Iraq Vet Remembers 2004 USO Visit with Robin Williams and John Elway

A football signed by John Elway and a handkerchief signed by Robin Williams are displayed in the home of Amanda Paquette (inset). Photo courtesy of Amanda Paquette

A football signed by John Elway and a handkerchief signed by Robin Williams are displayed in the home of Amanda Paquette (inset). Photos courtesy of Amanda Paquette

USO entertainment tours are often tightly scheduled affairs that still yield serendipitous moments. That was the case in 2004, when Amanda Paquette — who served in the Marines from 2003 to 2007, when she left as a sergeant — met Robin Williams and John Elway at Al Asad Airbase in Iraq during the USO Chairman’s Tour. Here’s her story.

My first tour in Iraq, Robin Williams and John Elway came to Al Asad. I was tasked to pick up the press.

John Elway autographs a football during a 2004 USO tour stop in Iraq. DOD photo

John Elway autographs a football during a 2004 USO tour stop in Iraq. DOD photo

Me and another lance corporal waited on the VIP pad. There was nothing other than high-ranking officials on the pad that day lined up to greet them. [I was] the only female Marine. As Robin came down the line of guys he saw me, stopped, took my hand, kissed it, and said ‘Oh my God! There are hot women here!’

Later at the show location, the seats had booked up. Me and the other lance corporal didn’t have a place to see the show. John and Robin then gave up their seats in the front. The show then started.

John made the comment to the troops ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here, I just know how to throw a football. I’m not funny like Robin!’ Then he threw footballs at us.

Robin Williams greets troops in Iraq during a 2004 USO tour. DOD photo

Robin Williams greets troops in Iraq during a 2004 USO tour stop. DOD photo

Robin then got up and put on a hell of a comedy show! After all was over I had to pack up the press so I didn’t have time to go to the meet and greet with either one.

[Later] John was on the side of the building and said ‘Are you not a fan of mine? I didn’t see you in line.’ I told him that I was a fan and apologized and told him I had to get the press packed. He then proceeded to get a football from the USO rep, signed it and threw it to me. I caught it! He smiled.

Then, instead of hopping in the VIP cars, he told the higher-ups he was riding back to the VIP pad on my bus with the press! Great, humble guy.

When we got to the VIP pad and John and Robin said their goodbyes. Robin came up to me, signed a USO handkerchief and gave me the biggest, warmest, fuzzy hug and said ‘Stay safe beautiful and thank you for all you do.’

When Robin passed it broke my heart. I’ll never forget the joy he and John brought that day.

EDITORS NOTE: Paquette’s quotes were lightly edited for style

Bringing the Big Game to the Troops: USO Centers Around the World Prep for Super Bowl XLIX Festivities

1779696_831008323606850_488918148582461606_nAs America sits down to watch the Seattle Seahawks take on the New England Patriots this Sunday, troops at home and overseas will head to their local USO centers to catch the big game.

Here’s a roundup of some of the Super Bowl festivities at USO centers around the world.

Southwest Asia

USO Kandahar, Afghanistan
Super Bowl festivities will start bright and early at USO Kandahar, where the party begins at 2:30 a.m. local time.

The base will provide roughly 300 pizzas to be split between the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) center and the USO, where the game will be playing all morning long. During halftime, troops can win a number of prizes, including a new bike and an iPad Mini, as well as participate in Super Bowl trivia.

Check out some of the photos from last year’s festivities:

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USO Camp Buerhring, Kuwait
Troops stationed at Camp Buehring can get into the Super Bowl spirit with a pregame tailgate party beginning at 6 p.m. local time.

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In addition to a hot wing eating contest, service members can participate in video game competition, listen to music and win a number of prizes before tuning into the game. At kickoff, partygoers can fill up on a subway and milkshake bar and participate in a raffle to win prizes every quarter.

Take a look at some of the fun from last year’s event:

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USO Bagram, Afghanistan

Troops stationed at Bagram can head to the USO for an early morning pre-game party at 4 a.m. local time. There will be drinks, chips, football-shaped pancakes and waffles for everyone to enjoy. Partygoers can also participate in football-themed trivia during the game. Here’s a few snaps from last year’s fun:

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Europe

USO Grafenwoehr, Germany
Service members and their families stationed near Grafenwoehr and Vilseck, Germany, can enjoy finger foods and drinks at a special pregame tailgate party before enjoying dinner at 7:30 p.m. local time.

Although the game doesn’t start until 12:30 a.m., troops will be able to win raffle prizes and participate in poker tournaments and other fun activities before kickoff.

USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany

The USO Warrior Center will host a Super Bowl Party on game day for patients, families and medical staff. Service members can watch football-themed movies all day leading up to an Italian dinner kicking off the evening’s festivities at 8 p.m. local time. From 1:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. local time, troops can enjoy finger foods, watch the game and win football movie DVD giveaways.

USO Ramstein Air Base Passenger Terminal, Germany

The USO at the Ramstein PAX will host a special PAX personnel chili cookoff to celebrate Super Bowl XLIX. Troops on the move through Ramstein will be able to feast on all the competitors’ dishes while enjoying cornbread with honey butter and other refreshments before settling in to watch the game.

Landstuhl Regional Medical Center USO, Germany

On Friday before the big game, the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center USO center will be decked out in football decor to help staff members get in the mood for Sunday’s showdown. Service members can face off in team trivia to win USO tour vouchers as well as play table football and enjoy tailgate appetizers.

Pacific

USO Guam
For troops stationed in Guam, where they say “America’s day begins,” the party starts at 7:30 a.m. local time. Breakfast, lunch and snacks courtesy of Triple J Five Star Foods and the Pacific Islands Club will be served at various time throughout the morning.

Guam

In addition to watching the game on 10 screens throughout the center, service members can also enjoy cake to celebrate the USO’s upcoming 74th Anniversary.

USO Camp Courtney, Japan
Service members can head to USO Camp Courtney for Super Bowl festivities starting at 7 a.m. local time.

In addition to food and beverages, troops will also be able to showcase their video game skills on PS4 or Xbox One.

USO Camp Schwab, Japan
USO Camp Schwab will be ready for football-loving troops at 7 a.m. local time with finger food, popcorn and drinks in addition to nine televisions tuned into the big game.

Want a glimpse of what the party will look like? Check out photos from the 2013 event:

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USO Sasebo, Japan
Starting at 8 a.m. local time, troops stationed near Sasebo can head to the Fleet Landing for a USO Super Bowl party. Service members can enjoy snacks while rooting for their favorite team.

USO Camp Hansen, Japan
Starting at 8 a.m. local time, troops can chow down on freshly prepared waffles and sausages as they cheer on their favorite team. Take a look at some of the fun from last year’s Super Bowl breakfast party:

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USO Camp Foster, Japan
Troops can head over to the USO on Camp Foster for a Super Bowl party kicking off bright and early at 6 a.m. local time.

USO Kadena, Japan
Service members can kick off their morning with USO Kadena’s Super Bowl festivities starting at 6 a.m. local time. There will tailgate snacks and refreshments for troops to enjoy while watching the game on the center’s HDTV!

Take a look a last year’s photos to see what’s in store for this Sunday:

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USO Futenma, Japan
Troops can head over to USO Futenma for a Super Bowl party kicking off at 6 a.m. local time.

USO Camp Walker, South Korea
USO Camp Walker will be partnering with the MWR to host a Super Bowl party at the Hilltop Club, starting at 6 a.m. local time. To get a vibe of this year’s festivities, take a look at some snaps from the 2013 event:

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USO Camp Casey, South Korea
USO Camp Casey for kickoff at 8:30 a.m. local time for a Super Bowl party sponsored by Mr. Nam, Judie’s Realty, Red Cross and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association (NCOA).

Camp Casey

Troops can enjoy food, fun and prize giveaways while cheering on their favorite team.

USO Seoul, South Korea
Doors open at 6 a.m. local time at USO Seoul, where service members can enjoy a free breakfast and cheer on their favorite team.

Seoul

The party, sponsored by the NCOA, will also feature a dance competition and prize giveaways.

USO Humphreys, South Korea
Troops can head over USO Humphreys at 8:30 a.m. local time to grab a free breakfast and catch the big game.

Humphreys

Stateside

USO Coast Guard Base, Boston
Friday before game day, troops near Boston can gear up for a great weekend of football starting at 11 a.m local time. Stop by the USO center for games, popcorn, pizza and the chance to win Patriots-branded prizes.

USO Logan Center, Boston
Starting Friday, USO Logan will be decorated in a football theme as they rev up to cheer on the Patriots. Traveling troops can test their skills with a Super Bowl Trivia game or take the New England Fan Challenge to win prizes.

Guests can also catch all the local pregame television coverage and watch the game in Super Bowl style and comfort on Sunday.  The popcorn machine will be running and there will be plenty of snacks for everyone to enjoy!

USO SeaTac Airport Center, Seattle
Troops traveling through Seattle can catch the game at the airport center while enjoying snacks and other refreshments.

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.”

USO-NFL Partnership Kept Football Streaming to Troops in Afghanistan During Government Shutdown

Troops gather at USO Kandahar in Afghanistan to watch football, courtesy of NFL Game Pass. USO photos by Daniel Wood

Troops gather at USO Kandahar in Afghanistan to watch football in late September, courtesy of NFL Game Pass. USO photo by Daniel Wood

The recent government shutdown – which ended on Thursday – left troops downrange with a slimmed-down version of the Armed Forces Network, and the prospect of missing their favorite football teams on Sunday nights.

However, NFL Game Pass – which the league offers free of charge to USO centers outside the United States – kept the games streaming for troops at sites like USO Kandahar.

“They really saved the day here,” said Daniel Wood, duty manager at USO Kandahar.

Here’s what troops in Afghanistan told the USO’s Eric Raum on Oct. 6:

  • Spec. Gary Stripling: “I thought we just weren’t going to get to watch the games this week. A buddy told me the USO was still going to show the NFL over an Internet connection so we all came down early to get a seat.”
  • Staff Sgt. Brian Duchsne: “It’s something we look forward to all week, it gets you through, knowing you’ll relax for an evening and watch football, so we were pretty excited to hear the USO was still going to be showing the game.”

Jeep Heroes Caravan

In celebration of their heroism, seven members of the U.S. Military were invited to New Orleans to attend Super Bowl XLVII and to celebrate the launch of the Jeep® Operation SAFE Return Campaign and USO Partnership. The Jeep Heroes Caravan itinerary included local food tours, a visit to the Mardi Gras Museum, lunch with Chef John Besh (a former Marine), a meet and greet with Grammy award winning Hip-Hop band, The Roots and attending the big game.

In addition, the Jeep brand has created the “Tribute for Troops” social media campaign, an effort that encourages citizens to support troops in their communities. Now through Mon. May 27, the Jeep brand will donate $1 for every person who pledges to join the movement and tweets out their efforts using the hash tag #joinOSR.

More information on Operation SAFE Return, can be found at http://www.jeep.com/OSR

USO Brings Food and Football to the Troops

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Pictures from the tailgate and watch party held at the new USO Warrior & Family Center on Fort Belvoir

Last night millions of people got together with their friends and family to eat party food and watch one of the most popular TV events of the year: the Superbowl. But there are still countless troops deployed far away from the comforts of home. That’s where the USO steps in.

At USO centers around the globe, troops got to settle in for food and football and smiling faces! Here is just a sampling of some of the fun:

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