Did You Know? 11 Facts for the Air Force’s 68th Birthday

Air Force photo

Air Force photo

As the Air Force celebrates its 68th birthday, here’s 11 things you may not know about the youngest branch of America’s military.

1. Technically, Air Force One isn’t just one plane. The term Air Force One refers to any plane the commander in chief is traveling aboard. The White House currently has two customized Boeing 747-200B aircraft available specifically to transport the president.

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

Air Force photo

Air Force photo

3. The Air Force Memorial is one of the sneakily great places to get a view of downtown Washington. It’s tucked between the Pentagon and a large shopping mall. Rarely crowded, visitors can stand below the three spires and get a panoramic view of our nation’s capital.

4. Battle-hardened weathermen? Check. A hat-tip to Mental Floss for this nugget in a June story about how the Air Force sends Special Operations Weather Teams into the unfriendly skies to check out conditions before sending larger groups of aircraft into a region.

5. Airmen … on the ground: The Air Force is in charge of cyber security, an ever-expanding field in the new world of defense. They’re currently recruiting 6,000 cybersecurity personnel by 2017.

6. 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 to 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.”)


7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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

10. 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.

11. 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.


A USO Tour in Alaska: Sirius XM The Highway Host Storme Warren Brings Country Stars Rodney Atkins and The Swon Brothers to Troops

Sirius XM’s The Highway personality Storme Warren — along with country artists Rodney Atkins and The Swon Brothers — have taken to Alaska to bring troops in the far-flung region something they rarely get: a USO tour. Here are some highlights from the first stop on their weeklong trip.

The tour spans a week and will visit Eielson Air Force Base, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and U.S. Coast Guard Base Kodiak among other locations.


You can follow the tour around the world, too, by tuning into SiriusXM’s The Highway (Channel 56).


USO Operation That’s My Dress Gives Cancer-Stricken Soldier a Much-Needed Boost

Army 1st Sgt. Jennifer Stafford, center, poses with Miss West Virginia during a USO Operation That's My Dress event June 27 in Fort Drum, New York. USO photo

Army 1st Sgt. Jennifer Stafford, center, poses with Miss West Virginia Teen USA Cora King during a USO Operation That’s My Dress event June 27 in Fort Drum, New York. USO photo

A career soldier, Army, Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Stafford is a woman in a male-dominated world. And lately, she’d felt like her womanhood was being stripped away, piece by piece.

After losing her mother to uterine cancer and watching her aunt fight and beat breast cancer, Stafford – the mother of three boys – was forced to have a hysterectomy just weeks before Mother’s Day.

Then, as Mother’s Day approached, a lump in her breast was diagnosed as cancer.

“It was a hard pill to swallow,” said Stafford, who is still serving on active duty in Fort Drum, New York, after 21 years in the Army as a nuclear, biological and chemical weapons specialist. “How did I get both what my mom and my aunt had?” She was depressed for weeks until her friend and USO volunteer Glynnis Moore suggested she sign up to attend USO Operation That’s My Dress, a program that gives free ball gowns to female service members, spouses and teenage dependents for homecoming and prom seasons, military balls and the holidays.

“I’ve never asked for anything back,” Stafford recalled thinking. “So what the heck? I’ll sign up.”

On June 27, she waited in line in the rain with hundreds of other girls and mothers eager to see what the USO had in store. When the doors opened, she was overwhelmed by all the pink, cute, frilly dresses on display. There were also dozens of runway model consultants to help them find an appropriate look.

The event began with a fashion show, featuring professional models and Miss USA contestants who showed off the gowns and matching jewelry that was available. Beauty pageant contestants and celebrity stylists also stuck around to do the participants’ hair and makeup.

Stafford settled on a gold and white dress by Sherri Hill, a longtime sponsor of the Operation That’s My Dress events.

She felt so good looking at herself in the mirror that she was moved to tears. Her voice still cracks when she thinks about how that dress made her feel that day.

“Coming up through the ranks in the military – now I’m an E-7 – you constantly have to prove yourself as a female in a male-dominated world,” Stafford said. “And for once as soldier, my womanhood was being celebrated. Right when I needed it most, the USO was there with exactly what I needed.”

While she’s still fighting toward full remission, the USO event gave her another tool to use on the worst days of her fight.

“I’m in awe by [the dress] still,” she said. “I take it out every week and I look at it. It marked the close of a terrible year, so while I can’t wait for my first opportunity to wear the dress, it has to be a truly special event.”



Keeping Them Cool: USO Centers In Southwest Asia Host Water Events

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It started as a way to beat the heat. But like any other group of trained professionals, it got competitive fast.

While summertime temperatures in Southwest Asia can soar above 110 degrees, USO center-hosted water-centered events incentivize troops to get outside on even the most broiling days.

“Many times you see troops utilizing some of their combat training [when they play water games],” USO Camp Arifjan Center Manager Shea Carson wrote in an email. “Except this time, they have smiles on their faces.”

While USO centers in Southwest Asia provide a number of indoor activities, too, the outdoor water contests have become a creative way to help troops blow off steam.

“Water balloon fights, tosses and races give the troops the ability to cool down in a way that isn’t going to get them in too much trouble,” USO Bagram Duty Manager Kelly Audet wrote in an email. “Who doesn’t enjoy the anticipation of being able to bean the heck out of someone with a water balloon?”

In addition to simple, impromptu water games, some Southwest Asia USO centers have created special evening-long water events for troops to enjoy. USO Camp Buehring, Kuwait, hosts a Water Wars event every year that features several games and an appearance by the base fire department.

“Out Water Wars event is as unique as all the events we host at Buehring,” USO Camp Buehring Center Manager Tiffany Banks wrote in an email. “It is not common to see a large fire truck (sirens on) engaging in a water fight with soldiers! It is a sight to see!”


USO Shows in Prose: The Words, Emotions and Hard Realities of the Greatest Entertainment Mobilization the World has Ever Seen

Guitarist Tony Romano accompanies Frances Langford in an impromptu performance in 1944 as Bob Hope, lower right, looks on. Library of Congress

Guitarist Tony Romano accompanies Frances Langford in an impromptu performance in 1944 as Bob Hope, third from right, looks on. (Photo colors altered from original) Library of Congress

“An accordion is the largest piece of property the troupe carries. The evening dresses, crushed in suitcases, must be pressed and kept pretty. Spirits must be high. This is trouping the really hard way.”

Austerity at war is expected. But creature comforts—even in the farthest reaches of war zones—have advanced a little since John Steinbeck wrote those words on a ship off the English coast on June 24, 1943.

Steinbeck made his name with his novels. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for “The Grapes of Wrath” and the Nobel Prize in literature in 1962 for a career that included “Of Mice and Men,” “The Red Pony” and “East of Eden.” But roughly 18 months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Steinbeck set off on a starkly different literary adventure: that of war correspondent.

His early summer dispatch for the New York Herald Tribune about experiencing a USO show from the mess hall and deck of a military ship—and the different ways the American service men on that ship were experiencing the show—paint a clear, indelible picture of not only what those USO troupers did, but what their performances meant.

And his July 26, 1943, report brought the actions of one Bob Hope, the USO’s one-man morale machine, into clearer focus.

When the time for recognition of service to the nation in wartime comes to be considered, Bob Hope should be high on the list. This man drives himself and is driven. It is impossible to see how he can do so much, can cover so much ground, can work so hard, and can be so effective. He works month after month at a pace that would kill most people.


Nearly 75 years after the USO’s creation, Hope is still legendary, thanks to the USO shows he started performing during World War II at a time when international phone calls home were impossible and Internet access wasn’t even a concept.

Hope played his first massive show for troops at March Air Reserve Base in California on March 6, 1941, as a favor to his radio producer Albert Capstaff. According to America in WWII Magazine, Hope asked Capstaff why the troops couldn’t come to the studio. Captstaff—who really wanted Hope to play a show for his brother who was stationed at March—explained that there’d be hundreds of service members there.

Capstaff was right. The troops laughed. And Hope was hooked. After that, only nine of Hope’s 144 radio shows during World War II were broadcast from NBC studios.

They know weeks in advance that he is coming. It would be rather a terrible thing if he did not show up. Perhaps that is some of his drive. He has made some kind of contract with himself and with the men that nobody, least of all Hope, could break. It is hard to overestimate the importance of this thing and the responsibility involved. … It has been interesting to see how he has become a symbol.

Comedy in wartime requires deftness. Hope’s USO shows usually employed the same tenor, though the scripts changed often so as to not duplicate the material the troops had heard on his previous week’s radio show. Still, Hope’s rise to icon status can be linked to both his prolific work rate and his unique ability to unite the service members he entertained through laughter, poking fun at universally loathed topics like boredom, homesickness and superior officers.

Hope and his band of entertainers and crew did their first extensive run of USO shows for American troops in the combat zones of North Africa and Italy in 1943. They had an incredibly close call during a tour stop in Palermo, Italy, where German bombers destroyed the docks and buildings in the area around their hotel.

“[Returning to the United States] was something of a letdown,” Hope said, according to the America in WWII story. “Hollywood was tinsel and make-believe and happy endings. Where we had been was mud and reality and horror.”

The close call didn’t deter him. Hope took a USO circuit out to the Pacific theater the following year.

John Steinbeck's World War II dispatches were eventually combined into a book titled

John Steinbeck’s World War II dispatches were eventually combined into a book titled “Once There Was A War.”

A small USO unit is aboard this troopship, girls and men who are going out to entertain troops wherever they may be sent. These are not the big names who go out with blasts of publicity and maintain their radio contracts. These are girls who can sing and dance and look pretty and men who can do magic and pantomimists and tellers of jokes. They have few properties and none of the tricks of light and color which dress up the theater. But there is something very gallant about them.

Of course, Hope wasn’t the only entertainer putting smiles on muddy, forlorn American faces in two different theaters of war. In fact, the USO’s entertainment operation grew so big so fast that it spun off into its own nonprofit—USO Camp Shows, Inc.—in late 1941, just eight months after the USO was formed.

There were plenty of big names—Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich and dozens more stars. But there were roughly 7,000 other performers who weren’t coming home to fame and fortune when the war was over.

All together, they performed more than 425,000 USO shows around the world between 1941 and 1947.

Rarely were those shows described in more vivid detail than Steinbeck’s June 1943 New York Herald Tribune dispatch.

“Once There Was A War,” an anthology of Steinbeck’s World War II reporting, was originally published in 1958.

There was the pained smile and tense muscles of the female acrobat who tried in vain, over and over, to pull off a feat of balance on the listing ship.

There was a blues singer doing her best to overcome a busted speaker system, the quality of her voice eroding the louder she tried to sing. And there was the master of ceremonies whose jokes weren’t quite relating to the whole audience—even though the audience was more than willing to help him—until he finally struck gold with a line about military police. “Everybody likes a joke about MPs,” Steinbeck wrote.

All the performers were good enough to make it into the troupe. They were brave enough to make it across the ocean and onto that boat. They were likely even drawing a small wage for their efforts. And by the end of each performance — including a heavy dose of audience participation, coaxing and goodwill — they’d brought a piece of home to a place full of fear.

The audience helps all it can because it wants the show to be good. And out of the little acts, which are not quite convincing, and the big audience which wants literally to be convinced, something whole and good comes, so that when it is over there has been a show.

This piece originally appeared in the Fall 2015 edition of On Patrol.


Military in Focus During National Suicide Awareness Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, an important time to talk about how many current service members and veterans are struggling with depression and other invisible wounds.

Suicide in the military has become a huge issue over the last decade, with the rate of self-inflicted deaths by both active-duty troops and veterans reaching alarming levels.

But if you need help – or know someone who does – here is a list of places you can go:

  • Military Crisis Hotline: Short of dialing 911 in a life-or-death situation, the military crisis hotline can be your first stop if you or someone you know is feeling severely depressed – even if they just need to talk about what they’re feeling. The phone number is 1-800-273-8255 and you can also chat with them online at militarycrisisline.net.
  • PTSD Coach: The Department of Veterans Affairs has a website and app called PTSD Coach that aims to help troops and veterans manage issues like anger, sleep and trauma triggers.
  • The VA: The Department of Veteran Affairs’ Mental Health page is filled with resources to address a variety of mental health concerns.
  • Family readiness officers, family support groups and family support centers: Every branch of the military has family support services. These officers and groups are huge information resources. Contact your command to find out what groups are available for your family.