Brewing Success: USO Partner Starbucks Helps Lead the Way on Military Transition

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington—Any coffee lover can tell you how they got hooked on their favorite drink. Retired Army Maj. Steve Chavez has a story about how he got hooked on an entire coffee company.

To mark National Coffee Day, the USO is shining a light on how one of the USO’s coffee partners — Starbucks — has taken the lead in the military transition space, committing to hire 10,000 veterans by 2018.

The Seattle-based coffee giant — which has donated thousands of servings of its VIA coffee as well as thousands of pounds of ground coffee to the USO to distribute to troops around the world and is also financially supporting the USO Transition 360 Alliance — hired Chavez to work at their Joint Base Lewis-McChord location and empowered him to advance up the management chain. Watch his story.


Yandel and Leslie Grace Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with USO Concert at Fort Bliss

Yandel, left, and Leslie Grace played a USO show for troops and families on Sept. 26 at Fort Bliss, Texas. USO photos by Dave Gatley

Yandel, left, and Leslie Grace played a USO on Sept. 25 at Fort Bliss, Texas. USO photos by Dave Gatley

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Sony Music Latin Artists Yandel and Leslie Grace teamed with the USO over the weekend to play a free concert for more than 1,700 service members and their families at Fort Bliss, Texas. It was the first USO show for both 2015 Latin Grammy nominees.

“If we can make as many troops feel at home through music, in this case, Latin-american troops through Latin music … I don’t think there’s any reason why we shouldn’t,” Grace said.

Grace, also known as the “Princess of Bachata,” performed a 30-minute set followed by a high-energy arrangement by Yandel, complete with professional dancers, multi-color lights and snippets from his HBO special “Yandel: Legacy, De Líder a Leyenda Tour.”

“Thank you to all the soldiers who support me that are here at this event … I hope that they enjoy [my performance],” Yandel said from the stage.

In addition to performing, Yandel and Grace spent the afternoon at Fort Bliss meeting, thanking and taking photos with military families. Grace even took a tour of the base and visited service members at the USO El Paso’s East Fort Bliss center.

“It’s very close to home to be able to bring that sort of comfort that I know music can bring and that you guys at [the] USO focus so much on bringing to these troops,” Grace said.

Prior to performing in their first USO show, both Yandel and Grace appeared in the USO’s first bilingual PSA in support of the Every Moment Counts campaign titled “¡Gracias!” Sony Music Latin stars Arthur Hanlon, Carlos Vives, Diego Boneta, Luis Coronel, J Rythm and others also appeared in the PSA.

“I have a few friends … who serve. And I am very close to these people,” Grace said. “So, it was something that I thought was a great opportunity just to say thank you to all our troops and take that moment and let them know that they’re appreciated.”

Oname Thompson, Hee Suk Ko and Mari Villalobos contributed to this story.


Military Community Finds Strength in Gold Star Mothers

A 2012 Gold Star Mothers Day display at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. DOD photo

A 2012 Gold Star Mothers Day display at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. DOD photo

After 14 years of war, the bonds of America’s military community have been strengthened by the tempered hearts of a group of mostly civilians: Gold Star Mothers.

These mothers, along with the rest of the surviving families of service members who’ve died, often find strength in their military support network. They stay connected through organizations like the USO and TAPS, which help these families through their worst days.

“The gold stars are very small symbols and very subdued symbols in our society,” said Donna Engeman, a Gold Star Spouse and manager of the Army’s Installation Management Command (IMCOM) survivor outreach services program. “Outside the survivor community, there are not a whole lot of people who know what Gold Star means. But these symbols are so huge to the survivor community.”

The gold star symbolism goes back to World War I, when families with loved ones serving overseas displayed blue star banners in their windows. Families of the fallen then replaced the blue star banner with a gold star banner to bring awareness and honor to their lost loved one.

Gold Star Mothers Day, observed on the last Sunday in September, was established by joint congressional resolution on June 23, 1936, and has been observed each year since by presidential proclamation.

From the most junior enlisted to the most senior officer, it’s a day when all service members render a salute to the mothers who lost their children in service to America.

“We should be so proud of them and their sacrifice,” Gen. Ray Odierno told the Washington Post as he retired last month. “They love just staying connected to the Army, to the units that their children or sons or daughters or husbands were in, and for me [it’s] incredibly important that we do that.”


Meet Henry: The Man Who Volunteered at the USO Almost Every Day for 5 Years

If you’ve set foot in the USO on Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, at some point in the last five years, chances are Henry Edmon greeted you at the door.

Edmon, originally from Sudbury, Ontario, volunteered at the USO every day the center has been open for the past five-plus years — minus the two days he took off to attend his daughter’s and the USO center director’s weddings. He recently retired from his volunteer duties after donating roughly 4,000 hours of his time to the organization.

Edmon, who served in the Canadian and American armies, enjoyed chatting with young service members about his military career as a means of encouragement.

“Most of the kids are so damn scared of [starting out in the military] that they’re not too sure of where they’re going to go or what they’re going to do,” Edmon said. “And I just say, ‘Look, it’s not that bad.’”


Theta Chi Fraternity Raises Thousands for USO at G.I. Theta Chi Events

The brothers of Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida pose at their 2015 G.I. Theta Chi event.

The brothers of Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida pose at their 2015 G.I. Theta Chi event.

For Theta Chi Fraternity, partnering with the USO was an easy decision.

The fraternity, which has military roots dating back to its founding, has a history of supporting military nonprofits. After years of backing organizations that primarily serve wounded, ill and injured troops and veterans, Theta Chi expanded its philanthropic efforts in 2013 to support the larger military community.

“By supporting the USO, Theta Chi not only honors its creed, but also its storied military roots,” Theta Chi Executive Director Mike Mayer said.

G.I Theta Chi participants pose at the University of Central Florida in 2015.

G.I Theta Chi participants pose at the University of Central Florida in 2015.

Since the partnership began two years ago, Theta Chi has raised over $43,102 to benefit the USO.

“The members of Theta Chi have already made an impact to the USO by hosting events that both bring monetary benefit as well as raising awareness in the community,” USO Regional Development Manager Kyndele Cooke said at Theta Chi’s 2014 National Convention.

The USO also partners with the Greek organizations Delta Kappa Epsilon and Phi Gamma Delta.

Rooted in the Military Community

Theta Chi’s connection with the military dates back to its founding in at Norwich University in 1856. That year, two cadets attending Norwich — the oldest private military college in the country — created the Theta Chi Society, which eventually became Theta Chi fraternity.

Many of the organization’s first members, who were also military cadets at Norwich, had to leave their studies to fight in the Civil War. Several other Theta Chi brothers throughout history have served in the military, including a handful who are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

G.I. Theta Chi participants paddle a canoe at the University of Central Florida.

G.I. Theta Chi participants paddle a canoe at the University of Central Florida.

“Being a military-based fraternity, we would sometimes recruit guys who are coming back from the service to go to college,” Heard said. “We had two Marines in our [Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida] in the past four years.”

Creating G.I. Theta Chi

Before the fraternity’s official partnership with the USO began, several Theta Chi chapters held “G.I. Theta Chi” philanthropy events to raise money for other military nonprofits. These “G.I. Theta Chi” events, which originated at the Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter at the University of Central Florida, now benefit the USO.

“Just a couple years ago we decided to start something that would set us apart on campus and nationally as far as raising money for a good cause,”said Wylder Heard, the philanthropy chair at the University of Central Florida’s Theta Chi — Iota Theta Chapter. “What makes us come back to do it every single year is the fact that we’re raising money to help the troops.”

G.I. Theta Chi events vary from school to school. At the University of Central Florida, the fraternity holds a weeklong fundraising competition involving the entire campus. At the end of the week, Theta Chi leads a field day with military-themed activities. All students, regardless of Greek affiliation, are invited to participate in the week’s events.

“Everyone knows, ‘Oh, G.I. Theta Chi,'” Heard said. “‘I want to participate. I love the obstacle course. I love the cause. I love America.’

“I guess that’s one thing: Everyone can be a patriot [during G.I. Theta Chi].”


All Gave Some, Some Gave All. And Some Are Still Missing.


National POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed on the third Friday in September. But while many instantly recognize the cause’s flag, they likely don’t know how to commemorate the occasion compared to the other military connected days.

Veterans Day is observed with the understanding that all gave some. All veterans, no matter what their role or rank, put their lives on the line when they volunteered to wear the uniform.

Memorial Day is observed with the understanding that some gave all. We use the day to remember the human cost of war.

National POW/MIA Recognition Day is a day to both honor the service and sacrifice of our missing and captive and also refocus America’s energy and attention to the promise it made to bring them home.

With that in mind, here are three reads about the day and issues surrounding it:

More than 80,000 Americans have yet to come home from past conflicts. Many of those families never received a folded flag. They never had a burial in the rain or launched a memorial in their loved one’s name. When someone goes missing in action, the families often sit and linger in limbo. That’s why today was created: to remember the promise of bringing their loved ones home.