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Sesame Street / USO Experience for Military Families Cast Members Share Their Favorite Tour Memories

Grover, Cookie Monster, Katie, Elmo, Honker and  Rosita sing and dance for service members and their kids during The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families which kicked off April 7, 2012 at Scott Air Force Base. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

Grover, Cookie Monster, Katie, Elmo, Honker and Rosita entertain service members and their kids during The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families on April 7, 2012 at Scott Air Force Base. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

Since 2008, the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour has made unforgettable memories for military children and their families all around the world. The longest-running annual USO tour has delivered moments to hundreds of thousands of military children and their parents through more than 735 shows at more than 144 military bases in 11 countries.

In the spirit of the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign — and in preparation for entertaining the tour’s 500,000th audience member — members of the 2014 cast and crew shares some their favorite Sesame Street/USO Experience memories.

Here’s just a small sample of the amazing stories they had to tell:

“My favorite moment actually happened in Spain. … A little girl came up, she gave me a picture to give to Elmo. I brought it backstage, gave it to Elmo, and the picture said, ‘Thank you Elmo for coming all the way across the sea to Spain, just to see me.’ And I think it really brought home exactly how important it is for these kids to see this show.” — Stephanie Harmon, performance director

“I have many favorite moments, but one that happens every single day [is] when hundreds of kids and parents walk out with huge smiles on their faces, holding onto their Elmo spinning lights, telling me how much they enjoyed the show, and they constantly say thank you to me. Its a stream of ‘thank you’s. And since I think the show is our way of saying thank you to those same military families, it’s great to just get that cycle of thank you.” — Nicole McClendon, tour manager

Want to learn more about the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families or see if a show is coming near you? Find out more here.

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Deployed Guardsman Witnesses Birth, Builds Relationship with Child, Thanks to USO

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When his Marine father deployed during Desert Storm, 3-year-old Joseph Rainbolt had no idea he would one day nearly miss moments with his own child.

“He was in Saudi Arabia for nine months when I was only 3, so I can only imagine,” said Rainbolt, now a 26-year-old sergeant in the Louisiana National Guard who might have missed the birth of his first child had it not been for the USO.

Knowing his wife Brittany would be giving birth just five months into a year-long deployment, Rainbolt told the USO and his command of his situation when he arrived in Afghanistan. When she went into labor, the USO set him up with an Internet-connected computer and Skype.

“I was able to stay [at the USO] for hours and be with my wife and see my daughter,” he said.

April Rose, now 8 months old, didn’t just get to see her father the day she was born. Rainbolt also took advantage of the USO’s Tiny Tots program and the USO/United Through Reading Military Program for the seven months that followed, allowing him to keep a presence in his daughter’s life.

“The [Tiny Tots] gift bag was fabulous,” said Brittany Rainbolt, a 26-year old high-school English teacher. “It came with some really awesome stuff. There’s some soap in there, a USO bib, a onesie and some other general baby care products. We used all of it.”

In fact, little April-Rose has even worn the bib immediately before going on stage at a “Red White and Blue” beauty pageant, where she took first place.

“It’s her lucky USO bib,” Brittany Rainbolt said. “United Through Reading was also fabulous. We got so many books for April before she was born and after she was born and I think hearing his voice helped her to make a connection with him. When she saw him the first time she went straight to him. I was like, ‘go to Daddy’ and she held out her little arms for him. It was so cute.”

“Being away was really hard,” Rainbolt said. “As National Guard, I’m usually home. Being away is not my thing. But through the USO we definitely got to have a relationship together.

“I got to talk to her every day, not just every now and then,” he added. “We’ve come a long way since the ‘80s and ‘90s. The USO was great in helping us be able to keep communicating. Even though I wasn’t there, I still got to feel like I was involved in her life, and that meant everything to me.”

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6 Things You May Be Surprised to Find Inside a USO Airport Center

Arrivals and departures boards inside the USO at JFK International Airport in New York, so troops and families don't have to guess about their flights. USO photos

Arrivals and departures boards are located inside the USO at JFK International Airport in New York, so troops and families don’t have to guess about their flights. USO photo

If you’ve served long enough, you know this drill: You’re in between flights and need a place to rest. Your bleary eyes scan the airport directory and find a USO center. You trudge down the terminal, sign in, drop your luggage, and look for a comfy chair where you can doze off.

For some troops and family members, rest is all they want or need. But for those who seek more, there’s often something special most visitors didn’t realize the USO had.

1. Video games: You’d expect our larger, on-base centers to have video games. But many of our airport centers — like two of our newer locations at Nashville International Airport and JFK International Airport in New York — have gaming systems hooked up to flat-screen monitors, too, just waiting for button-mashing troops to drop by.

2. Free sports tickets: These are rare. But if you’re a local, it never hurts to keep an eye out. Just ask Jessica Nash, who once received a pair of free tickets to a St. Louis Rams game after dropping by the USO of Missouri’s Lambert-St. Louis International Airport center. Many USO centers have relationships with area pro sports teams and occasionally get free tickets, which they distribute according to their own policies.

3. Theater-style rooms: Not every airport USO has one, but it’s a treat at those that do. The USO of Georgia has a narrow-yet-comfortable theater-style are at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and USO of North Carolina’s Raleigh-Durham International Airport center features a plethora of cushy chairs that surround the large-screen televisions, just to name two.

4. Sandwiches: You expect coffee and snacks at USO centers. Those are USO staples. But did you know several USO centers have donation deals with airport food vendors? Depending on location (and the arrangement) those vendors may donate sandwiches, salads and more to USO centers for troops who stop by looking for a quick bite to eat.

5. Flight status boards: Worried about missing your plane? Relax. Some of our centers — including USO Las Vegas at McCarran International Airport — have arrivals and departures boards so troops and families in transit can stay informed.

6. Free neck pillows: OK, so this is an exclusive. But thanks to the generous donations by the local chapter of the World War II-era service group WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) troops and family members stopping by USO of San Diego’s Neil Ash Airport Center can pick up a free neck pillow while supplies last.

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Photos: Hunter Hayes a Huge Hit With Military Fans at His First USO Show

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Country star Hunter Hayes made a big impact at Naval Station Norfolk this week, performing his first USO show, meeting with two USO contest winners during radio appearances and greeting hundreds of fans before taking the stage.

“I can’t express in words what this first USO show was like for me,” Hayes said. “Getting to perform for all these special men and women, and their families – all of you! Thank you for your service, and for sacrificing all the little moments. We love you.”

He’ll be around the military community this fall, too. Hayes is playing another USO show in October for American troops, this time at Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England, on Oct. 11. He also says he’s excited about promoting the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign, even donning a T-shirt with the campaign’s logo at one point Thursday.

“Every Moment Counts – I love those three words,” Hayes told the USO in an interview Tuesday. “I love that that’s what our current focus is. And the message is the fact that they give so much for us, that every moment with them, we never want to take it for granted.”

You can see more photos from Hayes’ Norfolk show on our Flickr site.

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Tastykake and the USO Make a Moment for an Army National Guard Family at a Phillies Game

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At the USO, we’re lucky to have corporate partners who are as dedicated to making moments happen for troops and families as we are. On Sept. 8, that turned into a special night at Citizens Bank Park for one Army National Guard family.

In conjunction with Tastykake’s centennial celebration, the company is partnering with the USO to deliver 100 Birthday Moments to troops and their families as part of the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign. For the Sept. 8 moment, birthday boy Liam Evans (who turned 7 on Sept. 7) got to throw out the first pitch before the Phillies-Pirates game while his parents, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Reece Evans and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Emily Evans — both Army National Guard members — and his brother Reece looked on.

The USO extends our thanks Tastykake for making this moment for troops and our congratulations the whole Evans family on their big night at the park.

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7 Air Force Facts for the Service’s 67th Birthday

Members from the 36th Airlift Squadron walk Aug. 11 during Red Flag-Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Air Force photo

Members from the 36th Airlift Squadron walk Aug. 11 during Red Flag-Alaska at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Air Force photo

As the Air Force celebrates its 67th birthday, here’s seven things you may not know about the most recently formed branch of the U.S. military.

1. The Air Force shares its birthday with the CIA. Both were founded on September 18, 1947.

So, can we come in? A "roof stomp" (which is nowdays often a "porch stomp") at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. Air Force photo

So, can we come in? A “roof stomp” (which is nowdays often a “porch stomp”) at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. Air Force photo

2. A “roof stomp” is an Air Force tradition where airmen welcome new commander or celebrate a special occasion by climbing up on the commander’s roof and make noise while others are bang on the windows and doors. The commander then opens the door to welcome in the group for refreshments. (In recent years, some airmen have modified the tradition to a “porch stomp.”)

3. Before the Air Force became its own branch of the military, it was a part of the Army. On Aug. 1, 1907, the U.S. Army Signal Corps formed the Aeronautical Division, which later evolved into the Air Force.

Air Force combat ace Robin Olds and his famous 'stache. Photo via commons

Air Force combat ace Robin Olds and his famous ‘stache. Photo via commons

4. Each March, some airmen participate in a Mustache March, a tradition where airmen grow mustaches to honor Air Force legend and triple ace Brig. Gen. Robin Olds.

5. Johnny Cash, Morgan Freeman and James Stewert are just a handful of the celebrities who have served as airmen. Stewart – who won an Oscar for “Philadelphia Story” before flying missions in World War II and Vietnam – rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve.

6. In 1947, then-Air Force Capt. Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 rocket-powered aircraft, beginning a new era of aeronautics in America.

7. Two U.S. presidents — Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — served as airmen. Reagan’s service came when the branch was still the Army Air Forces. Bush served in the Texas Air National Guard before transferring to the Air Force Reserve.