USO Entertainers Shine at Academy Awards

USO entertainers have been raking in the nominations, awards and accolades this winter, and last night’s Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles was no exception.

If you missed last night’s festivities, here’s a look at this year’s Academy Award nominees and winners who also happen to be USO tour veterans and supporters.

“How to Train Your Dragon 2”

Academy Awards
Best animated feature film; Nominated

In 2010, actress America Ferrera traveled on an eight-day USO handshake tour to the Persian Gulf, where she visited with over 1,300 service members with actors Ryan O’Nan and Jason Ritter and writer/director Ryan Peters.

Check out what she had to say about the tour here:


More recently, in June 2014, actors Jay Baruchel and America Ferrera and writer/director Dean DeBlois joined more than 450 troops and military families at an advance screening of DreamWorks Animation’s “How to Train Your Dragon 2” at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. The event also included a question-and-answer session with the trio.

Watch the highlights from the event here:


Academy Awards
Best cinematography; Nominated
Best sound editing; Nominated
Best sound mixing; Nominated

In 2010, Angelina Jolie, the director of “Unbroken” traveled to Germany to surprise wounded troops and the service members taking care of them.

This past December, as part of its partnership with Universal Pictures, the USO brought five service members and their guests to the premiere of “Unbroken” at the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles. Although Jolie was unable to attend the premiere due to illness, her husband, Brad Pitt, stood in for her, and personally greeted the USO guests.

Watch highlights from the “Unbroken” premiere here:

“American Sniper”

Academy Awards
Best actor in a leading role (Bradley Cooper); Nominated
Best picture; Nominated
Best film editing; Nominated
Best sound editing; Nominated and won
Best sound mixing; Nominated
Best adapted screenplay; Nominated

Bradley Cooper, a veteran of several USO tours, has traveled to Cuba, Kuwait and Afghanistan in addition to a seven-day, three-country tour with then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen in 2009.

Actor Bradley Cooper takes a moment to pose with service members stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a week-long USO tour in 2008.  Cooper was in the region on his first tour to show support to U.S. troops and bring them a touch of home.

Actor Bradley Cooper takes a moment to pose with service members stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, during a weeklong USO tour in 2008. Cooper was in the region on his first tour to show support to U.S. troops.


‘He Came to Us’: USO Staffer in Germany Takes Action to Save the Life of Despondent Soldier

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How do you know if someone’s contemplating suicide?

For Shannon Huffman, it’s instinct. Huffman, a USO employee in Landstuhl, Germany, received extensive suicide prevention education during her 20 years in the Air Force. Late last year, that training may have saved someone’s life.

One evening, Huffman was at Landstuhl’s USO Warrior Center in Germany teaching a volunteer how to make chili. A service member approached her, looking distressed, and asked if she would help mail some belongings for him. Even though Huffman could sense something was wrong, it wasn’t until the he gave her his mother’s mailing address that she realized he was in a fragile, possibly suicidal, state and needed immediate help.

Huffman, an information specialist at the center, asked a volunteer to watch the service member while she alerted the hospital’s medical staff. Within minutes, Huffman subtly asked the service member to step outside the center and speak with medical personnel, who later escorted him to the hospital for treatment.

“She didn’t just help an individual – she helped all of his family and friends who may have had to suffer an irreplaceable loss,” said Laura Ponzo, the USO Warrior Center Manager and Huffman’s supervisor.

“The reason our center exists is to provide a home away from home for the wounded, ill and injured service members and give them someplace where they can feel comfortable and relax. That service member probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable going up to someone in uniform and asking for help, so he came to us.”

Because of her actions, Huffman was honored with the USO President’s Award, which recognizes USO employees for outstanding contributions to or on behalf of the organization.

“To be in a position where I get to help our veterans in need on a daily basis makes going to work a passion, not just a job,” Huffman said. “I was on the [receiving] end of the USO for 20 years and am honored to be able to return the kindness.”

Huffman says it’s the simple actions — like listening to someone vent or giving them a hug — that most benefit recovering troops who visit the USO Warrior Center.

“Often when a person comes in our center they are shook up and distraught,” she said. “Helping them make a cup of coffee and dial the phone back home to let family know they are OK is the most important thing in the world to them at that moment.

“It feels good to make that kind of difference for somebody, but that’s what we do right? Make every moment count.”

Spirits Soar Upon Arrival of Angelina Jolie at Ramstein Air Base

Angelina Jolie and company at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Angelina Jolie, (center, in black), and company at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. (Photo credit: Phil Jones, LRMC Public Affairs)

Megawatt moviestar Angelina Jolie took time out to visit Ramstein Air Base and Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany and talk with wounded warriors and stationed service men and women. Jolie also popped in on a departing Med Evac aircraft loaded with wounded soldiers that was set to depart for Andrews Air Force Base.

See how her visit affected some of those homebound troops in this video.

The Academy Award-winning Jolie is famous for her roles in films like “Girl, Interrupted,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “Salt” and the Lara Croft films, but she is also known the world over as an active advocate of humanitarian efforts. Jolie was recently in Cannes, France, to promote her voice-over work in the upcoming sequel to the animated movie “Kung Fu Panda” and was also informed that her directorial debut, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” has secured distribution in the United States and will be in theaters this December. — Christian Pelusi, USO

Easter Across the Ocean

Earlier this week, the CASF USO staff hosted a breakfast for 25 wounded service members and the CASF Staff.  Scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, toast, muffins, juice – anything else you can think of – were made fresh right in the center.

There was also an egg hunt outside of the CASF where everyone had an opportunity to win great prizes like coffee mugs, chocolate bunnies, electric tooth brushes and goodie bags.  Looks like a fun and tasty way to celebrate the holiday!

Way to go! The egg hunt was a smashing success, with great prizes for all.

A breakfast with all the fixin's was almost as good as Mom makes...almost!

On March 27and 28 USO Rhein-Main area had a fun photo opportunity when the Easter Bunny hopped on over to the Hainerberg PX Food Court. Eighty-three soldiers and family members had their photos taken.  Thanks to all of the dedicated USO volunteers who made this possible!  These are some of our favorite photos…

Who wouldn't smile sitting next to this bunny? We love their spring-colored outfits - too cute!

Kids of all ages - including kids at heart - shared a smile with the Easter Bunny.