Retired Marine Running Across the U.S. to Raise Money for Veterans

This Veterans Day, in honor of the men and women who have served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, Marine Sergeant Brendan O’Toole (Ret.) will begin a 3,600-mile run in Oceanside, Calif.

Averaging 15 miles a day, O’Toole is pounding the pavement across 21 states in the hopes of raising $2 million to support the United States armed forces veterans, combat veterans, disabled veterans and their families.

Inspired by the classic movie “Forrest Gump”, O’Toole said he has always wanted to travel across the United States. But serving in the Marines forced him to put that dream on hold.

“When I retired from the Marines this year, I knew I still wanted to run across the country, but I wanted to dedicate [my run] to a cause higher than just myself and give back to the community,” he said.

During his service, O’Toole saw many of his Marine brothers struggle to reintegrate back into society after they served. One of O’Toole’s close friends had a difficult transition from the battlefield to home life and struggled with post traumatic stress.

Ultimately, this friend took his own life. O’Toole said that The Run for Veterans is for friends like his and other troops around the nation who need a support system and guidance during their transition.

All of the money raised by the Run for Veterans will be donated to the USO, Team Red White and Blue and Give An Hour. Each organization was chosen for the physical, mental and social support it provides to our troops. The USO is proud to be a part of the Run for Veterans’ inspiring mission.

The Run for Veterans welcomes all warriors, veterans, and civilians to run alongside O’Toole throughout the route, as a show of support for our servicemen and women.

The Run for Veterans may be coming to a city near you! Here are some of the main stops along O’Toole’s route:

  • Start: Oceanside, Calif.
  • Twentynine Palms, Calif.
  • Parker, Ariz.
  • Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Socorro, N.M.
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Shreveport, La.
  • Jackson, Miss.
  • Birmingham, Ala.
  • Atlanta, Ga.
  • Columbia, G.a
  • Raleigh, N.C.
  • Richmond, Va.
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Annapolis, Md.
  • Wilmington, Del.
  • Philadelphia, Pa.
  • Princeton, N.J.
  • New York, N.Y.
  • Providence, R.I.
  • End: Portland, Maine

To learn more about The Run for Veterans and O’Toole’s route, check out their Facebook page or visit their website at If you would like to support The Run for Veterans, donate here.

Good luck to Sgt. O’Toole and all who join The Run for Veterans! Your dedication to supporting our nation’s veterans is truly an inspiration.

Sarah Camille Hipp, Communications Specialist

Cake Decorator Raises Dough for USO

Chris with one of his masterpieces!

Meet Chris Kasparek, the cake boss of Naples, Italy.

He’s a Navy civilian, marathon runner and cake designer extraordinaire.  And he’s putting all his talents to work for the USO.

Kasparek hadn’t planned on running a marathon this year, but a few months ago he saw a Facebook post about Team USO and decided he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete for a good cause.

“I had run three [marathons] in the last five years and had felt my body just wasn’t up for it,” he said, “And then I saw the link and was inspired.”

Team USO has a limited number of guaranteed registrations for the New York City marathon for runners who raise a minimum of $3,000.  Slots are also available for the Marine Corps marathon, with a fundraising requirement of $1,200 and the Air Force marathon with a $700 requirement.

Kasparek, the Navy’s director of child and youth programs in Naples, will compete in the New York City event, and he knew exactly how he would raise the dough. He put out the word to friends and colleagues, offering one of his famous custom cakes in exchange for a contribution.

The 37-year-old husband and father of two first started baking cakes for his children’s birthday parties, carrying on a tradition passed down by his father.

“My dad had decorated our cakes when we were kids growing up… I watched him and it was just like, ‘I want to do that for my kids.’  They’ve already said they want to do it for their kids.” 

You name it, he’s baked it—pirates and princesses, penguins and ponies, and every imaginable superhero.

So far, Kasparek has raised $3,360 for the USO, with about $700 coming from his cakes.  He’s hoping to push past the $4,000 mark by race time.

He’s been passionate about the USO since working with them last year after the deadly earthquake and tsunami in Japan.  He was sent to the Seattle airport to help coordinate child care for Japanese families who’d been evacuated to the U.S., and he was immediately impressed by the USO’s efficiency and compassion.

“Through their communications avenues, donations were coming in—diapers, food for the babies, games, coloring books, just everything that would make these families comfortable as they arrived from Japan… Whatever we needed, they found a way to get for us.”

Kasparek feels it’s his turn to give back to the USO and the troops.

He recently added a weight loss challenge to his fundraising efforts.  He’s trying to shed 35 pounds by race time.  If he doesn’t lose it all, he’ll pay back part of your pledge and cover the difference himself.

“I’ve slowed down on the cakes so I can concentrate on training,” said Kasparek, “Cakes don’t help training.” – Malini Wilkes , USO Director of Story Development

College Humvee Contest Puts the Fun in Fundraising

Bake sale, raffle, spaghetti dinner—all perfectly respectable ways to support your favorite charity.

But if you prefer something a little edgier, try gathering some friends for a man-versus-machine showdown against a 5,000 pound Humvee.

Students at Johns Hopkins University raise more than $2,000 for the USO at a Humvee pushing contest on April 28th sponsored by Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. Photo courtesy Michael St. Germain.

That’s exactly what dozens of college students did in April, in a high-energy Humvee pushing competition sponsored by the Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) fraternity at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore—all to raise money for the USO.

Event organizer Michael St. Germain, a 19-year-old international studies major and Army ROTC cadet, says his fraternity president had asked him to come up with fundraising ideas for the USO.

At the same time he heard about a Humvee push as part of an ROTC competition. In fact, the military frequently uses Humvee pushing as a training and team building exercise.

“It just kind of clicked,” says St. Germain, “To have people pay to push a Humvee.”

He devised a simple yet original fundraising plan to appeal to a college crowd.
Students entered the contest in teams of ten, with a minimum of three girls per team. The entry fee was $10 per person. Each group had to push the Humvee about 50 meters through a campus parking lot until they hit a mark, then turn around and push it back.

The campus ROTC leader helped secure a military Humvee, local restaurants donated gift cards for prizes, and on a cool, gray Saturday morning, about 150 students turned out to flex their muscles against three tons of camouflage-colored steel on wheels.

“As soon as we heard about the Humvee push, it caught everyone’s attention because it’s so unique and it sounded like a good challenge,” says Kale Sweeney, who belongs to another campus fraternity.

Sweeney’s team, composed entirely of varsity athletes from the men’s football and women’s soccer teams, took first place, completing the course in just 44.2 seconds.

With 13 teams competing, plus some extra donations, Fiji raised about $2,000 for the USO.

“It’s nothing to sneeze at for a grassroots effort by 19- and 20-year-olds who haven’t done this kind of thing before,” says Pamela Horton from the USO of Metropolitan Washington.

The USO and Fiji began a national partnership last year, and so far more than 20 Fiji chapters have held fundraisers.

At Johns Hopkins, St. Germain says the intra-fraternity council has struggled to schedule solid, on-campus events, and the Humvee push was so popular, they’ve asked him to plan it again in the fall.

“There’s only about 5,000 kids on campus, and especially for a first time event, getting 150 people is pretty good,” he says. “It provided a great opportunity to have fun on campus, but also raise money for an excellent charity.” – Malini Wilkes, USO Director of Story Development

Tied to a Cause: Making a Whale of a Difference

The USO and vineyard vines® have partnered to benefit Operation Enduring Care…and YOU can be a part of it!  The Connecticut-based apparel and accessories brand’s “Tied to a Cause” campaign is a charitable program that honors different charities each month by selling custom classic tote bags and ties in a variety of colors, with proceeds benefiting the featured organization, will be specifically supporting the USO’s Operation Enduring Care initiative through the July 4th weekend, 2010. Click here to check out the limited-edition ties and totes that are available for purchase!

The USO has pledged to raise $100 million over five-years for Operation Enduring Care, a comprehensive long-term initiative to support America’s Wounded Warriors and their families. vineyard vines will sell custom classic tote bags and ties in a variety of colors on their website for the month of June, with all proceeds from sales directly benefiting Operation Enduring Care.  We’ll also be holding in-store events at vineyard vines locations around the country; details are forthcoming.

“To be able to help such an honorable organization as the USO is incredible,” said CEO and co-founder Ian Murray. “Their support of our troops who fight for our freedom is truly commendable. We’re privileged to raise funds for Operation Enduring Care.”

“We are excited about the new relationship with vineyard vines,” said Sloan Gibson, president and CEO of the USO. “As we continue to support the troops and their families, we want to thank vineyard vines for their commitment to raising funds for Operation Enduring Care and Wounded Warriors.”

To celebrate, we’re giving away totes and ties to four lucky blog readers!  Just leave a comment below to tell how how you’d wear YOUR tote or tie to show support of our wounded warriors and Operation Enduring Care.  Would you take the tote to the beach?  Wear the tie to a wedding?  Be creative!

Four winner will be chosen at random; USO employees and their families are not eligible.

USO of North Carolina’s Golf Tournament and “Un-Valentine’s Day” Auction a Huge Success

On Friday, community leaders and golf enthusiasts converged at the Jacksonville Country Club for Marine Federal Credit Union's 16th annual golf tournament, a fundraiser supporting Hope for the Warriors and the USO. (Photo courtesy of Don Bryan/The Daily News)

Ten bachelors and bachelorettes – all current or former service members –  went on the auction block for a good cause: the USO of Jacksonville’s first “Un-Valentine’s Day” auction.  Winning bidders received a date and the Troops serving overseas will be recipients of care packages.

Even a local newscaster got in on the action!  As reported by Eyewitness News 9 in Charlotte, NC: “Nine On Your Side’s Arthur Mondale who served in Iraq in 2003, is an Air Force veteran who wound up on the auction block as well.  ‘It’s not about how much money you raise, because one dollar that we raise tonight is more than I had ten minutes before that,’ said USO of North Carolina Director John Falkenbury.  ‘It is about taking care of our men and women in uniform.'”

This auction, combined with a golf tournament held earlier in the week, netted $55,000 for USO programs. covered the event, as “community leaders and golf enthusiasts converged at the Jacksonville Country Club for Marine Federal Credit Union’s 16th annual golf tournament, a fundraiser supporting Hope for the Warriors and the USO…Golfers came from as far away as Pittsburgh, Pa.; Charlotte; and Beaufort, S.C., to participate.

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert Dickerson, executive vice president of Marine Federal, said that the day’s turnout should change the minds of anyone who didn’t believe that the community cared for its wounded veterans.”

Job well done to all of those involved.  Check out the auction action in the video below!

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Get Down and Dirty with the USO of Missouri Mud Run!

Want a twist on the usual charity athletic fundraiser?  Then look no further than USO of Missouri’s 5K Cross Country Mud Run.  Part obstacle course, part road race, this unique event can be run by individuals or teams of 5, with the goal of raising money for the organization.

USO of Missouri runs two facilities at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.  The James S. McDonnell USO, located on the lower level of Terminal 1 across from baggage carousel M6, never closes. The doors are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  The  Terminal 2 Satellite facility, located on the lower level of Terminal 2 across from entrance ET11, is open 7 AM – 6 PM, Monday – Friday.  There is also a mobile unit and a center at Ft. Leonard Wood.

Two recent stories by Teri Maddox for help explain just how much these centers mean to the military community.  A group of families found themselves waiting in the dining hall at Scott Air Force Base for 31 members of an Illinois Air National Guard 126th Air Refueling Wing Security Forces squadron to return from Iraq.  USO volunteers showed up to help pass the time.  “I love the USO,” said [one serviceman’s sister] Jennifer Stroup, 27, of Scott Air Force Base. “They were here for the (squadron’s) deployment, and they gave all the kids teddy bears. It was really nice.”  Click here to read the full story

The Mud Run helps support events like that homecoming and so many more.  Still not convinced?  Check out the quick video below for inspiration!  See you in the mud…

Click here to become USO of Missouri’s fan on Facebook!

Click here to follow USO of Missouri on Twitter!