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Vince Vaughn Treats Troops to an Advance USO Screening of ‘Unfinished Business’

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Giving back to the military is in Vince Vaughn’s blood.

So when he was presented with the chance to treat troops at Edwards Air Force Base, California, to an advance screening of his upcoming film “Unfinished Business,” the three-time USO tour veteran had to say yes.

“I have military in my family,” Vaughn said. “My sister was [in the military], and [I have had] relatives [serve] way back, all the way back to the beginning, I believe, to the revolution.

“I’m always appreciative of the troops and all the sacrifices that are made and it’s always been important to me to express that.”

In addition to meeting with base leadership and personally kicking off the screening event, Vaughn got to chat and take photos with troops who had recently returned home and others who’d been recognized for excellence in their jobs.

“I hope that the movie brings them some laughter, that they have a good day laughing,” Vaughn said. “[I’m glad I] just get the chance to send the message that I know that a lot of people share, which is that they’re always in our minds and in our hearts.”

Vaughn traveled overseas with the USO to screen “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” for service members in Southwest Asia in 2004.

“I [had] shot ‘Dodgeball’ and was shooting ‘Wedding Crashers,'” he said. “I had met Pat Tillman and then I got the news … on the TV that he had passed. It really bothered me and I had other friends who were overseas. So, I called the USO out of nowhere and said, ‘Can I come over?’”

The following year, Vaughn continued his USO relationship by screening “Wedding Crashers” for troops. In the past decade, he’s entertained more than 8,735 servicemen and women through the USO.

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Small Moment, Huge Difference: Family Eases into Military Life with Communication Help From the USO

Army 2nd Lt. Philip De Rosa, left,  Army Spc. Caroline De Rosa and Army Capt. Alex De Rosa pose at a family event. Photo courtesy of Amy De Rosa

Army 2nd Lt. Philip De Rosa, left, Army Spc. Caroline De Rosa and Army Capt. Alex De Rosa pose at a family event. Photo courtesy of Amy De Rosa

An email made the difference for Amy De Rosa.

“When my oldest [son, Alex,] was applying to college, one of his music teachers left his position at the school to go be a member of the military band at West Point,” De Rosa said. “That opened up a door. [Alex] decided to apply to West Point. He got it. He went, and then it went from there.”

It was De Rosa’s first experience with military life.

Alex was stationed in Germany after he graduated, and deployed to Afghanistan from there. Already separated by an ocean, his family faced the awkward task of saying their deployment goodbyes from afar.

“We talked about if should we go over [to Germany] to say goodbye, but our son told us that we didn’t need to do that,” she said. “He described a little bit of the process of how he would get to Afghanistan. That helped a little bit.

“In his words, he was fine and ready to go, so that set the tone for us.”

But moms worry. While De Rosa was a little nervous for her oldest son – now an Army captain – she knew he was well-trained and ready for his deployment. Still, she didn’t know when she’d hear from him next.

It was less than a day.

“When we got the email [from Alex], it was just great to know he made it and could be in touch with us,” she said, noting Alex sent an email to his grandmother, too. “We didn’t know much, but we knew we got an email from him at the USO. It was a really good feeling, and that was our first introduction to the USO.”

The emails and phone calls kept coming, too. Throughout Alex’s deployment, the family was able to stay close even though they were half a world apart.

And there were more USO experiences, too. De Rosa’s youngest son, Philip, went to West Point, too, and had to travel from New York to Seoul at one point for training. As the family drove him to the airport, he mentioned he’d have a nine-hour layover in California before heading overseas.

“I thought ‘What do you do for nine hours?” De Rosa said. “He later told us ‘Oh, I went to the USO, and I slept there.’ I thought ‘Oh man, this is so great. The USO came through again!’ He got a regular night’s sleep for his flight the next day, and it was another case of the small things being the most reassuring.

“It was a relief, and even though he was 3,000 miles away, he had somewhere to go that was safe and clean. … The USO provides this big safety net. That was a nice feeling.”

De Rosa says all three of her children – her daughter Caroline is a specialist in the Army – have benefitted from the USO, whether they grabbed a meal before a flight or used a center as a safe place to store luggage while traveling.

“We share our story because before we had kids in the military, we really didn’t know what the USO offered,” she said. “It’s much more personal, and they come pretty close to home.”

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Full Circle: How One Kind Moment Created A USO Volunteer for Life

The Flores family. Courtesy photo

The Flores family. Courtesy photo

When Nancy Flores stepped off a plane in Germany in 2003 with just her luggage and her cat, there was supposed to be someone from the military there to pick her up. There wasn’t.

“I saw that USO sign and thought, ‘I can go there. They will help me!’”

She was right. A USO volunteer invited her inside the center where more volunteers took the then-23-year-old’s luggage, looked up the phone numbers to her husband’s unit, gave her a snack and even cut down a plastic cup to make a water dish for her cat.

Her husband, now-retired Army communications Sgt. Johnathan Flores, had sent the duty driver to pick her up, but they had left an hour late and were stuck in traffic. It was something the volunteers at the USO at Frankfurt International Airport had seen before.

“At a very young age, I was alone in a foreign country and that was a very huge relief for me to find the USO,” said Nancy, who was 23 at the time. “[My husband is] my security blanket in those situations, so being alone in that situation was scary.”

When the driver arrived, the USO volunteers helped her on her way, and that singular moment of compassion spawned Flores’ lifetime commitment to both the organization and the military community.

“Seven years later I found out we had a USO on Fort Hood and as soon as I could I started volunteering,” she said. “I enjoy every day making soldiers and their families smile.”

She currently volunteers once or twice a week from four to six hours at a time, helping anywhere she’s needed, from flightline welcome home events to working behind a desk in a center.

But her favorite program by far is the Story Time Early Literacy Workshop. She’s volunteered once a month at the USO Fort Hood/Military Child Education Coalition event for the last three years, helping feed breakfast and read books to pre-school-age children who attend with their parents.

But her connection to the USO runs even deeper than a missed ride and the resulting volunteerism. Her son, Johnathan Flores Jr., 10, has watched her husband deploy three times. Nancy says it was the USO that made it possible for her husband and their growing boy to connect.

“We are a family of USO volunteers and we always will be very proud of making moments count for other military families just like the USO did for [us].”

The first time her husband deployed, Jonathan Jr. was only 3 months old. Nancy knew she would have some contact with her husband over the Internet, but didn’t know which moments he’d get to see from afar.

“Daddy does bed time,” she said. “That was a moment every day. And when he left it was sad that we had to break that pattern.

“But then out of nowhere we received these books he recorded at a USO center.”

When the USO/United Through Reading packages arrived, Flores broke down in tears knowing bedtime was back on again.

“I had no idea it was even coming,” she said. “Every night we played the video and, even though it was the same story, it was a moment with Daddy. He knew that Daddy cared.”

“We have that memory,” she said. “And that’s a really cool moment for us. Every time my son was missing Daddy we’d pop in that DVD.

“We were very honest with him that Daddy was away protecting America and doing his job. He learned really young to deal with it and I believe the USO was part of making that happen naturally.

“Now, even though we’re not technically in the military, we’re still very much a part of the military community. We are a family of USO volunteers and we always will be very proud of making moments count for other military families just like the USO did for [us].”

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Four USO Entertainment Staffers Honored by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs for Work on Tours

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They’re normally behind the scenes. This month, they were in the spotlight.

Four USO Entertainment employees were honored Feb. 13 for their roles in entertaining America’s troops at a surprise Pentagon ceremony with the military’s top officer.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented the Joint Chiefs of Staff Distinguished Public Service Award to USO Vice President of Entertainment Rachel Tischler and the Outstanding Public Service Award to USO Vice President of Celebrity Recruitment Juliet Gilliam, USO Entertainment Specialist Brook Northrip and USO Tour Producer Jeremy Wilcox.

The quartet was specifically honored for their work on Dempsey’s four USO Chairman’s Holiday Tours, the last of which he wrapped in December. The tours – which are whirlwind USO visits traveling from the U.S. to Europe to the Mideast and back in the course of a week – touch thousands of troops annually in the weeks before Christmas.

“The Chairman’s Holiday Tour is an incredibly important annual tour that directly connects our nation’s top military leader with our troops serving around the globe,” said retired Brig. Gen. John I. Pray Jr., USO Executive Vice President for Operations, Programs and Entertainment. “The tour always includes an amazing group of celebrities who eagerly volunteer to accompany the chairman and I was thrilled that Gen. Dempsey recently recognized four USO entertainment team members with the Distinguished and Outstanding Public Service Awards for the key roles each played in making these tours such a big success.”

The most recent tour covered five countries in six days, including stops Afghanistan. The tour roster included eight-time USO tour veteran and country star Kellie Pickler, 2007 USO tour veteran and comedian Rob Riggle, “Glee” co-star Dianna Agron, former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, “Suits” co-star Meghan Markle and Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister.

“In my dealings with the USO over the past few years, spearheading tours around the globe, I can confidently say that the USO is as helpful and comforting today as it was back [when I joined the Army],” Dempsey said in a press release during the 2014 tour. “This year’s tour has been just as memorable.”

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‘I Can See Him Here’: Mother Finds A Moment of Solace Through Visit to USO After Son’s Death

Vicki and Michael Dickinson. Photo courtesy Vicki Dickinson

Army Staff Sgt. Michael Dickinson with his mother, Vicki Dickinson. Photo courtesy Vicki Dickinson

Vicki Dickinson doesn’t remember much about the two years after her son was killed. Between the funeral, the tears and the coping, everything felt like a blur.

But she does recall one moment in perfect detail. About a year after Army Staff Sgt. Michael Dickinson II’s 2006 death in Iraq – while walking through one of a string of airports that are all fuzzy to her now – she visited her first USO.

Michael, a Battle Creek, Michigan, native, had told his mother about his visits to USO centers around the world.

“He would always try to find the USO and chill,” she said of her son, who was killed in a firefight nine days before he was supposed to come home. “And he’d say ‘Yeah mom, they’re great. They’ve always got great snacks, things to drink. They’ve got nice comfortable place[s] to lay down, take a little nap if you need it.’”

So when she had a few minutes between flights that day, Vicki went to a USO airport center to see for herself.

“It was kind of like a piece of home to him,” she said.

She walked into the center and told a volunteer about her son and his fondness for the USO. She asked to take a look around so she could see where her son relaxed between flights.

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After a volunteer offered her a quick tour and refreshments, Vicki settled into one of the cozy couches and quietly pictured her son – a husband with a total of five children and stepchildren – resting on a similar couch a few years prior.

“[I thought] ‘I can see him here. I can see him on that couch, playing a game,’” she said. “It made me feel good that my son got to do that. That he knew that he was cared about. And he knew he had a safe place to go and just relax.”

After shedding few tears, Vicki collected herself and headed out of the center to catch her flight.

The beanie baby Vicki received during her USO visit. Photo courtesy Vicki Dickinson

The camo Beanie Baby Vicki received during her USO visit. Photo courtesy Vicki Dickinson

As she was leaving, a volunteer handed her a camo Beanie Baby to remember her USO visit. She still displays that bear in her home.

“It made me feel good, it really did,” she said. “And it let me see a part of my son’s life that I’d never gotten a chance to see.”

Vicki still thinks about that quiet moment she had in the USO center.

“It’s a new memory you can make at a time when you can’t get any new ones,” she said.

Michael Dickinson II working. Photo courtesy Vicki Dickinson

Michael Dickinson II working. Photo courtesy Vicki Dickinson

 

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USO Entertainers Shine at Academy Awards

USO entertainers have been raking in the nominations, awards and accolades this winter, and last night’s Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles was no exception.

If you missed last night’s festivities, here’s a look at this year’s Academy Award nominees and winners who also happen to be USO tour veterans and supporters.

“How to Train Your Dragon 2”

Academy Awards
Best animated feature film; Nominated

In 2010, actress America Ferrera traveled on an eight-day USO handshake tour to the Persian Gulf, where she visited with over 1,300 service members with actors Ryan O’Nan and Jason Ritter and writer/director Ryan Peters.

Check out what she had to say about the tour here:

 

More recently, in June 2014, actors Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera and writer/director Dean DeBlois joined more than 450 troops and military families at an advance screening of DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2” at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. The event also included a question-and-answer session with the trio.

Watch the highlights from the event here:

“Unbroken”

Academy Awards
Best cinematography; Nominated
Best sound editing; Nominated
Best sound mixing; Nominated

In 2010, Angelina Jolie, the director of “Unbroken” traveled to Germany to surprise wounded troops and the service members taking care of them.

This past December, as part of its partnership with Universal Pictures, the USO brought five service members and their guests to the premiere of “Unbroken” at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. Although Jolie was unable to attend the premiere due to illness, her husband, Brad Pitt, stood in for her, and personally greeted the USO guests.

Watch highlights from the “Unbroken” premiere here:

“American Sniper”

Academy Awards
Best actor in a leading role (Bradley Cooper); Nominated
Best picture; Nominated
Best film editing; Nominated
Best sound editing; Nominated and won
Best sound mixing; Nominated
Best adapted screenplay; Nominated

Bradley Cooper, a veteran of several USO tours, has traveled to Cuba, Kuwait and Afghanistan in addition to a seven-day, three-country tour with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen in 2009.

Actor Bradley Cooper takes a moment to pose with service members stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a week-long USO tour in 2008.  Cooper was in the region on his first tour to show support to U.S. troops and bring them a touch of home.

Actor Bradley Cooper takes a moment to pose with service members stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a weeklong USO tour in 2008. Cooper was in the region on his first tour to show support to U.S. troops.