supervisor.

“The reason our center exists is to provide a home away from home for the wounded, ill and injured service members and give them someplace where they can feel comfortable and relax. That service member probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable going up to someone in uniform and asking for help, so he came to us.”

Because of her actions, Huffman was honored with the USO President’s Award, which recognizes USO employees for outstanding contributions to or on behalf of the organization.

“To be in a position where I get to help our veterans in need on a daily basis makes going to work a passion, not just a job,” Huffman said. “I was on the [receiving] end of the USO for 20 years and am honored to be able to return the kindness.”

Huffman says it’s the simple actions — like listening to someone vent or giving them a hug — that most benefit recovering troops who visit the USO Warrior Center.

“Often when a person comes in our center they are shook up and distraught,” she said. “Helping them make a cup of coffee and dial the phone back home to let family know they are OK is the most important thing in the world to them at that moment.

“It feels good to make that kind of difference for somebody, but that’s what we do right? Make every moment count.”

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Cast Members from “Being Mary Jane” Visit Troops in San Diego on USO Tour

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Some of the stars of of BET’s “Being Mary Jane” took time to visit troops Tuesday at Naval Base San Diego as part of a USO tour.

The group — which included actors Richard Roundtree, B.J. Britt and Aaron Spears — spent the bulk of their day with sailors and their families, signing autographs, posing for photos and even taking a tour of the base’s facilities.

It wasn’t the first time “Being Mary Jane” cast members hung out with troops at a USO event. Some of the show’s actors stopped by the Mobile USO to send messages of thanks to service members at The BET Experience in Los Angeles last June. The San Diego stop was also part of BET’s celebration of Black History Month, which kicked off with a new episode of “Being Mary Jane” on Feb. 3.

The cast members and attendees shared their experiences on Twitter, too:

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USO Volunteers Help Wounded Airborne Medic Traveling on Christmas Eve

Nathaniel Strangways poses with some of his children. Courtesy photo

Nathaniel Strangways poses with some of his children. Courtesy photo

It was going to be a long trip.

On Christmas Eve, Army Spc. Nathaniel Strangways set off to relocate his wife Hannah and their four children — ages 13, 9, 5 and 2 — from Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii to Tennessee, where he planned to medically retire due to back injuries.

The plan was simple: they’d fly from Hawaii, to Los Angeles, pick up a rental car and drive across the country to their new home near Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

There was only one problem.

“He wasn’t accounting for his injury when planning the logistics of the move and all of the luggage,” said Hannah Strangways, who realized when they landed at Los Angeles International Airport at midnight that they probably couldn’t handle managing the family’s luggage alone.

In 2008, while serving alongside an Iraqi Police Battalion, Nathaniel — who was an airborne medic — came to the aid of a wounded soldier. As they climbed some stairs, the wounded soldier was shocked by an explosion and fell backwards on top of Nathaniel. The fall herniated a disk in Nathaniel’s back. Nathaniel had surgery for the injury in 2011, but the pain persisted to the point where he could no longer serve his country.

After they deboarded, Hannah led her family to the Bob Hope USO, located outside the airport, to regroup.

“We got inside and there were these two people at the front desk who were genuinely worried for us,” she said, “They problem-solved for us and helped us get organized. It was such a relief.”

The USO volunteers transferred the family’s luggage into storage, showed the kids to a playroom and fed them some hot food so Nathaniel could get the rental car.

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“For a moment, I could finally breathe,” Hannah said. “They had this kids room with a little couch and two rocking chairs and books and toys, so my kids just sat and played. Seriously — without it, I mean — I know we could have done it, but it would have been so hard.”

Nathaniel returned with the only rental van the company had, which was barely large enough to fit the whole family and their luggage. USO volunteers and other troops came out to help the family with the heavy lifting, getting everything inside and tied down on top of the van.

“They loaded it well enough to [get] us to Arkansas, where we finally unloaded the baggage,” Nathaniel said. “Without them, I would have been stuck sitting there for hours. I’m not sure it would have even been possible.”

USO volunteers and troops helped load up the Strangways' rental van. Courtesy photo

USO volunteers and troops helped load up the Strangways’ rental van. Courtesy photo

Nathaniel said he always knew the USO was a place where he could sit down and decompress, or even call his wife and kids to let them know he was okay. But this time, he said, “the USO went above and beyond.”

“I can just imagine what it might have been like without the USO there to help us out,” Hannah said. “It can be hard when you are in a position to take care of your wife and kids and you are hampered due to injury.

“Thanks to the USO and the team effort, he left LAX feeling as proud as he would have if he had done it himself.”

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14 Military Facts about American Presidents

Thirty-one of the 43 men who’ve served as President of the United States also served in the military. Here are 14 military facts about men who rose to the rank of commander-in-chief.

#1

FDR_USO

USO archives

The USO owes it’s creation to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who tasked six interested nonprofits to form a new organization to help America’s troops in the lead-up to World War II.

#2

Teddy Roosevelt is the only president to receive the Medal of Honor. It was awarded 103 years after his actions in the Spanish-American War . On Jan. 16, 2001, then-President Bill Clinton held a ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House to present the medal to Roosevelt’s relatives for his actions during the 1898 Battle of San Juan Hill. Roosevelt was installed as vice president in 1901 and ascended to the presidency just six months later when then-President William McKinley was assassinated.

#3

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Courtesy of the Department of Defense.

Former-President George W. Bush christened the USO Warrior and Family Center at Bethesda, Maryland, last March. He also spoke at the USO Gala in Washington in 2008.

#4

GHW Bush 2010

USO photo

Of course, he wasn’t the first President Bush. Former President George H. W. Bush — a former Navy pilot — spoke fondly about the USO during a May 2010 forum for C-SPAN. “As a young Navy pilot, the USO was a home away from home for me,” the 41st president said.

#5

Photo via Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.

Photo via Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

President Barack Obama and the National Endowment of the Arts presented the USO with the National Medal of Arts on Feb. 13, 2012, to mark the organization’s 70-plus years of providing excellence in entertainment to America’s troops and their families. The USO is the only military nonprofit to date to receive the honor.

#6

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Photo via the Reagan Foundation

Former President Ronald Reagan and fellow former President Gerald Ford bracket USO mainstay Bob Hope in this Oct. 17, 1981, photo at an event at the Washington Hilton marking the organization’s 40th anniversary. Reagan had survived an assassination attempt at the same hotel just seven months earlier.

#7

James Buchanan is the only president to serve in the American military but never become an officer. He’s also the only president to date to be (1) a lifelong bachelor and (2) born in the state of Pennsylvania.

#8

The pen and other mementos from then-President Jimmy Carter's signing of the USO charter are on display at the USO's Arlington, Virginia, offices. USO photo

The pen and other items from then-President Jimmy Carter’s signing of the USO charter are displayed at the USO’s Arlington, Virginia, office. USO photo

On Dec. 20, 1979, then-President Jimmy Carter — a Navy lieutenant from 1943-53 — signed the USO’s official Congressional charter. Among other operating provisions, the charter establishes the President of the United States as the USO’s honorary chairman.

#9

USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Former President Bill Clinton hosted a USO care package assembly event in the spring of 2012 in Washington as part of the Clinton Global Initiative University program. The event brought out the 42nd president, his daughter, Chelsea Clinton, a few NFL players and hundreds of college students to assemble Operation USO Care Packages to send to troops.

#10

USO archives

USO archives

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower is one of 10 Americans who’ve been promoted to the rank of five-star general. He’s also the last person to be elected president without having been elected to any previous office.

#11

Twelve generals have been elected president, including a string of five-consecutive men from 1865 to 1885: Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield and Chester A. Arthur. Eisenhower was the last general to be elected to the nation’s top office.

#12

One of the USO’s newest centers is at the airport named for our 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. The USO opened its state-of-the-art center at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport last fall. Kennedy was a Navy lieutenant during World War II, receiving a Navy and Marine Corps Medal and a Purple Heart for his actions.

#13

Then-President Harry S Truman gave the USO an honorable discharge on Dec. 31, 1947, formally shuttering the organization’s centers around the world to coincide with the perceived lack of need after World War II. The USO was re-activated in January of 1951 — while Truman was still in office — to serve troops during the Korean War.

#14

While most presidents who previously donned an American uniform were Army men (or members of militias), the Navy has dominated the White House the last 50-plus years. Six of the last 10 presidents have Navy ties, with four of them (Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Ford) serving as officers in the Navy Reserve.

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Celebrate Valentine’s Day With These Five Huggable USO Moments

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and making memories for military families, here’s a look at five of the most huggable USO moments from the past year.

1. Americans Around the World Send USO Love Notes to Troops

In the past two years during the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, the USO has asked people at home and overseas to send love notes to troops and their families. People all around the globe embraced the challenge and sent in 3,713 notes of love and affection to troops between January and March of last year.

2. USO and NASCAR Help a Soldier Surprise His Family on Father’s Day

Sgt. Sean Brady, center, is reunited with wife Lauren, right, son Sean and daughter Sarah prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.  (Photos by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Sgt. Sean Brady, center, is reunited with wife Lauren, right, son Sean and daughter Sarah prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images

Not even a made-for-TV movie writer could dream up a military homecoming this special.

Last June, the USO and NASCAR teamed up to pull off the ultimate homecoming for Sgt. Sean Brady and his family, reuniting them on the pit road on Father’s Day before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

But that’s not all.

In the spirit of making moments count, the USO turned the tables on Brady and gave him a Father’s Day surprise, too. Check out the video to see what happened:

 

 

3. A Happy Ending: USO Steps in to Make a Wedding Happen for a Young Military Couple

The unpredictable military lifestyle can making planning big life moments, like weddings, a little difficult.

This was the case for Pvt. Chase Howard and his then-fiancee, Brittany, who had been trying to find a date to tie the knot for months. So when a Chase received a four-day pass over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend last year, the couple finally had the perfect opportunity to say ‘I do.’

The only problems were that the couple only had a week to plan the ceremony and had no nearby family to help make the arrangements. That’s when Howard called his mother, who got in touch with the USO.

With some quick planning and a few good Skype connections — one with Chase’s father in Afghanistan and another with Brittany’s parents at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington — the Howards had a day to remember at the USO Warrior and Family Center in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

4. USO Sets Up Surprise Homecoming for a Soldier’s Family on “The Meredith Vieira Show”

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Every service member deserves a special homecoming.

But for Lt. Beau McNeff and his wife Ceci, who had missed their last two wedding anniversaries due to deployments and work-ups, something a bit more extravagant seemed to be in order.

The USO, which benefitted from more than 250 hours of McNeff’s volunteer service while he was stationed at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan, selected the McNeff family for a surprise reunion on “The Meredith Vieira Show” and also arranged three days of fun for the family in Manhattan. Read more about the homecoming here.

5. A Perfect Proposal: USO San Antonio Helps an Army Private Pop the Question (Again)

Volunteers hold up signs during the surprise proposal at USO San Antonio. USO photo

Volunteers hold up signs during the surprise proposal at USO San Antonio. USO photo

When most girls dream about their perfect proposal, they imagine their future husband down on one knee — not a long-distance call from a boyfriend hundreds of miles away.

Unfortunately for Pvt. Zoe Tunchez and Pvt. Emmanuel Aleman, who were stationed at different Army bases, a happy phone conversation seemed like the closest to a fairy-tale proposal they would get.

That is, until Aleman, his mother, Marita Maldonado, and the team at USO San Antonio joined up to give Tunchez the surprise proper’ proposal of a lifetime just hours before the wedding ceremony. Read more about the couple’s magical USO moment here.

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How the USO, Joining Forces and FTD are Bringing Valentine’s Day Moments to the Military

A soldier holds up a sign at USO Colorado Springs. USO photo

A soldier holds up a sign at USO Colorado Springs. USO photo

Many Amercan troops will be thousands of miles away from their loved ones this Valentine’s Day. With this in mind, the USO, Joining Forces and FTD are teaming to show these military families how much we appreciate their sacrifices.

As part of the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign, USO centers across the United States are receiving a floral arrangement, courtesy of FTD, as a symbol of our nation’s love and enduring support. Every American can add their voice to this display of support, too, by going on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram this weekend and using the #USOmoments hashtag to send messages to America’s troops and their families.

The USO is also inviting Americans to send USO Love Notes to our troops by visiting the USO’s Love from America site. Visitors to the site can also learn about the challenges troops and their families face and what they as civilians can do to help.

Too often, troops miss out on family dinners, date nights, birthdays and the even the births their children. With this in mind, the USO created the Every Moment Counts campaign to rally Americans to show their gratitude by helping the USO create priceless moments for our troops and their families.

“The USO is proud of its collaboration with Joining Forces and FTD, and this synergy shows our troops how much we care wherever they may be serving,” said J.D. Crouch, CEO & President of the USO. “We want the 30,000 troops and military family members who pass through our doors each day to feel closer to home and know that we are always by their side, especially on this Valentine’s Day.”