Day 61: Behind the Scenes
JACKSONVILLE, North Carolina–Temperamental tripods. Taping GoPro’s to shelves. And constantly recharging batteries.
There’s a lot that goes into staging the 150-plus video interviews we’ve done so far on USO Route 75. Here’s a glimpse at our team setting up a shoot inside the library of the USO of North Carolina’s Camp LeJeune center](http://uso-nc.org/our-centers/uso-of-north-carolina-jacksonville-center/).
Day 60: ‘We Wouldn’t Have Anything Like That if the USO Wasn’t Here’
JACKSONVILLE, Florida–Just because they live near a city doesn’t mean service members – especially ones with families – have a lot of affordable entertainment options.
USO Jacksonville gets that, according to Senior Chief Gunner’s Mate Joseph McLendon. He stopped to talk to our USO Route 75 team while picking up his daughter from band camp at USO Jacksonville’s Mayport center.
Day 59: Power Raiders
PENSACOLA, Florida–It’s hard to imagine the Navy emphasizes its 4 a.m. workouts during the recruiting process.
Still, USO Northwest Florida staff and volunteers were waiting with drinks when nearly 700 sailors came off the athletic field at Corry Station. We got up early with them to document their newest program: the USO Power Raid.
Day 58: 'See the World’
GULFPORT, Mississippi–“See the world. Don’t just be [on base].”
That’s the advice @usogulfcoast #volunteer Elaine Birmingham - who lived all over the world with her husband during his #military service - gives to new recruits.
Day 57: On the Road Again
NEW ORLEANS–It’s a travel day to USO Gulfport, but you can check out a video of our stop at the USO Houston Beach Bash above.
Day 56: A Beach Bash in Houston
GALVESTON, Texas–An ice cream truck cameo punctuated the fun at the USO Houston Beach Bash on Saturday. A generous donor opened up his residence to 100 Coast Guard families - one of six such events USO Houston will host at the beach house this year. By Summer’s end, every branch will have had a day in the sun.
Day 55: That’s A Long Day
FORT HOOD, Texas–In the span of 16 hours, USO volunteers Rick and Anne Cosper helped out with a division run, a farewell ceremony, a welcome home ceremony, working the desk inside one of the USO Fort Hood centers and sitting for this interview with our USO Route 75 crew.
Day 54: Four Legs, Countless Smiles
DALLAS–We kicked off Leg 6 of USO Route 75 by meeting volunteer Diane Ratley and her dog, Dana.
The duo has been volunteering at the USO center inside Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport since 2007. Dana is a medically retired Air Force bomb-sniffing dog who spends part of her week spreading love inside the center, greeting lots of kids and even putting her military training to use by giving the place a once-over before she leaves on Monday nights. Take a look.
Flag Quilt Steals the Show at USO El Paso
EL PASO, Texas–Have you ever seen an American flag with 18 colors? We have. Take a look.
'Art Definitely - and Writing - Saves My Life’
FORT BELVOIR, Virginia–There is no way to brush away what happened. But the painting, sculpting and creating seems to help.
The USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, features an Art Studio that’s just for recovering service members, many of whom are assigned to the hospital on base.
Inside those walls, USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore art therapist Ashy Palliparambil leads a unique program that has turned into a creative sanctuary for service members who want to work out their emotions or just need a break.
Watch the video to see how it works.
Day 53: On the Flattop Mountain Trail
ANCHORAGE, Alaska–Josh Revak is running for a reason. The former Army tanker is taking on Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota on June 18 to raise money for the USO.
Even more impressive? That he can run at all.
Revak nearly lost a foot when he was injured in a blast while deployed to the Middle East. After years of limitations, the doctors at the Center for the Intrepid fitted him with a prosthetic brace last summer that allows him to get active again. Keep an eye out for his full story later this year.
Day 52: Red, White and BBQ in Alaska
ANCHORAGE, Alaska–These folks were hungry.
Our USO Route 75 crew visited Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson on Tuesday for a pair of Kroger-sponsored Red, White and BBQ events. First, service members and families showed up around noon for burgers and hot dogs. Later, Kroger and the USO welcomed them back for a more classic barbecue meal featuring brisket and pulled pork.
Day 51: Nighttime in Seattle, Then Off to Alaska
SEATTLE–We had a day to breathe – and organize a lot of footage you’ll see in the next few months – before hopping onto a plane to Alaska on Monday afternoon. In our downtime, we found a hidden spot above the city to shoot this time lapse.
Day 50: Flight Night at SeaTac
SEATTLE–By all accounts, it was a light night. But that proved to be a relative term.
The USO Northwest center at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was bustling with well over 100 service members and dependents waiting overnight for a Sunday morning flight to Japan or South Korea. USO volunteers worked around the clock – including running the logistics in the luggage room – too keep the service members organized and comfortable.
Day 49: 10,000 Miles
MISSOULA, Montana–The USO Route 75 Jeep Wrangler hit 10,000 miles this morning. We’ve circled America once so far, but still have many more miles to go and stories to tell.
Day 48: Minot to Missoula
EASTERN MONTANA–We had some great views (between the storms) on the first 11 hours of our two-day drive from Minot, North Dakota, to Seattle. We’ll be in the Emerald City by Saturday night. For now, here’s a glimpse of the drive.
'America’s Not Falling Apart’
LOS ANGELES–As a USO volunteer, Jeff Cole has the unique perspective of living near a major city but also interacting a lot with the military.
“It’s gratifying to see … America’s not falling apart,” he told our USO Route 75 crew when we spoke with him at the Bob Hope USO center at Los Angeles International Airport in February. “They’re something to be very proud of.”
He, his daughter Regan (also seen in this clip), and his wife, Kathy, all take regular volunteer shifts at the center.
Day 47: Heeeere’s Katie!
MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, North Dakota–We’ve visited roughly three dozen brick-and-mortar USO centers on our trip, but the organization is about expeditionary service, too. We visited Minot, which is hundreds of miles away from a traditional USO, to check out the expeditionary mission delivery of the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families.
Click the image of Katie above to see scenes from the show, and watch Sesame Street/USO company manager Rebecca Shubart talk about the importance of getting to remote military communities here:
Day 46: Another 75th at Mount Rushmore
Day 45: The Secret to a Long Life
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado–What’s the secret to a long life? We asked Pearl Harbor attack survivor James Downing, who, at 102, is the second-oldest living World War II veteran. He came back with a joke from another member of the century club. We’ll have more from Downing - including his harrowing story about Dec. 7, 1941 - later along USO Route 75.
Day 44: A Quick Response
FORT RILEY, Kansas—-When a massive fire tore through a Junction City, Kansas, apartment building last month, the USO here immediately stepped up to support affected service members and military families. Here’s how they quickly organized a response.
Day 43: A New Friend
ST. LOUIS–This guy loves a long shake.
We met Rip, a therapy dog, during our visit to the USO Missouri center at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. In the 45 minutes he was at the center, Rip made the rounds to visit recruits headed to boot camp, retirees and everyone between. He left them all smiling.
Day 43: Pieces of this Bear have Seen the World
ST. LOUIS–Service members passing through The USO of Missouri’s Lambert-St. Louis International Airport center often leave patches - and sometimes their name tapes - on this stuffed animal at the front desk.
Day 42: Gateway to the West
ST. LOUIS–The USO Route 75 crew is westward bound. We pulled into St. Louis this evening in our 2016 Jeep™ Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition after spending the morning interviewing service members and volunteers at the USO of Wisconsin.
Day 41: Lining Up for the Good Stuff
NAVAL STATION GREAT LAKES, Illinois–It’s a big breakfast day for sailors at Naval Station Great Lakes. USO of Illinois volunteers were at the center early, cooking up 30 dozen eggs, bacon and even Nutella pancakes for hungry service members who lined up a half hour early waiting for the doors to open. Look for more stories about our Great Lakes stop later along Route 75.
Day 40: Stranded, But Among Friends
Day 39: A 2 a.m. Snack
CHICAGO OHARE INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT–While most of America was sleeping last night, the USO of Illinois O'Hare Center Director Lindsy Wadas and a team of volunteers were whipping up pancakes in preparation for an influx of young sailors who just graduated Navy boot camp. The first group of grads didn’t get to the center until 2 a.m.
Day 38: Where the Line Never Ends
CAMP ATTERBURY, Indiana–This is only a glimpse of a chow line that didn’t stop moving for nearly two hours. Driving rain outside couldn’t keep the USO of Indiana from throwing one impressive barbecue and concert for Indiana National Guard members this week inside its Camp Atterbury center.
Day 37: 'I know I’ve Got A Place to Go Hang Out and Just Relax’
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio–We love it when service members hang out at our centers. But scheduling a longer layover to get more USO time? Now that’s cool to hear. Sr. Chief Petty Officer Thomas Mace, the first sergeant at the MEPS in Columbus, Ohio, told us he does just that when he sat down with our USO Route 75 crew during a stop at the new USO of Central and Southern Ohio center at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.
Day 36: Is that Bob Hope?
Day 35: Compilers
CLEVELAND–Three legs down, three to go.
This morning we set off our home base of Arlington, Virginia, to visit USOs in the Midwest.
It was also a roadtrip rarity: a day where we didn’t interview anyone. The travel day almost made us feel a little lazy, but that’s more due to the pace we’ve set. So far, we’ve interviewed more than 100 people, harvested nearly 90 stories, published 52 of those (many on this travelogue and the interactive map you can find here) and driven more than 6,000 miles in our 2016 Jeep™ Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition.
More tomorrow. And the next day. And …
Day 34: 'He Said it Just Felt Like Home’
PHILADELPHIA–How did you find out about the USO? For Alison Carr, it was a phone call home from her Navy son, Daniel, who told her about his USO experiences. Missing her son and wanting to help, Alison contacted the Liberty USO at Philadelphia International Airport, where she became a volunteer.
Day 33: Storytime
Dozens of military families turned out for USO Fort Drum’s Storytime event April 11 in Fort Drum, New York.
Dozens of military families turned out for USO Fort Drum’s Storytime event April 11 in Fort Drum, New York.
Dozens of military families turned out for USO Fort Drum’s Storytime event April 11 in Fort Drum, New York.
FORT DRUM, New York–A few dozen children from military families streamed – in a somewhat orderly fashion – toward the carpet squares in the front of the room as Storytime was called to order.
USO Fort Drum puts on the event the second Monday of every month as a way to bring military families together on base, especially those missing a deployed family member. That was a case for several children and spouses who attended Monday night’s event, where Trese Bannister – wife of Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Bannister – read “A Paper Hug,” a book about dealing with deployment, to the group.
Keep an eye out for more on Storytime later on Route 75.
Day 32: A Dropkick Surprise
BOSTON–We’re all about happy surprises at the USO. Here’s Navy Petty Officer Mike Bresnahan speaking on the deck of the USS Constitution about one of those moments where USO New England came through for some Boston service members.
Day 31: The Stealth Booking Agent
NEW YORK–Kathy Kennedy may be off the clock with Jet Blue, but she’ll still help out service members in a bind. Watch to see how Kennedy – a USO of Metropolitan New York volunteer who works early morning shifts at our center at John F. Kennedy International Airport – helps out stranded military families.
Help connect service members defending our freedom to the things they love most. Donate today.
'I Can See it in Their Eyes’
FORT BRAGG, North Carolina— There’s something about waking up early to open the Fayetteville Airport Center that Jerry Boeshore can’t get enough of.
Maybe it’s the opportunity to serve a weary-eyed service member his first cup of coffee. Or maybe it’s the chance to help a young military spouse unwind before a busy travel day. Either way, there’s something special about early mornings at the Fayetteville Airport Center that keeps the USO North Carolina – Fort Bragg volunteer coming back week after week.
“I can see it in their eyes that they [the USO guests] appreciate it,” Boeshore said. “It means something to them, you know?”
Read more about Boeshore from our March visit to the USO of North Carolina.
Day 30: 'It’s Not Small to Us. It’s Huge.’
WALTHAM, Massachusetts–Air Force Staff Sgt. Charlie Cornacchio talks about what the USO means to service members around the world. Look for more from Cornacchio and others later on USO Route 75.
Day 29: A Phone Call and a Recliner
NEW YORK–How did you find out about the USO?
For Tom Flagg, it was a phone call from his Air Force captain son during a layover in Denver. Years later, Flagg - a Broadway actor - and his wife both volunteer at the USO of Metropolitan New York. Watch the video to see why.
Day 28: Ground Zero
A visitor touches etchings at the National September 11 Memorial in New York.
Visitors mil around the South Pool at the National September 11 Memorial in New York.
While more subtle than it once was, security is still ever present at Ground Zero.
A rose is tucked into a name etched on the National September 11 Memorial in New York.
NEW YORK–The scene at Ground Zero has evolved.
When the National September 11 Memorial opened nearly five years ago, it was a vey serious place in a clearing between skyscrapers created by the 2001 terror attacks. A lot of security. Quiet civilians shuffling about, snapping photos, reading the etched names and sharing their thoughts in hushed voices.
Over time, it’s moved slightly toward American public space norms without losing its gravity. The memorial is still filled with reverent and respectful visitors. Still, there seem to be more posed family photos than there were a few years ago. And tourists speaking an array of languages wielding selfie sticks are more prevalent, capturing their floating heads from above as they angle their shots down into one of the memorial’s two recessed pools – the footprints of the former Twin Towers – that drain into an abyss.
In a way, the evolution is encouraging: in a connected world where life can seem geared toward instant gratification, thousands of people still show up here each day to take in the visual and think – even if just for a moment – about what happened and what it means in their lives.
At the memorial, we met a Marine in the Individual Ready Reserve visiting the memorial for the first time with his family. In town from Denver, he went to opening day at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday and said he couldn’t help but tear up during the national anthem.
Day 28: Heroes Behind the Heroes
Day 27: 'I Thought That I … Had to Earn My Freedom’
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Delaware–"So we’re guessing you’re not from Nebraska?”
It was the third time the Cornhusker state had come up in our interview and Air Force Capt. Martin Gakuria broke into a laugh. The native Kenyan came to the United States at age 19 to attend college in Nebraska. He joined the Army shortly thereafter as a way to both gain his U.S. citizenship and pay what he saw as his debt to America.
“I thought that I some way, somehow, had to earn my freedom,” Gakuria told our USO Route 75 crew during a stop in Dover.
Gakuria has since left the Army and was subsequently commissioned as an Air Force officer. When he’s not at his day job, he’s often found volunteering at USO Delaware, putting smiles on the faces of military families during the good times while also comforting families of the fallen who come to Dover to repatriate the remains of their loved ones.
“I want them to know that if you lost a loved one, we’ll always be there for you,” he said.
Day 26: It’s 4x4 Day!
'It’s Our Job’
RALEIGH, North Carolina—They’re an invaluable resource at a military family’s worst moment.
“It’s an emotional time for these families and its an emotional thing for those who witness these missions down on the tarmac,” Vic Holdren said.
Holdren, a veteran and long-time USO volunteer, is a member of the of USO of North Carolina Honor Support Team, which supports, honors and assists families of the fallen and military escorts traveling through Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Watch our video to see how they help.
'They are so scared out of their mind’
Neil Ash: USO San Diego Legend
RANCHO SANTA FE, California—-C. Neil Ash knew there wasn’t a USO center at San Diego International Airport. And that bothered him.
So, in the late 1980s, the then-USO board member — a Navy veteran who served in both World War II and the Korean War — went about changing that. Here’s how he did it.
FUQUAY-VARINA, North Carolina–With 100,000 miles, two cross-country trips and dozens of charity rides under his collar, Chewy has made quite a name for himself since he first got on a bike in 2008. See how the USO North Carolina’s Ambassadog got his start.
No Family, But Lots of Support for Single Soldiers on Fort Bragg
FORT BRAGG, North Carolina–Samantha Fletcher knows what’s important to single service members.
An Army specialist and the president of the Fort Bragg Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers (BOSS) program, Fletcher spoke with our USO Route 75 team about how BOSS works with the USO of North Carolina here to provide special touches of home that single service members don’t often get on a remote base.
'The USO is My Family’
CLARKSVILLE, Tennessee—Tonya Wacker didn’t expect to end up in tears during a USO holiday hospital visit last December. Then she walked into the injured soldier’s room.
“He said, ‘You know, I feel like I’m losing everything,’” Wacker said. “So I said, ‘Well, you know we have a new program, a military transition program’… and he was really excited.”
Wacker, the Fort Campbell USO RP/6 site manager, later offered the soldier a phone to call home and talk to his family. The solider politely refused.
“He said, ‘I don’t need a phone … the USO is my family,’” Wacker said.
Day 25: Art as Therapy
FORT BELVOIR, Virginia–We spent Friday afternoon with service members at an open art studio inside the USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore’s Warrior and Family Center. Much more on how these art programs help recovering service members in the coming weeks.
Day 25: Making Life Easier for Moms
FORT BRAGG, North Carolina–Heather Coffman comes to The USO at here for a little normalcy. The USO Route 75 crew spent an afternoon with her this week talking about how programs like Story Time — which cater to young children — connect her to a community of adults going through the same experiences.
The programming options and generosity of the USO of North Carolina staff and volunteers at Bragg have inspired her to give back through the USO once her children are a little older. (Look for more on Coffman and others we interviewed at Fort Bragg later in the road trip.)
Day 24: Photos: “Marine Wednesday”
A pair of Marines check out the snacks on hand at the USO center in Terminal 2 of Raleigh-Durham International Airport on March 9.
USO volunteers Nan Maples, right, and Cathy Sheppard joke with Marines who just deplaned at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on March 9.
USO of North Carolina volunteers check the status of the next flight of Marines on March 9 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
Marines gather around USO of North Carolina volunteer JC Cunningham for a briefing after deplaning March 9 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
USO of North Carolina volunteer JC Cunningham looks on as Marines stream down the escalator toward baggage claim at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on March 9.
Young Marines balance their bags as USO of North Carolina volunteer JC Cunningham walks them toward a staging area inside Raleigh-Durham International Airport on March 9.
There wasn’t a seat to be had in the USO center at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on March 9, as nearly 75 Marines headed to school at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, stopped in before catching their busses.
Marines packed the USO at Raleigh-Durham International Airport on March 9 as they waited for their rides to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Marines carry their bags to busses headed to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, on March 9. The Marines had spent the afternoon at the USO center inside Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
USO of North Carolina volunteer JC Cunningham briefs Marines on March 9 at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The USO helps coordinate the Marines’ transportation from the airport to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
A Marine helps his fellow service members pack their gear March 9 inside a bus headed for Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The group of Marines spent the afternoon at the USO inside Raleigh-Durham International Airport.
Marines headed for school at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, count off before departing Raleigh-Durham International Airport. The group had spent the afternoon at the airport’s USO center.
USO of North Carolina volunteer Shannon Glazer addresses Marines who are headed to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
RALEIGH, North Carolina–One Marine found a power strip to charge multiple devices. Another found a box of Krispy Kreme donuts. Both reacted like it was Christmas. “Marine Wednesdays” are a big deal for the USO of North Carolina center at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. A stream of young service members arrive throughout the day and to wait for their 2.5-hour bus ride to Camp Lejeune. And USO volunteers coordinate the whole thing.
Day 24: 'And I Mean It’
RALEIGH, North Carolina–“Did you give your 24/7 speech yet?” someone asked USO of North Carolina volunteer Shannon Glazer as she stepped onto the bus full of Marines. (Click the photo to watch Glazer address the group.) Glazer and three other USO volunteers had just spent the last three hours with about 75 Marines at Raleigh-Durham International Airport. Led by volunteer JC Cunningham, the USO “Marine Wednesday” crew plays concierge to young Devil Dogs headed to school at Camp Lejeune. Just before the bus hauls them away, Glazer likes to express her appreciation (and remind them another USO center will be there for them when they arrive).
A Family That Serves
COLUMBIA, South Carolina–Mary Crooks’ three children and husband all serve in the military. So how does she serve? By showing new recruits the ropes at the USO’s Columbia Metropolitan Airport center. Take a look.
Help connect service members defending our freedom to the things they love most. Donate today.
Day 23: The Ambassadog
FUQUAY-VARINA, North Carolina–Meet Chewy, The USO of North Carolina’s ambassadog. Chewy and his owner, veteran Butch Ewing, can be seen riding their Harley-Davidson on America’s roads and attending USO events around North Carolina. Look for more about Chewy later along USO Route 75.
Day 23: 'No Matter Your Rank … You’re All The Same Here’
Day 22: Yes, Drill Sergeant
COLUMBIA, South Carolina–Just as USO South Carolina volunteer Janette Cruz started telling our USO Route 75 crew about helping young recruits, a group of them were marshaled into formation in the Columbia Metropolitan Airport atrium by a drill sergeant who was there to take them to boot camp.
The Calm Before Boot Camp
SAN ANTONIO–The MEPS process is tense. But USO is working to relieve some of that stress with locations inside processing stations around the United States. Here’s a look back at our visit to the MEPS on Fort Sam Houston.
Day 22: A Man of Many Talents
Day 21: Watch Out!
ATLANTA–Who knew greeting service members at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport could be so dangerous? Longtime USO of Georgia volunteer Pat Horvath made the USO Route 75 crew smile when she told us about being accidentally smushed by exuberant military family members at homecomings.
Day 20: A Welcoming Skyline
ATLANTA–A great sight in the skyline as we pulled into the city on Saturday night, thanks to USO Georgia supporter Corey Airport Services.
Day 20: Non-stop
Day 19: There From the Beginning
Throwback Thursday: Their First Coin
SAN ANTONIO–We’ve started on Leg 2, but we have plenty of great stories to still tell from our previous stops. Here’s a throwback to Feb. 18, where we witnessed a coin ceremony at Lackland Air Force Base on the eve of Air Force boot camp graduation. The ceremony marks the first time new airmen receive a challenge coin - a recognition of excellence in military culture. The coin ceremony participants officially graduated boot camp the following day.
Day 18: Kicking Off Leg 2 in Music City
NASHVILLE–We’re back on the road, kicking off Leg 2 of USO Route 75 in a city with a lot of military history.
Tennessee’s role in the Civil War effectively ended in the Battle of Nashville on Dec. 16, 1864 with a decisive Union victory. During the war, Nashville’s Fort Negly was the largest Union fort west of Washington, D.C.
Andrew Jackson’s estate - the Hermitage - is in northeast Nashville. Nicknamed “Old Hickory” for his toughness, Jackson rose to prominence as a general in the War of 1812 and eventually became seventh president of the United States. He’s buried on the estate’s grounds.
- Nashville is the closest major city to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, a major Army installation and home of USO Fort Campbell. Soldiers there have attended several events in Nashville via the USO, including this great moment above with Hunter Hayes in 2014.
'Whatever’s Needed, We’re There’
SAN DIEGO–USO volunteer Judith Griffin talks about the little things she does around the USO San Diego Neil Ash Center at San Diego International Airport that make a huge difference for service members and their families.
Dropping by Fisher House
SAN ANTONIO–While the USO keeps service members connected to family, home and country around the world, 69 Fisher Houses in the U.S. and Germany give military members a comfortable place to stay while they or their loved ones receive medical care. And the two organizations team up a lot on the local level. Read about how.
'The USO has Always Been There Supporting Marines’
Your support makes a huge difference to our service members and their families. Donate today.
A Sanctuary in the South During World War II
HATTIESBURG, Mississippi—“It was like heaven.”
The words of World War II-era USO volunteer Vermell Jackson echo the sentiments of the photos and encased artifacts at the African American Military History Museum here. The museum – once the home of a rare segregated USO – still displays many happy memories from what was an otherwise trying time in America.
A History Lesson
HATTIESBURG, Mississippi–The former Hattiesburg USO’s walls are lined with tributes to barrier breakers, Buffalo Soldiers and bold men and women who fought for their country. Here are five stories you may not know that we found at the African American Military History Museum.
Up All Night in Arizona
PHOENIX-When Sue Sherman gets a text from the USO, she knows it’s going to be a long night. But she also knows she’s going to have a big impact.
Sherman, featured in the video clip above, is one of a handful of USO Arizona volunteers who work overnight shifts to support stranded service members and their families on request at the organization’s Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport center.
Day 17: And We’re Parked (But Just for a Moment)
We stashed our Jeep™ this morning at an undisclosed location (OK, somewhere in Nashville) after a memorable first leg and headed home for a week to pump out a slew of stories from the start of our adventure.
The best part about this trip has been the breakneck pace. In 17 days, we’ve visited a dozen USO locations, interviewed more than 40 people and driven 3,900-plus miles in the process.
But with all the moving around, we’ve only been able to give you a glimpse of the great content we’ve gathered. So we’re taking the next week to work on stories before heading back out on the road. Keep checking back here (and our story map on the main USO Route 75 page) for daily road trip updates.
Day 16: History in Hattiesburg
HATTIESBURG, Mississippi-We spent the morning at the African American Military History Museum - the building that once housed the first USO center to specifically serve African American military personnel during the segregation era - soaking in history and interviewing a World War II-era volunteer.
Day 15: The Red Carpet Treatment
SAN ANTONIO-Military spouse Zona Dargan worked with USO San Antonio’s RP/6 scouts to forge the connections that led to a new career.
We sat down with Dargan and two other service members who worked with RP/6 to find new careers for a video you’ll see later during the USO Route 75 tour. For now, here’s Zona’s take on her experience.
Day 14: Rest, But No Sleep
SAN ANTONIO-You can lounge, play video games and eat plenty of candy at the USO San Antonio’s Military Entrance Processing Station center. But by no means should recruits fall to sleep. If they do, and facilitators can’t find them, they’ll get sent to the back of the queue for their appointments and tests. And that can set them back anywhere from a few hours to an entire day.
Day 13: The Things We Haven’t Lost
SONORA, Texas-Asking strangers personal questions is easy. Not losing things? That’s surprisingly hard.
We’re a pretty organized group (a six-month road trip requires some logistical acumen), and 13 days into USO Route 75, we haven’t lost anything significant. Still, when you’re packing and unpacking camera gear in multiple locations each day, you start to realize how easy it could happen.
And then you get a little paranoid.
You take a mental photo of how your camera kit is organized and crosscheck that with what you see before zipping up your backpack. You glance over your shoulder at your bags each time you get back into the Jeep™. And, with content for nearly 30 stories gathered in less than two weeks, you get a little obsessive about backing up your footage and photos.
Here’s a list of things we momentarily thought we lost:
Memory cards (which were put in the wrong bag in El Paso)
A MiFi (placed in the wrong backpack pocket in West Texas)
An on-camera LED light (which we actually lost momentarily - though we didn’t realize it until a volunteer in Phoenix emailed us that she had it)
Day 13: Hauling East
EL PASO-We had a great - and way too short - visit to the USO El Paso centers on Fort Bliss. Thanks to the folks at the 31st Combat Support Hospital for the great coin. (They’re the soldiers prominently featured in the Burrito Ambush video.)
Day 12: Burrito Ambush!
EL PASO—You never know when a burrito-wielding volunteer will strike. USO El Paso started its Burrito Ambush program last year as a way to thank service members for their hard work. USO El Paso employees and volunteers fan out around the base on select mornings to pass out hundreds of burritos to unsuspecting service members.
Day 11: Going Up?
PHOENIX-What the USO Arizona center at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport lacks in space, it makes up for with amenities and visual reveals.
Sure, the “visual reveals” part sounds a little weird at first, but you get it when you walk around. The center is basically a large U built around an escalator bank on one end of Terminal 4, Level 2. And every corner you turn, the center changes.
As soon as you sign in at the welcome desk, you run into the bar-style kitchen. Go to the end of that stretch, turn right, and you’re at sitting area with tables and chairs that leads to a secluded theater room (which doubles as a great place to get some sleep if you’re stranded overnight). You find video gaming stations at the end of that corridor before you make your final right, which leads you to secluded computer booths, a few nice sitting areas with leather chairs and a children’s play area at the very end.
But USO Arizona’s most unique visual isn’t technically inside the center. Without a traditional ceiling, visitors can look up into Level 3. That means anyone sitting in the center can look straight up and see travelers riding the escalator to and from their gates.
Day 10: Where’d You Hide the Reindeer?
PHOENIX-Meet Phil Guentzler: a USO Arizona volunteer and Santa. Well, not the real Santa – we think – though he does have a daughter who was born on Christmas Day. When Guentzler isn’t volunteering at the USO’s Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport center in the months leading up to Christmas, you can often find him playing Santa for the children of service members who are rehabbing in the Phoenix area. Look for more about Phil later in the trip.
Day 9: Everything to Everyone
SAN DIEGO—Part of the reason people have so much trouble describing the USO is because it’s so many things to so many people.
Yesterday, a slow-but-steady churn of visitors come through the front door of the USO of San Diego’s Neil Ash Airport Center. First it was Marine boot camp graduates looking to catch flights, many with families in tow.
“Was boot camp hard?” one of the volunteers at the front desk asked a young Marine. (He said no, of course.)
USO Volunteer Andy Hedekin was in perpetual motion, leading center tours and coordinating movements of newly minted Marines to their flights. In another corner, the crackle of billiard balls and laughing was coming from a room of guys who were long past boot camp. All the while, service members and their families in civilian clothes came and left, recharging on two fronts: crashing on the couches while plugging in devices.
Two women stopped by to hand over Valentines Day cards made by kids at the New Children’s Museum. Neil Ash Center Manager and retired Sgt. Maj. Bobby Woods passed the cards out to a few service members on the couches and left the remainder at the front desk for volunteers to distribute as visitors arrived.
Down the street, more volunteers were preparing for the Monster Energy AMA Supercross event down the street at Petco Park. The race benefitted USO of San Diego.
And all this happened on a weekend where we were told there wasn’t much going on.
Day 8: Marines on the Move With Andy
SAN DIEGO-Energetic USO San Diego volunteer Andy Hedekin guides a group of new Marines fresh from boot camp graduation on the way to catch their flights home from San Diego International Airport. Click the Instagram post to watch the video.
Day 7: Leaving Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS-The USO Route 75 Jeep™ Wrangler made one last cruise down the Las Vegas Strip before heading to its next destination. Click the Instagram post to watch the video.
Day 7: Semper Gumby
Day 6: 'USO’s Taking Really Good Care of Me’
LAS VEGAS-Andy Liermann couldn’t have been more gracious or patient with us last night, as we were testing out some new camera gear while asking him about his USO experiences. Also, hat tip to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas for giving the USO there free access to the fitness center for service members who want to take a shower after a long flight.
Day 5: Vegas Means Volunteers
LAS VEGAS-USO Las Vegas volunteer “Biker” Bill Finch welcomed the USO Route 75 team to the Las Vegas Terminal 1 center with his trademark smile. He made sure to point out the Top Overall USO Center award hanging on the wall behind him.
Day 5: Heat Check
BAKER, California-The USO Route 75 crew made a quick stop here on our way to USO Las Vegas to take a photo of our Jeep™ at the world’s largest thermometer.
Day 4: Staying Up Late for Travel-Weary Seabees in Ontario
Navy Seabees are welcomed with grilled hotdogs and warm smiles by USO Ontario volunteers on Feb. 8 at 1:30 a.m. on a layover from Guam on their way home to Gulfport, Mississippi.
USO Ontario looks like a ghost town an hour before a plane full of Navy Seabees arrives at 1:30 a.m. for a short layover.
Navy Seabees arrive at USO Ontario on Feb. 8 at 1:30 a.m. for a 45-minute layover from Guam on their way home to Gulfport, Mississippi.
Navy Seabees arrive for a 45-minute layover on their way home to Gulfport, Mississippi from Guam.
Navy Seabees play a game of pool Feb. 8 during a short layover at USO Ontario.
A Navy Seabee strums on an acoustic guitar Feb. 8 at 1:30 a.m. on a layover from Guam on his way home to Gulfport, Mississippi.
A Navy Seabee strums an acoustic guitar Feb. 8 during a late-night layover at USO Ontario.
Navy Seabees relax in the entertainment room of USO Ontario on Feb. 8 during a short, late-night layover.
Navy Seabee fixes a freshly grilled hot dog Feb. 8 during a short, late-night layover at USO Ontario.
A Navy Seabee eats a hot dog and charges his phone Feb. 8 at USO Ontario during a short, late-night layover.
A Navy Seabee couple has their picture taken by USO volunteer Mariza Gatdula on Feb. 8 during a short layover at USO Ontario.
USO Ontario is equipped with several lounges and plenty of bedding in case troops have to make a longer-than-anticipated stay.
ONTARIO, California-What were you doing at 2 a.m. after the Super Bowl? While most Americans had nodded off, a group of volunteers and the center director at Bob Hope USO-Ontario were waving goodbye to 101 Navy Seabees as they connected from Guam on their way back home. Read about how it unfolded.
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Day 4: Marines and Football
TWENTYNINE PALMS, California-The Marines training at Camp Wilson on Twentynine Palms didn’t seem to care who won the Super Bowl. After training all day in a place where they can barely get cell phone reception, they were just excited the game was actually on. Check out our video of how Bob Hope USO made it happen.
Day 3: Packed House in the Desert for Super Bowl 50
TWENTYNINE PALMS, California-Need to have a Super Bowl party in the desert for you and 2,000 friends? Call the Bob Hope USO. We spent a memorable night with Marines at Twentynine Palms who got to take a break from training to watch the Super Bowl thanks to some quick thinking by the folks at the USO Palm Springs center. Story tomorrow.
Day 3: Patches and Patches and Patches
SAN FRANCISCO-“This is something that I would imagine if I was a commando or a Navy SEAL, they don’t hand these things out like bubble gum,” USO Bay Area volunteer Ken Bates said Friday about the more than 500 patches that line the walls of the USO center in San Francisco International Airport. “There’s a certain amount of passion that goes with it and an esprit de corps.” Read more about the patches here.
Day 3: Heading to the Desert
SAN FRANCISCO-We’re off to Twentynine Palms in hopes of watching the Super Bowl with a group of Marines in the desert. While on the road, Eric is writing a story about USO Bay Area, where he spent Friday afternoon talking with USO volunteer Ken Bates about the center’s extensive patch collection. Here’s one quote Bates gave us about running a security detail that was great, but won’t be making the story:
Day 2: Serving Service Members Before the Big Game
SAN FRANCISCO-We arrived here just in time to check out the NFL-, USAA- and USO-presented an NFL Salute to Service Military Appreciation Breakfast for service members and their families the day before the Super Bowl.
Day 2: An Old Friend
SAN FRANCISCO-The USO connects service members to the things they love, but sometimes we need an assist getting to them. That’s what Lance Klingler used to do. The retired Air Force master sergeant, left, approached USO CEO and President Dr. J.D. Crouch II, right, at the NFL Experience on Saturday afternoon to tell him about flying USO entertainers to shows at various points during his 22-year Air Force career.
Day 2: Feats of Strength with the NFL and USAA
Day 1: On the Road
BURLINGAME, California-We snagged our 2016 Jeep™ Wrangler Unlimited 75th Anniversary Edition vehicle in Burlingame, California, Friday afternoon and are officially on the road. If you see us, take a photo and hashtag it #USOroute75.
Day 1: In the air
Stories in this Series
Oct 21, 2019
Healing After the 1983 Beirut Bombings at USO North Carolina-Jacksonville Center’s ‘Beirut Room’
The 1983 Beirut Bombing—when a suicide bomber attacked a Marine barracks in Lebanon, killing U.S. and French service members, as well as civilians—had a deep impact on the Jacksonville, North Carolina community. So, the USO created a special room to honor the victims, survivors and family members affected by the bombing.
Dec 14, 2016
Here’s How the USO and RP/6 Created a ‘Movement’ in San Antonio
When USO-RP/6 scout Cedric Brown retired from the Navy, his transition to civilian life was a challenge. He shares his personal story with every one of his clients so they know they’re not alone – and that there’s a community waiting to help them along the way.
Nov 1, 2016
‘It's Unbelievable’: USO of Illinois, Blackhawks and Boeing Team Up to Salute Service Members and Veterans During National Anthem
Robert Canchola, Vietnam veteran, was recently honored on-ice at the United Center during the National Anthem as part of the Service Salute Partnership between the USO of Illinois, the Chicago Blackhawks and Boeing.
Oct 10, 2016
They’ve Gone Down That Path’: Retired Soldier Explains How the USO and RP/6 Put Him on the Road to a Successful Transition
Tim Beninato wore an Army uniform for 25 years. Now he wears a suit and tie to work at USAA. Here’s how the USO and RP/6 helped him make the leap from soldier to civilian.
Aug 15, 2016
Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families Looks at Transition
Military families stationed here in Minot, North Dakota -- 50 miles south of the Canadian border -- don’t get many VIP visitors. So when the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families kicked off its 2016 tour at the base, it was a big deal.
Jul 29, 2016
Military Bride-to-Be Says Yes to the Dress Thanks to the USO at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
As soon as Melissa Wrisley put on the satin white gown, she knew it was “the dress.” Just a few months earlier, when she was first engaged to her now-husband, Marine Pfc. Brandon Wrisley, Melissa was wondering if she would even be able to find a dress – let alone a designer dress – that would fit their tight wedding budget.
Jul 20, 2016
Storytime Brings Families Together at Fort Drum USO
At the home of the 10th Mountain Division in upstate New York, winters can be long and lonesome. That's why volunteers there began to organize Storytime at the local USO, where military kids can socialize and do arts and crafts with their family.
Jul 14, 2016
It’s Never Too Early for Chili Cheese Dogs at the USO
German troops headed to nearby Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for training had heard about the American delicacy all the way back in Germany. They stopped at the USO center in St. Louis – which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – at 7 a.m. to find out what the buzz was about.
Jun 9, 2016
Service Members Get Their Game On at USO Center on Wright-Patterson AFB
Some of our best ideas come from the service members we support. Here's what happened when two airmen at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base who love video games came to the USO of Central and Southern Ohio with a big idea.
May 6, 2016
‘Made All the Difference’: USO Helps Coast Guard Family During 12-Hour Flight Delay
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Trevor Hughes and his young family were headed to Disney World when they were suddenly faced with a 12-hour flight delay. Unable to go home without his children’s car seats, Hughes headed to the USO, where his family spent the whole day napping, watching movies and eating snacks.
Apr 22, 2016
USO, RP/6 Help an Army Veteran Land a Job Right Next Door
Michael Leebarze, who had ambitions to launch a career in the criminal justice/homeland security field, spoke with RP/6 staff members about his resume and transition plan. Several hours of career counseling later, Leebarze, now an Army veteran, left the center with a job interview for a position at the company right next door to the USO center.
Apr 8, 2016
Air Force Dad Became a USO Volunteer After Son's Call
How did you find out about the USO? For Tom Flagg, it was a phone call from his Air Force captain son during a layover in Denver. Years later, Flagg - a Broadway actor - and his wife both volunteer at the USO of Metropolitan New York.
Mar 7, 2016
USO at San Antonio MEPS is a Stress Reliever for Recruits and Families
The MEPS process is tense for the young men and women who’ve signed up to serve our country. They often spend many hours waiting for exams, tests and lots of paperwork, but USO is working to relieve some stress with locations inside processing stations around the U.S.
Mar 4, 2016
A Tasty Competition: USO Fort Campbell's Cupcake Wars Bring Military Families Together
Nothing brings people together like food and healthy competition. That’s the idea behind Fort Campbell USO’s Cupcake Wars, a fierce (and tasty) cupcake competition that takes place every at the center every summer.
Feb 28, 2016
From Biker Bars to Coffee Shops, USO El Paso Volunteer Opens Doors of Support for Service Members
Mallo is a USO center director’s dream come true. She’s marched into multiple businesses to ask if they’d like to support America’s service members and walked out with gift cards, mountains of candy and pallets of batteries.
Feb 27, 2016
Hattiesburg USO was a Sanctuary During World War II
The words of World War II-era USO volunteer Vermell Jackson echo the sentiments of the photos and encased USO artifacts at the African American Military History Museum. The building that now houses the museum was once home to a unique USO wartime center.