USO Center Director Receives Army Outstanding Civilian Service Award for Work in Afghanistan


Regina Wages, left, receives the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal from Gen. John F. Campbell, Commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan. USO Photo

Regina Wages now has something in common with World War II hero Audie Murphy, former Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and “The Late Show” host and USO tour veteran Stephen Colbert.

On Sept. 24, Wages received the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Award for her work as director of the USO center at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan. Army Gen. John F. Campbell, Commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, presented her with the medal during a recent visit by military senior leadership.

“Units have deployed and returned home over these years and Regina has just continued to take care of the troops and the leadership to make their service there more bearable,” USO Regional Vice President Bruce Burda wrote in an email.

Described by Burda as “the dynamic and bridging force at FOB Fenty over the past five years,” Wages, a former South Carolina police officer, “has worked hard to keep the center open around the clock so this small base always has a place for the troops to relax and get away from their routine. With only one or two staff members at most, she has taken advantage of every opportunity to build key relationships and has lifted tens of thousands of troops’ spirits during her time in Afghanistan.”

With her sixth Christmas in Afghanistan approaching, Wages has pledged to stay in Eastern Afghanistan as long as the USO needs her there.

“Just because we’re not in combat mode doesn’t mean ISIS and the Taliban got that memo,” she said during a recent phone call as an alarm sounded in the background. “As you can hear, FOB life is very much the same.”

Wages said her most rewarding experience was an opportunity to bring holiday cheer to troops in the most austere fighting positions.

“We flew in helicopters up into the Kunar on the Pakistan border to more than 30 camps, some literally on the sides of snow-covered mountains with my sergeant major sitting next to me wearing a Santa Claus hat,” she said. “They were running off a generators, these kids. There were no latrines or showers up there. They take baths every few days off a solar bag and they do their business in a hole.

“Taking them an Xbox or a PlayStation, and games on Christmas — these kids would cry. And their reactions, by far, made this whole journey worthwhile.”

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!”

9 Times the USO Came Through for Military Moms

Moms are the backbone of military families. Here are nine moments where the USO has come through for them:

1. Beamed in to the delivery room: Marine Capt. Nick Whitefield went downrange during the run-up to his wife, Laura Whitefield, delivering their second child. Thanks to USO technology, the couple got to see each other during that special moment.

2. USO/What To Expect Special Delivery Baby Showers: The USO works with The What To Expect Foundation and best-selling author Heidi Murkoff to deliver baby showers to military families around the world.

3. A juice and a snooze: How the USO gave a much-needed respite to one military mom and her young daughter when they got stranded while traveling to a funeral.

The Hoffman quintuplets. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

The Hoffman quintuplets. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

4. Cute overload: USO Arizona quickly rolled out the red carpet for an Air Force couple that moved across the country right before giving birth to quintuplets.


5. Staying connected with her kids around the world: When Amy DeRosa’s children started deploying, she wasn’t sure how often she’d get to talk to them. Then she found out about the USO.

Dickinson_md6. A mother’s quiet moment at the USO: How the mom of a fallen soldier honored his memory – and felt a little closer to him – during an impromptu USO visit after his death.


7. Creative mom gets an assist on military daughter’s birthday: Jeanne McConnell had a history of surprising her daughter — Air Force Capt. Emily Arthur — on her birthday. Thanks to the USO, she was able to keep up the tradition even though Arthur was deployed to Afghanistan.

8. A twist on a birthday celebration: Air Force couple James and Cherrie Bell had a bunch of USO experiences over the years. So when their daughter turned 1, they wanted to set an example of giving back. Their efforts may have made her our youngest donor ever.

9. Giving a mom peace of mind: When Marlene Chapman’s daughter was stranded alone in the Denver airport overnight, their family knew exactly where to send her.

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.”

Channing Tatum, Adam Rodriguez and Nick Zano Wrap USO Tour to Afghanistan

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Actors Channing Tatum, Adam Rodriguez and Nick Zano wrapped the USO’s first 2015 entertainment tour to Afghanistan over the weekend. The six-day handshake tour was the first USO experience for the trio, which spent time with more than 1,500 troops, including these folks from Oregon.

In all, Tatum, Rodriguez and Zano visited seven bases downrange and the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan.

“My trip with the USO was a once-in-a-lifetime window into the sacrifice and duty that these brave soldiers and their families devote every day to,” said Tatum, whose “Magic Mike XXL” will hit theaters this summer. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart for the experience. Safe travels home and until then, keep holding it down there and in every other place that flies the stars and stripes.”


Messages from the Front: See What Troops Told the USO About Being Away for the Holidays

It’s hard for civilians to be away from home for the holidays. Now imagine serving in a war zone.

Friend of the USO Eric Raum traveled to the Mideast to talk to troops about what its like to be missing their families during the holidays. He also profiled how the USO gives those troops a little piece of home during a tough time through the USO Holidays for Heroes program.