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.”

USO Kandahar Recognized for Quick Thinking

It’s pouring rain.

There seems to be no end in sight to this storm, and you’ve got tons of electronics and furniture inside what amounts to little more than a field tent in the middle of Afghanistan.

The water starts creeping in. Everything could be ruined. What do you do?

The waters rose and rose and rose.

“Jesse Boyles and Jillian Ferron were on shift as the water came into the center,” said USO Kandahar center manager Richard McCarty, in an email response to USO President Sloan Gibson, explaining what happened after a recent storm flooded the Center.

“They took quick and important steps to ensure the safety of the customers in regards to electricity and the protection of the center’s valuable furniture and electronics by cutting breakers as needed to provide safety,” he added. “But also minimizing the inconvenience to the people stuck inside still watching TV’s and on phones.”

"We quickly moved as much as we could to the highest point in the tent, pushing most of the furniture to the middle of the tent. "

Boyles and Ferron, along with the rest of the staff and volunteers of USO Kandahar, were recently presented the President’s Award for performance above and beyond the call of duty when they experienced the unfortunate reality of operating in a field environment – in a third-world country – in a combat zone.

The President’s Award is presented to individuals whose contributions have had a significant impact on their department and the organization. Ferron’s contribution alone, by quickly rounding up a work detail to get 30 cloth La-z-Boy chairs in the theater stacked on the high end of the room, saved the USO more than $4,500.

According to Gary Bibeau, regional vice president, the entire floor of the Kandahar USO center was underwater for a period of time. The flood ran through the entire center, depositing mud on the both the floor and on the furniture.

“By the time I got there, the staff and volunteers had taken the furniture and electronics out and put it all in storage, limiting any damage,” wrote Bibeau in follow-up documentation.

The it was time to clean up!

The clean-up effort that began the following morning would take two-and-a-half days to complete, but employees Penn Walker, Blair Ciccocioppo and Randy Montesi all joined Boyles and Ferron first thing in the morning to start the arduous work of removing 8,000 square feet of ruined flooring and carpet and sweeping out the excess water and mud.

Unfortunately it wasn’t just water the team was stuck cleaning up. Several of the outdoor port-o-johns were also tipped over, adding some sewage to the soaking mess. Because of concerns about mold and toxic material in the water, Bibeau had the local Navy medical unit come in to do a health inspection after the site was cleaned up, and it has since been cleared for safe occupancy once again.

“I would like to make special recognition of Erin Mintmier, who was at the center during the flooding and took the leadership of the clean up and volunteer coordination,” said McCarty. “We faced a tremendous amount of work and … the first difficult steps were to organize … how we can direct the volunteers to help,” he added. “It was in this aspect that Erin really shined as a leader.”

Through their teamwork and excellent leadership, USO Kandahar weathered the storm, and for that, we as an organization now stand that much stronger beside them. Congratulations on your recent recognition and keep up the great work! – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Autographed 44th CMA Awards Program Auction

The official program for the 44th Annual CMA Awards held in Nashville, Tennessee on November 9 2010 is for sale by the USO on eBay !

The program is autographed by some of the night’s top performers and winners:

Brad Paisley, Entertainer of the Year
Miranda Lambert, Best Female Vocalist, Album of the Year, Music Video of the Year
Blake Shelton, Best Male Vocalist and Musical Event of the Year

All proceeds from the sale of the program will benefit the USO.

This auction be on going until November 20, 2010.

Senate to Recognize USO Hawaii at State Capitol

USO Hawaii has served Troops since World War II. (Photo courtesy of USO Archives)

We are thrilled to announce that USO Hawaii will be honored at the State Capitol of Honolulu on March 31, during a Senate Proclamation Ceremony sponsored by Sen. Will Espero, chairman, Public Safety and Military Affairs Committee.  The USO is being recognized for its outstanding morale programs and services for Hawaii’s military members and families.

USO Hawaii, which operates two centers on Oahu — one at the Honolulu International Airport and one at the Hickam Air Force Base terminal — offers the enhanced services of a “home away from home” for all branches of the military.  In the past year alone USO Hawaii served the needs of 64,000 military personnel deploying to, or returning from combat and other worldwide military assignments.

For more than 69 years, the USO has provided support to active duty members of the U.S. Armed Forces throughout the world. The USO’s mission is, “to enhance the quality of life for our brave men and women who serve to protect our country and our freedom.”  Through peacetime and various wars and conflicts, the USO continues to serve those who serve us, “Until Every One Comes Home.”

USO Officials Karl Kiyokawa, chair, USO Hawaii Advisory Council, Kyle Brockett, Chair-Elect, Tom Kolstad, Vice President-USO Pacific Operations and Eva Laird Smith, USO Hawaii director will be on the Senate Floor to accept the Proclamation Award on behalf of the nonprofit organization.

The community is invited to attend the Senate Proclamation Ceremony honoring USO Hawaii at the State Capitol Gallery at 11:30 a.m., Wed., March 31.

Al Shimizu, a USO volunteer, hands a slice of pizza to a deploying Soldier on an early Tuesday morning at Hickam Air Force Base. (Photo by Sgt. Bradley Rhen)

ON PATROL Magazine Wins Three Mercury Awards

Mercury Excellence AwardsON PATROL, the magazine of the USO, is entering its second year of publication.  The quarterly magazine, which is distributed to more than 300,000 readers, features stories of inspiration and sacrifice.

We were recently notified that ON PATROL received three prestigious communication’s honors from MERCURY Excellence Awards. This year’s competition featured around 700 entries in 20 categories from 21 countries across the world.

ON PATROL earned a gold medal in the magazine category for military support organizations; a silver medal in the magazine writing category; and a bronze medal for design.

From the beginning, ON PATROL has garnered admiration from its readers.

The magazine continues to feature outstanding writers, who contribute on a range of subjects from the special facial reconstruction efforts performed by a plastic surgeon in California to a description of golf analyst David Feherty’s “Inspiring Explosive Days,” giving wounded warriors a chance to golf with professionals, participate in long bicycle rides or hunt together.

On Patrol Summer 2009The magazine also inspired. The Summer 2009 cover featured a note from LT “J” a Navy SEAL who had been seriously wounded in battle. Unable to talk, he had penned a letter from his hospital bed, and his wife displayed the message prominently on his room door.

“If you are coming into this room with sorrow or to feel sorry for my wounds, GO ELSEWHERE,” the note reads in part. “The wounds I received, I got in a job I love, doing it for people I love, supporting the freedom of a country I deeply love.”

And readers responded.

“I would like permission to send a copy of that letter to my friends in order to heighten their awareness of who is keeping them free and the attitudes of those who have sacrificed for them,” Claudia Thomas wrote.

ON PATROL also received feedback from the field. Chaplains in Balad are using the magazine in devotionals, while troops in Afghanistan are sending us updates from the front lines.

We’re extremely proud of the progress made by ON PATROL in its inaugural year, and we look forward to bringing more outstanding stories to you in the future.

Please click here to get your own subscription to ON PATROL

Operation Denali’s Marc Hoffmeister named “Adventurer of the Year”

From the desk of Jeremy Borden, USO Staff Writer:

Army Lieutenant Colonel Marc Hoffmeister says his whole experience with National Geographic has been one surprise after the other. But none was bigger than learning that he’d tied for first place as the organization’s Adventurer of the Year.

Hoffmeister, who was wounded in a roadside blast in Iraq in 2007, organized a group of wounded warriors to climb Mount McKinley, also known as Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America in June 2009.

Lieutenant Colonel Marc Hoffmeister summits Denali. DoD photo.

He said he was more than a little shocked to be named one of the magazine’s Adventurers of the Year. “I frankly was pretty surprised to even be ranked amongst them,” he said from his home in Eagle River, Alaska.

It also shocked him that readers honored him as their Readers’ Choice Adventurer of the Year on Thursday.

He credits his team — the accomplishment is a group one, he says — but can’t put his finger on what put his story above the rest. “I don’t know what singled us out at all,” he said.

Hoffmeister went up against accomplished adventurers, like the astronaut known as “the Hubble repairman,” and tied for first place in the readers’ choice contest with Albert Yu-Min Lin, who organized a treacherous expedition into Mongolia to search for the lost tomb of Genghis Khan.

As Hoffmeister and Lin pulled away from the pack in the competition’s last weeks, the soldier wondered what his chances were.

“It’s the modern age of technology. You ‘Google’ the competition,” Hoffmeister said.

When he found out about Lin’s University of California-San Diego connections, he joked he was worried that “[Lin’s] got the whole school at his disposal. Can’t you just [take students] to the computer lab every other day and vote?”

Despite what he considered steep odds, Hoffmeister organized and assembled his own social network. Army officials and even senators gravitated to his story, helping put the word out through e-mail chains, news stories and social media Web sites. Hoffmeister knew it was working when he started hearing from long lost friends.

But it was Hoffmeister’s story of four wounded warriors training for a year and spending a month summiting a treacherous peak that resonated around the country. When Hoffmeister was beginning his own recovery, he knew the mountain climb could change wounded warriors’ lives. But first, he had his own burdens to over come…Read the full blog post from “On the Frontlines” and see Army Lieutenant Colonel Marc Hoffmeister’s full story online at ON★PATROL, the magazine of the USO.