Texans’ J.J. Watt Helps Military Families Score The Ultimate Game Day Experience Through the USO

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Attending a Texans game isn’t cheap. From paying for tickets and parking, to making sure the whole family has enough to eat and drink, a trip to watch the Texans play costs the typical family hundreds of dollars. It’s a bill many Houston-area military families can’t foot.

That’s where Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the Texans All Community Team (TACT) program and USO Houston come in.

Thanks to the TACT program, military families that might not have extra cash for Texans tickets have the opportunity to enjoy a game for free.

Texans players can purchase tickets for a charity of their choice via the TACT program. For the past three years, Watt, whose grandfather served in the Korean War, has chosen USO Houston as his TACT charity, helping to create memorable moments for over 100 military families.

TACT participants from USO Houston watch the Texans run through the tunnel onto the field. USO photo

TACT participants from USO Houston watch the Texans run through the tunnel onto the field. USO photo

“It’s a simple thing for me, but I realize it can have an impact,” Watt said. “It’s a way to reach out and help these people and do something nice for them while we’re in season.

“It’s all because of how appreciative I am for what they’ve done for us and what they continue to do and the sacrifices that they make.”

Troops and their families who win TACT program tickets through a USO Houston raffle enjoy an all-inclusive Texans experience, from receiving commemorative Watt TACT T-shirts to getting to watch the players run through the tunnel onto the field.

“Plus, they get a parking pass and they get a hot dog and Coke,” said USO Houston Programs Manager Anna Rzendzian.

Military families that win the USO Houston raffle are also invited to attend a special pregame tailgate where they can create signs thanking Watt for the chance to watch a game at NRG Stadium. Watt says families will sometimes send him photographs of themselves from the game holding up the signs they made.

The view from the USO Houston pre game tailgate. USO photo

The view from the USO Houston pre game tailgate. USO photo

“Just to see those photos and to see moms and dads with their kids at the games is really special and some of the signs they make are really cool,” Watt said. “One of my favorite signs is ‘The Army sent daddy to Iraq, J.J. sent us to this game.’ So, that was pretty cool.”

Beyond the TACT program, the Texans also donate a variety of tickets to be distributed to Houston-area troops and their families through the USO.

According to Rzendzian, these extra tickets, which are donated by season ticket holders through the Texans’ Cheering Children program, can range from 700-level seats to exclusive private suites. However, as Rzendian notes, the most requested tickets by military families are still the TACT seats donated by Watt.

“It’s interesting to see how many people will forgo the club seats because they want tickets that were bought by J.J. Watt. And those tickets are actually in the nosebleed section,” she said. “But they don’t care. Because J.J. Watt bought them those tickets. It’s really hilarious.”

Watt, a 2012 USO tour veteran, hopes that giving military families — especially ones with children — the chance to attend a Texans game will brighten their day.

“Kids who have a parent overseas are going through something that is difficult, you know,” Watt said. “Your parents are overseas fighting for our country, so I feel like if we can put a smile on your face for a few hours on Sunday, I bring them to a game, I think that’s a pretty cool experience.”

Our Youngest Donor Ever? 1-Year-Old’s Birthday Celebration Raises Funds to Buy In-Kind Snacks for Troops at USO Osan

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A birthday is a great reason to celebrate — and give back.

That’s exactly why Cherie and Air Force Capt. James Bell, parents of Collette Cruz Bell, decided to ask for donations to USO Osan in lieu of presents at their daughter’s first birthday. The Bells, who live on Osan Air Base, South Korea, raised nearly $100 to donate in Collette’s name, making her one of the youngest USO donors ever.

“My husband and I feel very blessed in that we are able to adequately feed and clothe our daughter,” Cherie Bell wrote in an email interview. “Consequently we thought that donations to the USO would be much better utilized than gifts for her first birthday.”

“We also wanted her to be able to have the memory later on of doing some great for others so that she will hopefully learn the joy in giving.”

Collette’s parents took the money and made an in-kind donation to USO Osan in the form of snacks, drinks and food for troops and their families to enjoy — something the Bell family knows will be appreciated.

“My husband and I have spent countless hours enjoying USO locations in airports and military installations,” Bell wrote. “Donating to the USO was our way of expressing gratitude to an organization that has always been there for us while also teaching our daughter a valuable lesson about giving.”

In addition to asking for donations to the USO for their daughter’s big day, the Bells threw a “Despicable Me”-themed barbecue for their friends, complete with a special banana-and-applesauce cake for Collette. The Bells also made a family trip to the beach as part of the birthday festivities.

Making the Perfect Care Package: How You Can Help USO Bagram Stock Up for Troops

A group of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington-based airmen  help the USO distribute Girl Scout Cookies. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense

A group of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington-based airmen help the USO distribute Girl Scout Cookies. Photo courtesy of the Department of Defense

It’s easy to take the little things for granted. For most Americans, stocking up on snacks, baby wipes and Kleenex is as simple as heading to their local convenience store.

But for troops stationed an ocean away at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, stocking up on every day commodities can mean waiting on, or rationing from, care packages shipped from the United States. However, even the most thoughtful — and jam-packed — of care packages eventually runs empty.

Luckily, USO Bagram is there to help.

Thanks to the generous donations of supporters from around the world who provide USO Bagram with food, toiletries, and other personal care items, troops can head to the USO pantry to stock up on every day items they might need. In order to provide the troops with the supplies they need, the USO Bagram relies heavily on donations of food and personal care items sent to the center from USO supporters back at home.

Right now, USO Bagram is hosting a care package drive to stock up on snacks and toiletries to hand out to troops over the coming months. The USO Bagram staff has even created a wish list of their most needed supplies to help anyone who wants to create the ultimate box of goodies for the troops. Remember, even just one package worth of supplies can brighten a service member’s day!

USO Bagram Care Package Wish List

  • Healthy snacks: Jerky, trail mixes, granola bars and fruit snacks
  • Drink mix packets: Gatorade, lemonade, iced tea and crystal light packets
  • Microwavable food: Easy Mac, popcorn, Cup O’Noodles, Chef Boyardee, oatmeal and other snacks that come in their own bowl (dining ware is scarce in Afghanistan)
  • Non-perishable food: Tuna cans or packets, fruit cups, peanut butter, Nutella, soups and other canned foods
  • Chocolate: Wait until the winter months to send chocolate, as it will melt in the mail if sent now
  • Toiletries: Travel-size shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, body wash, wet wipes and hand sanitizer (Please send these in separate boxes from food — no one likes shampoo-flavored oatmeal!)

Please send all care packages to the following address:

USO Bagram
Pat Tillman Memorial Center
APO, AE 09354

Pennsylvania AFSCME Members Support Military Families Through USO

The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 13’s Next Wave committee, made up of AFSCME leaders under the age of 35, held a book and donation drive at the AFSCME Council 13 convention in Hershey, PA in April to support the USO and United Through Reading’s Military Program. No one knew what to expect, but support came out in full force –  the event raised $5,000 and 400 children’s’ books were donated to help connect military families!

The USO partnership with United Through Reading allows our deployed troops the ability to read their kids a bedtime book and virtually be there, even when they can’t be there in-person. Whether troops are stationed at a forward operating base in Afghanistan or deploying overseas, they can visit their participating USO center to read a story aloud to their child. Mom or Dad’s special storytime is recorded on camera, and the USO mails this priceless DVD and book home. Children can watch and listen to their parent at bedtime, naptime or anytime.

“You can always count on Council 13 members to do all they can for our military. Our delegation in April was truly moved to hear about the overwhelming success of the USO’s United Through Reading program, and I couldn’t be more proud of the efforts put forth by our membership to bring deployed troops and their families just a little bit closer,” said David Fillman, Executive Director of AFSCME Council 13.  With the aid of many members and locals from across the state, AFSCME Council 13’s donation will help 900 military children “see” their deployed mom or dad and help to lift the spirits of our nation’s youngest heroes.

What’s your favorite bedtime story?

Wonder Bread Partners With the USO to Honor American Heroes

For a second year, Wonder® bread is partnering with us to celebrate ordinary Americans making extraordinary contributions to their families, communities and country with the 2012 Wonder Bread Heroes program. Wonder is inviting families across the country to join the celebration and nominate American heroes in their lives for a chance to have $50,000 donated to the USO in the winning hero’s name. The Wonder Bread Hero winner will also receive $2,500 and a year’s supply of Wonder to enjoy with his or her family!

“The USO and Wonder bread are two great American classics,” Tameika Miller, Wonder brand manager, says. “For more than 70 years, the USO has been making a difference in the lives of our American troops and their families. And for more than 90 years, Wonder bread has been a staple in American households and a family favorite. The Wonder Bread Heroes campaign gives us a chance to honor Americans making a difference in the lives of those around them while supporting the USO’s mission and the creative programs it offers.”

Know someone who deserves to win? Nominate them at www.wonderbreadheroes.com today!

The USO Proud Patriots Club

The limited edition car magnet the USO is releasing today is special in two ways.

First, it conveys a powerful message: “I’m a Proud Patriot and I Support Our Troops.” Secondly, it is only being issued to USO Proud Patriots, a group of members who have chosen to honor the service and sacrifices of our troops by making a monthly pledge of financial support.

To make sure we can be there for our troops through every twist and turn in 2012, we’re on a drive to add 1,000 new USO Proud Patriots by January 31. Will you step forward and become a USO Proud Patriot today?

Become a USO Proud Patriot with a monthly pledge of $5, $10, $15 or more and get your limited edition car magnet.

As a USO Proud Patriot, you’ll be playing a pivotal role in delivering support to our troops. More USO Proud Patriots means more free phone calls home for our troops, more USO care packages distributed on the front lines, more bedtime stories from troops to their children who miss them every night as well as providing many of the other comforts of home.

It also means tangible help to returning troops adjusting to life at home after long and difficult service overseas. As a USO Proud Patriot, you’ll also be supplying enduring care for those who have returned home from war with wounds that need healing.

Take a strong stand for our troops. Make a monthly pledge of $5, $10, $15 or more.

We only have a few days to meet our goal of 1,000 new USO Proud Patriots. Help us get there by making your personal commitment now. – Kelli Seely
USO Chief Development Officer