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Marie Callender’s USO Kitchen Renovation Brings Comforts of Home to Troops in Germany

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Even the smallest things — like home-cooked meals — make a big difference when it comes to helping military families.

That’s why Marie Callender’s renovated the kitchen at the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, giving troops a spacious, state-of-the-art place to re-create the culinary comforts of home. In addition to featuring two ovens, the new kitchen is also equipped with more storage space and beverage coolers.

As part of its Comforts From Home Project, Marie Callender’s also brought its famous pot pies to wounded, ill, and injured troops at a special picnic at the USO Warrior Center.

You can watch videos of the USO kitchen renovation and behind the scene footage of Marie Callender’s picnic in Germany here.

But that’s not all.

Marie Callender’s also teamed up with Chef Robert Irvine and Gary Sinise to thank a hero in Hawaii and give him the homecoming he deserved. The event was showcased on Nov. 11 on Food Network, HGTV, DIY Network, Travel Channel, Great American Country and Cooking Channel’s special Veterans Day program, “A Hero’s Welcome.”

To top it all off, you can still support the Marie Callender’s Comforts From Home Project just by buying the products you already eat. Through Jan. 31, for every code* entered off specially marked packages at ComfortsFromHome.com, Marie Callender’s will donate 50 cents to USO2GO, a USO program that brings electronics, sports gear, books, games, and more to troops stationed in remote locations.

*For every entry by Jan. 31 of an 8-digit code found on participating products, Marie Callender’s will donate $.50 to the USO2GO program. Guaranteed minimum donation $100,000. Maximum donation $250,000. Limit five code entries per person/computer each day. Valid in U.S. Only.

–By Kate Vasko

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Rokerthon! Fresh Off his USO Tour, NBC’s Al Roker Attempts to Set a Guinness World Record

NBC's Al Roker headlined the "Today"/USO Comedy Tour in Afghanistan last month. USO photo by Fred Greaves

NBC’s Al Roker headlined the “Today”/USO Comedy Tour in Afghanistan last month. USO photo by Fred Greaves

USO tours look fun, and they are. But they’re also grinds for the celebrities and crews involved in flying across the world and putting on the shows for America’s deserving service members.

Al Roker experienced one of those whirlwind tours last month, when he headlined the “Today”/USO Comedy Tour’s one-day, multi-show effort at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Now, he’s right back at it, hosting what NBC is dubbing Rokerthon: his effort to set the Guinness World Record for longest continuous weather report while also raising funds for the USO.

“The idea that you can put a smile on [the faces of troops] … that’s why you’re doing it,” Roker said of his October USO tour to Afghanistan. “Their face lights up. And you’re like ‘wow, I am making a difference for these people.’”

Roker kicks off his effort tonight at 10 p.m. on today.com and will attempt to stay on the air across NBC’s different platforms reporting about weather until 8 a.m. Friday. If he does it, his 34-hour stint will break the current record of 33 hours by a Norwegian meteorologist in September.

As a central part of his record-breaking effort, Roker is asking people to contribute to his Crowdrise page, which is raising funds for the USO.

According to Today’s website, you can participate via social media by sending weather questions, photos and lines of encouragement to keep Roker going by using #Rokerthon.

(And speaking of world records, the USO set a Guinness mark of its own earlier this year.)

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11 Ways to Give Back This Veterans Day

Giving back to troops has never been easier. The USO – which has created nearly 11 million moments for troops and their families over the last year – is teaming with multiple partners this Veterans Day to make supporting the military community piece of cake (or a scoop of ice cream, if you’re so inclined). Check out these 11 ways you can help troops and their families today, and don’t forget to visit USOmoments.org to see the amazing moments we’ve created for these deserving Americans over the past year.

Meal_SHARE-LINK_1200x6281. Give $11 on 11/11: This Veterans Day marks the one-year anniversary of the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign, a national campaign that rallies Americans to honor and create moments that matter for our troops and their families. Over the past year, nearly 11 million moments have been created for our troops and their families across the world as part of the Every Moment Counts campaign. To celebrate this milestone, the USO is inviting the American people to donate a moment to our troops on 11/11. An $11 donation provides things like 34 phone calls home, three free meals at a USO center, 70 cups of coffee and so much more. Together, we can make Every Moment Count. To make an $11 donation to the USO, visit USO.org.

USO photo

2. Get a scoop to support the troops at Baskin-Robbins: Looking for a way to support our troops and their families this Veterans Day while satisfying your sweet tooth? We’ve got your answer: for every scoop they sell on Veterans Day (Nov. 11), Baskin-Robbins will donate 10 cents to the USO.

3. Reelin’ it in at Bass Pro Shops: Stop by a Bass Pro Shop store and check out Reelin’ It in for the Troops. At checkout, you’ll be able to make a $1, $3 or $5 donation to the USO.

4. Shop for a cause at Cracker Barrel: From Nov. 1-11, Cracker Barrel will donate 10 percent of sales of various products to the USO. In addition, on Nov. 11, all Veterans receive a complimentary Coca-Cola cake dessert.

5. Go the extra mile with American Airlines: From Nov. 1-15 AAdvantage members can earn 15 AAdvantage miles for each dollar donated through American’s Miles in Support of All Who Serve.

J&J6. Join Johnson & Johnson: Help the USO and Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies support our military families. From Oct. 5 through Nov. 21, $2 will be donated to the USO for every new registrant and share at healthyessentials.com. Also, for every purchase of two or more participating brands during that same period, $4 will be donated to the USO.

MarieCalendar7. Add the USO to your shopping list via Marie Callender’s products: This fall Marie Callender’s is bringing the comforts of home to troops serving in remote locations. Check the freezer aisle for specially marked packages of Marie Callender’s products. Enter the code on the back of the package at comfortsfromhome.com and a 50-cent donation will be made to the USO’s USO2GO program.

8. Cheer for your favorite NFL team: In honor of Veterans Day, the NFL will donate $100 for every point scored during the league’s 32 Salute to Service games to the USO and two other nonprofit partners.

SlimJim9. Thank the troops with a Slim Jim: Visit slimjim.com/troops and send a salute to the troops. Simply send your message of encouragement and your note will be printed on a Slim Jim sleeve sent to troops serving overseas. Slim Jim is donating 1 million sticks to our troops and their families.

10. Say it with flowers from FTD: Now through Dec. 31, customers shopping for flowers and gifts on www.ftd.com/uso, will save 20 percent on their purchase and 11 percent of the sale will be donated to the USO.

Kroger11. Team up with Kroger’s “Operation Make a Difference”: The Kroger Family of Stores has raised $2.3 million to help support the USO this year, and they aren’t stopping there. They are donating an additional $100,000 and we need your help to decide the programs it will support. Simply click this link to designate where your virtual dollar will go. Hurry: the promotion expires Nov. 18.

BONUS: Sign up to Volunteer with the USO: Whether it’s helping out at a special event, cheering troops at homecoming, manning a front desk or providing a listening ear, our volunteers are the reason troops know they can count on the USO. To find out more information on volunteering with the USO, visit usovolunteer.org.

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29 Facts You May Not Know for the Marine Corps’ 239th Birthday

Everyone knows the meaning of semper fidelis. But today, the USO takes a look at 29 other Marine Corps facts that may surprise you on the service’s 239th birthday:

Marine Rank

Now he can wear it on the outside. DOD photo

1. Marines often pin their next promotable rank onto their uniforms as a motivator. They usually hide it in their cover or under a pocket flap.

2. The Marine Corps’ first amphibious raid was only weeks after its creation when Marines successfully stormed a British weapons cache in the Bahamas.

3. The Marines’ first land battle on foreign soil was in Libya, where 600 Marines stormed the city of Derna to rescue the crew of the USS Philadelphia from pirates.

4. Male Marine recruits attend boot camp in one of two locations, depending on which side of the Mississippi they’re from: Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego for West Coast recruits (which is a separate facility from Camp Pendleton) and MCRD Parris Island for East Coast recruits.

5. Female recruits only attend MCRD Parris Island.

6. MCRD San Diego can be seen from the air if you fly into San Diego International Airport, causing recruits to wonder if the airport was built there to torment them.

Marine Drill Sgt

Nothing makes for a great photo like boot camp. DOD photo

7. Because MCRD Parris Island was the first of the two depots, Marines who attend MCRD San Diego are often called “Hollywood Marines” by Parris Island Marines. Hollywood Marines don’t have a name for Parris Island Marines because they feel bad about the sand fleas.

8. Since then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered the military to integrate women into combat arms occupations in January 2013, more than 18 female infantry officer candidates have attempted the qualification course. To this point, all 18 have failed to qualify.

9. Marines regularly train with their international counterparts from more than 15 different nations. See if you can hear/see the similarities between these Tongan Marines and U.S. Marines.

10. U.S. Marines also let their hair down at times while training with allied forces. Check out this drum battle with the South Korean Army band.

2012 Warrior Games (Practice 2)

A medically retired Marine at Warrior Games. DOD photo

11. The Marines have won four out of five Warrior Games competitions. This year marks their first loss to the Army.

12. Terrance Ford, brother of Harrison Ford, leads a photography program for wounded transitioning Marines at Wounded Warrior Battalion West on Camp Pendleton, called fStop Warrior Project.

13. Marine recruits are finished eating the moment their drill instructor is finished. This is why Marines eat so fast.

Watch out for the fist behind the beard. DOD photo.

Watch out for the fist behind the beard. DOD photo.

14. Fewer than 100 people have received the title of honorary Marine, a title that can only be bestowed by the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Here are a few of their names and ranks in order of seniority:

  • Chuck Norris (rank unknown but also unneeded)
  • Brig. Gen. Bob Hope
  • Master Sgt. Bugs Bunny
  • Cpl. Jim Nabors, star of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
  • Gary Sinise

15. “Hurry up and wait” is what happens when each leader down the chain of command tells his or her Marines to be there 15 minutes prior to the senior’s directive. This is why Marines arrive early to their destinations.

16. The license plate of the Commandant of the Marine Corps reads “1775.”

17. Marines in uniform are not authorized to put their hands in their pockets.

18. Only female Marines are authorized to carry umbrellas in uniform.

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19. The rank of Marine “gunner” is the only Marine Corps rank that requires different insignia on the left and right uniform collars (*The rank of colonel requires the eagles on each collar to be mirror images of each other, so they are also technically different insignia).

20. In the Corps, because of the total hours off, a three-day weekend is called a “72” and a four-day weekend is called a “96.”

Chesty always gets respect - and hugs. DOD photo

Chesty always gets respect – and hugs. DOD photo

21. The Marine Corps mascot is an English bulldog named Chesty, after Marine Lt. Gen. Louis B. “Chesty” Puller, the only Marine to earn five Navy Crosses.

21. Even though the Corps is an amphibious force, swim qualification is one of the few annual qualifications that doesn’t count toward a Marine’s promotion to the next rank.

23. A three-volley salute performed at funeral ceremonies is often confused with a 21-gun salute. The three-volley salute is the firing of three rifle volleys (rounds) over the graves of fallen armed forces members and political leaders and can be traced to the European dynastic wars, when fighting was halted to remove the dead and wounded. Once an area was cleared of casualties, three volleys were sent into the air as a signal to resume fighting. Three, five or seven Marines can perform a three-volley salute.

24. Every year, Thai Marines instruct U.S. Marines in a day of jungle-survival training as part of the annual exercise Cobra Gold. The training culminates with the U.S. Marines participating in a Thai warrior ritual that involves cutting a cobra’s head off and drinking its blood.

Marine John Glenn25. Marine Corps Col. John Glenn was the first *American to orbit the Earth.

26. According to Marine sniper superstition, there is ultimately one round destined to end the life of a Marine, and that is “the round with your name on it.” Until that round is fired, the person for whom it is intended remains invincible. If the sniper carries the round with him at all times, it can never be fired and the sniper is therefore untouchable. Out of school, a Marine sniper carries the colloquial title “PIG,” or a Professionally Instructed Gunman, until he has killed an enemy sniper in combat and removed the round with his name on it from the enemy sniper’s magazine. That round is then worn as a necklace and symbolizes his new status as a HOG, or “Hunter of Gunmen.”

27. Ever since Vietnam, Marine amtrac crews will not eat apricots, as they’re considered bad luck.

28. Marines also think it’s unlucky to eat the CHARMS that used to come in packs of meals ready to eat.

29. Marines are often called jarheads because of their high-and-tight haircuts, but some Marines take this cut to the extreme. Unauthorized haircuts include the horseshoe and the mohawk.

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Medal of Honor Recipient Rides Shotgun with Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne at NASCAR Nationwide Series

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PHOENIX–With Veterans Day approaching, Rouch Fenway Racing and USO Arizona teamed up to kick off this year’s festivities with a roar.

Roush Fenway Racing driver Trevor Bayne, had two special additions on his No. 6 AdvoCare Ford Mustang at this weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) event at Phoenix International Raceway to honor those who have served.

In addition to featuring the USO logo on the side and back of his vehicle, Bayne sported Medal of Honor recipient Fred Ferguson’s name on his passenger door. Bayne, who finished ninth in the race, also took a moment to give troops a shout before hitting the track this weekend.

In addition to meeting Bayne and seeing his name on the car, Ferguson, who received the Medal of Honor in 1969 for actions in Vietnam, was formally recognized at the pre-race driver’s meeting with a standing ovation.

Ferguson enjoyed VIP treatment throughout the day Saturday, thanks to Rouch Fenway Racing. He along with Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael  McGuire, USAA Executive Director Military Affinity and retired Marine Lt. Col. Bob Wiedower and other guests got an exclusive behind-the-scenes view of raceday action.

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The Challenge of Sharing: For Caregivers, Opening Up isn’t Always the Easiest Thing

Virginia Peacock, an Elizabeth Dole Foundation Fellow, laughs during a presentation Thursday at the USO Caregivers Conference in Fayetteville, North Carolina. USO photo by Eric Brandner

Virginia Peacock, an Elizabeth Dole Foundation Fellow, laughs during a presentation Thursday at the USO Caregivers Conference in Fayetteville, North Carolina. USO photo by Eric Brandner

FAYETTEVILLE, North Carolina—When Virginia Peacock’s husband David meets another wounded combat veteran, he asks them where they were Medevaced from.

He could have been the guy on the flight taking care of them.

Now, Virginia’s the one taking care of him.

Virginia Peacock led a breakout session Thursday at the USO Caregivers Conference where she and other caregivers of wounded, ill and injured service members swapped experiences. As the current Elizabeth Dole Foundation fellow from South Carolina, Peacock devotes some of her time to advocating for caregivers’ rights and recognition. On Thursday, she reminded her peers how powerful it can be just to share their stories.

“The one thing that we are all really bad at is telling our own story,” Peacock said. “We had to be told over and over [during a lobbying trip to Capitol Hill] to stop telling our husband’s stories and start telling our own stories. … It’s a hard lesson to learn.”

The latest chapter in Peacock’s story is in its seventh year. As a registered nurse, she had a career she loved when David – a combat flight medic – was injured on his 11th and final post-9/11 deployment. His severe shoulder problems were the only aliments that stood out at first. But after a while, invisible wounds started surfacing. Memory issues. Balance problems. Suicidal thoughts.

Virginia said she tried to keep home life status quo, continuing her full-time nursing career while also caring for a now-injured husband and a young son. But with so many new challenges, her own cloud of depression set in.

She left that job and started rebuilding her family life. Now in a much better place (and back to work as a pediatric nurse with more flexible hours), she is sharing resiliency lessons with other caregivers and raising awareness for their cause.

At the top of her list: teaching caregivers to share their stories not only with political change agents, but also with someone who supports them.

“You’ve got to find your person who gets it [to share your stories with],” she said.

Building Confidence

Steve Shenbaum

Steve Shenbaum

Steve Shenbaum makes people have fun.

It’s not forced. It’s friendly.

“That’s wack,” he said in the middle of his first group game at Thursday’s USO Caregivers Conference, pausing to chuckle at himself.

“I just said wack in a presentation,” he said, momentarily breaking character and drawing belly laughs throughout the room. “Bucket list!”

Shenbaum, who founded gameon Nation in 1997, has been motivating and entertaining at USO Caregivers Conferences since the event’s inception.

It may seem counterintuitive to try to bring people who are so used to passionately advocating for an injured loved one out of their shell. And most times, he finds willing participants. But the live-action parables he brings to the group with games like 1-2-3, Dimmer Switch and Expert Speaker both lighten the mood and make caregivers think about how they’ll calibrate their attitudes and communication approaches when they get home.

“You know what’s fun?” Shenbaum asked the group “Fun is hiding and being found. Fun is taking a risk and not being bonked.”

Quotable

“Sometimes you’ve got to stop chopping wood to sharpen the ax.” –Army Col. Ron Stephens, commander of Womak Army Medical Center, addressing the general session at the USO Caregivers Conference on the importance of taking time for oneself.