At Ft. Hood with Kasey Kahne, Some Pretty Dang Good Country Music and a Budweiser or Two

MG Will Grimsley, Kasey Kahne and Ft. Hood USO director Robin Crouse before Budweiser support event.

From the desk of John Hanson:

Visiting Ft. Hood is always a treat. A humble treat, but a treat.  It’s the Army’s largest base anywhere.  On any day 1/3 of the base is deployed overseas; 1/3 is recovering from deployment and 1/3 is getting ready to deploy.  Thousands of troops and families deal with that math every day.  Today was a crowded day – a good day.

“Whenever there’s a traffic jam, that’s good news,” a first sergeant told me.

So, what was I doing at the base that fills the space between Killeen and Waco, on a pretty nice spring evening?

Budweiser, one of the USO’s stalwart supporters, offered to help us with Operation Enduring Care and our initiative to build 2 new state-of-the-art centers at the new Walter Reed Hospital at Bethesda and the Ft. Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia.  It’s an ambitious effort, and when a national sponsor steps forward to offer us what might be $250,000, I’m going to show up.

Budweiser and its distributors around the country will be donating proceeds during the summer to help us as we begin the hard work of building the new Wounded Warrior Centers.  Part of their promotion involves their Number 9 racecar, driven by Kasey Kahne, who is, by the way, a genuine supporter of the troops.

Budweiser Number 9 car, driven by Kasey Kahne

Voila! The Car

Budweiser regional representative Henry Dominguez announced the promotion in front of thousands of soldiers and family members gathered in one of the base’s field houses to meet Kahne and to hear country music performer Kevin Fowler (yes THAT Kevin Fowler, whose Beer, Bait and Ammo is one of the best Texas songs I’ve heard in a while).

We’re pretty sure they were there for Kahne and/or Fowler, because when Henry introduced me the plaintive wail, “We want Kasey!” was heard across the room.  Well, I (wisely, I think) cut to the chase, explained why the support from Budweiser was important and got the heck off the stage.

Then, Henry, Kasey and I unveiled the bright, Budweiser red Number 9 car, with the legend “Proud to Serve Those Who Serve” across the hood. Pretty cool.  On Memorial Day and July 4 (the bookends of the USO’s Patriotic 6” the car will feature the USO logo inside, next to Kasey for the world to see when the in-car camera comes on.  Watch for it.

Ft. Hood Matters

Ft. Hood is important to its soldier and family citizens.  Families are raised here, after all.  Military children are educated here.  It’s a really large community with an important focus.

Major Gen. Will Grimsley, the deputy commander of Ft. Hood and III Corps sees what the USO does.  In a presentation to the USO he told his troops that the USO is there where they are, “From Kandahar to Balad, the USO will take care of you.”

That was flattering and rewarding, but we have a special presence at this mammoth installation, and we suffer when they suffer.

The USO was the one NGO that was authorized to operate after the tragic shootings here in November.  Later, the USO helped with the healing when we worked with the base’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation office to produce its Community Strong Day.  Gary Sinise, Chamillionire and others came here to celebrate resilience and sacrifice.

Robin Crouse, the USO’s outstanding center director at Ft. Hood is one of the “go-to” folks the military command depends on.

In the Green Room, where Kahne signed autographs and posed for photos, I talked to some Dominos Pizza representatives.  They told me that 6 years ago Robin asked them to provide some pizzas for troops who had just returned.   “That was 14,000 pizzas ago,” one of them told me.  Great story, I thought, and good call.  Nothing like a little good will to build consumer affinity.  I thanked them for their generosity, and the rep told me, “No thanks needed.  We do it because it matters.  Ft. Hood matters.”

It does.  It matters to the dog handler and his beautiful pooches who’d already done one tour to Iraq and were getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan this summer.  “I’ll be fine,” the handler said.  “She takes care of me.”  God speed.

It matters to the sergeant who’d just recently returned from Afghanistan.  He stood with his wife and Kahne for a photo.  The wife was beaming, but he had that look we see so often from these folks.  Simple act of kindness on Kasey’s part, but sacrifice was written all over the faces of this military couple who looked years older than .

I love this job, because whenever I get a bit cynical or wrapped up in my own nonsense, I meet people who make my life worthwhile.

Ft. Hood matters.  THEY matter.  They’re why we do what we do.

Ride 2 Recovery Wraps Up the Texas Challenge!

You’ve probably already read about the beginning and middle of Ride 2 Recovery’s “Don’t Mess with Texas” Challenge.  Now read the final chapter on this amazing experience!

The group headed from Fort Hood to Waco on day four.  The support was overwhelming, including a special visit from Maj. Gen. Will Grimsley, deputy commanding general for III Corps and Fort Hood.  “This is really a ride for inspiration for the rest of us,” Grimsley said.

One rider explained how the time together on the road was affecting the cyclists:  “The groups are really starting to solidify and the group camaraderie could not be higher. The wind really helped out. There are so many great stories to tell. One rider…is riding a hand cycle. He has never used a handcycle until this ride and so far has made every mile.

Riders were welcomed by Fort Hood's senior leadership and then cheered on by thousands of motivated troops, who lined the road for 4 1/2 miles on both sides of the road.

Day five the riders were starting to appreciate the finer points of pack riding, mastering skills that even accomplished riders have a hard time with.  Groups of recreational cyclists showed their support by joining the group along the way, the biggest being “Team Texas,” a group led by Tony and Big Ed. They have really helped out and organized he warriors into impressive formations. By riding in the group, the participants are able to stay together and better enjoy the countryside.  Support from the American Legion riders, and the Legion Auxiliary was tremendous.  The dinners were especially appreciated!

The biggest group of recreation cyclists to ride along since the beginning has been the "Team Texas" group led by Tony and Big Ed. They really helped out and organized he warriors into impressive formations. By riding in the group, the participants were able to stay together and better enjoy the countryside.

The final day found the riders on the road from Cleburne to Arlington.  Their final destination was Arlington Ranger’s Ballpark, where special guest Nolan Ryan was waiting to greet the group at the finish ceremony, along with Duane Wagner, a highly decorated Viet Nam Veteran, who would throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the game.

Before arriving at the ballpark, though, it was time for one more special group of cyclists to join along: the Texas Rangers brought ‘em home in another R2R first, as the group rode together for the last 20 miles instead of the usual five. Lots of laughter and nostalgia filled the air.

Welcome to Arlington.

As the riders left the town of Cleburne on their way to Arlington, the town in between - Keene - had a special welcome for the riders. They had lined the street with American flags and the Mayor and other civic leaders had a ceremony to welcome the participants.

Chamillionaire Shares His Experience

Chamillionaire performs at Fort Hood Community StrongGrammy Award winning rapper and singer Chamillionaire was one of many celebrity entertainment performers at Fort Hood on Friday, December 11.  He penned the following article for MTV News:

“I feel so privileged to have received an invitation to perform in Killeen, Texas for the Fort Hood Community Strong event for all the soldiers and their families. It’s not every day that we get a chance to give back to the people who put their lives on the line to defend our country daily. Me and my party of four received a warm greeting from a group of USO soldiers who were waiting to pick us up from the airport when we arrived in Killeen. They took pictures and told us numerous times how appreciative they were that I would be a part of the event. While we were in the van en route to the hotel to drop off our bags, they told us some of their daily duties and Iraq stories. One of the soldiers told us he had to carry 180 pounds of baggage and weapons in what seemed like 150 degree Iraq weather, and he also told us stories about spiders that they saw that chased people and attacked birds. From the moment we met the soldiers they were very open with us and it seemed like they like the loved to share their war stories with tourists…”

Read the entire article at MTV News.

AND be sure to check out Cham’s article at XXLmag.com, too!

Community Strong Photo Album

The Community Strong event at Ford Hood last Friday was a smashing success.  We’d like to thank everyone who came out to support the men, women, and children of Fort Hood on a day of remembrance and celebration.  The effervescent spirit of this community cannot be denied!

We are especially proud of our own USO employees and volunteers from the Killeen, TX, area.  As the Killeen Daily Herald so eloquently put it, “…on Friday, the community that so recently joined together in mourning now came together in celebration of life and a bright future. The show of support and kindness particularly from those wearing the very recognizable USO logo was nearly overwhelming.”  And we couldn’t have done it without your support!

It’s not too late to leave a message for at the usocommunitystrong.org website.  And your donations will continue to support those most in need in the Fort Hood Community.  Again, a TREMENDOUS thank you goes out to all the celebrity entertainers, participants, attendees, and behind-the-scenes movers and shakers who make Friday such an overwhelming success.  Fort Hood is and will continue to be “Community Strong”!

(USO Photos by Mark Matson)

Entertainers Show How America Supports the Troops

While Fort Hood’s “Community Strong” supporters thanked entertainers and celebrities for taking the time to come to Fort Hood on a cold, blustery Friday, it was the celebrities who thanked the troops for having them.

“I just got back from Afghanistan and spent Thanksgiving with the troops,” said actor Gary Sinise, who also leads the LT Dan Band, which goes on frequent USO tours around the world.

“After (the Nov. 5 tragedy), I felt it was important to show our support for Fort Hood,” Sinise said. He said taking a little time isn’t hard for him — but he knows it can make a difference.

“Just showing up and shaking hands … can make a world of difference,” he said.

Sinise, along with singer Aaron Lewis of Staind, rapper Chamillionaire, Nick Jonas and the Zac Brown Band make up the entertainment for “Community Strong,” as serviceman and their families  line the stands and field of Fort Hood Stadium for a day of fun and healing. Carnival Rides, free food and  entertainment are helping to bring together the Fort Hood community through tonight.

III Corps Commander General Robert W. Cone said it wasn’t just having celebrities and entertainers on hand that makes “Community Strong” a great event. It shows the Fort Hood community that America cares.

“Everybody knows ‘Army Strong’ is our motto, but we know … that a whole community needs to be strong,” Cone said. “America and the Central Texas community is in this together.”

Read more from “On the Frontlines”