A Really Dry Heat: TEAM USO Runner Trains for Marine Corps Marathon in Kuwaiti Desert

Kuwait is not the first place that comes to mind when thinking of training grounds for the 39th Marine Corps Marathon, but that’s what Jason Lewis signed up for when he joined TEAM USO. The former Marine and former USO staff member began training for his 26.2-mile trek while working at USO Camp Buehring, Kuwait.

Jason Lewis

Jason Lewis

“The heat would [get] up to 130 degrees, so it made it very hard to get motivated to get outside and do long miles,” Lewis said, adding that he’s enjoying the cooler Michigan air while finishing up his training. “I adopted the method of doing what I could and took advantage of cool mornings.”

Lewis’ firsthand knowledge of the USO’s impact on troops kept him motivated throughout the training process.

“I believe in what the USO does and want to do anything I can do to help out,” he said, recalling his time in the service. “Every time I passed through an airport, I would stop at the USO center.”

Lewis even recruited friend and fellow Marine, Ryan Taylor, to TEAM USO.

“When I asked [Ryan] to run with me, it was kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “We had been talking about getting out there and doing some runs and fitness stuff. I was like ‘Hey, we can raise some money for a great organization. I’m on the inside, so I know what the money goes to.’ So he was on board as soon as I told him that we should do it.”

Combined, the friends have raised nearly $3,000 for the USO. Lewis and Taylor are not alone in their TEAM USO fundraising efforts. So far, the team of 30 Marine Corps Marathon runners has raised more than $35,000 as part of this year’s marathon.

“I’m proud to be raising money for the USO, and hopefully, I can raise a few more dollars by the end of the year,” Lewis said.

Find out more about TEAM USO and their fundraising efforts for the 2014 Marine Corps Marathon on the TEAM USO Marine Corps Marathon homepage.

–Jessica Battaglia, USO

USO Duty Manager in Kuwait Dodges Zombies, Helps Troops

Christina Ambrose, a duty manager at USO Camp Buehring, Kuwait

Christina Ambrose, a duty manager at USO Camp Buehring, Kuwait

Christina Ambrose has always been a strong supporter of American troops, even before she became a duty manager at USO Camp Buehring in Kuwait.

Her family volunteered at USO South Carolina and she fell in love with the organization once she started joining them. When asked if she was interested in a full-time position in Southwest Asia, she jumped at the opportunity. She’s been a USO employee for more than a year and loves coming into work every day.

“We have such an amazing staff and our volunteers truly are the heart of our center. They never cease to amaze me with their humor, creative ideas and their passion for our mission.”

The USO staff and volunteers organize lots of fun events and programs for troops at Camp Buehring, but one in particular sticks out for Ambrose.

“I had literally just arrived in Kuwait earlier in the week, and [the Halloween Zombie 5K Run] was the first event I took part in. So, I started off my USO career being chased by zombies.”

Thankfully, those zombies never got to her, and Ambrose is still fully committed to lifting the spirits of troops and their families.

“I love everything that the USO stands for, and to be a part of such an incredible organization and help fulfill our mission is such a rewarding feeling.”

A Journey to Brotherhood

“Brotherhood is not defined by the bond of blood, but the common tint of the soul” – Frisco Cruise

I’ve watched enough war movies and sports themed dramas to realize that the bonds of brotherhood run deep, but growing up in a household of four women, I never had the opportunity to see those bonds forming in real life.  Well, that was until my recent trip to Kuwait and Germany as part of the weeklong Power 106 & Nick Cannon N’Credible All-Star USO Basketball Tour.

Ready to play some ball!

Ready to play some ball!

Think seven guys (platinum recording artist Baby Bash, Power 106 radio personalities Big Boy, DJ E-man and DJ Thirty Two, actors Arlen Escarpeta and NaNa as well as professional athlete Michael “AirDogg” Stewart) and me, the lone female, packed into one vehicle and you get the story of how I learned about brotherhood on a bus in Kuwait.

A team of 20, we were divided into two groups.  The first included multi-faceted entertainer Nick Cannon and artists from his N’Credible record label Kristinia DeBarge, boy band 4Count and hip-hop artists PWD, and we were the second group.  The objective of the trip, boost troop morale with some good-old fashioned team competition – basketball, anyone?

Our first stop was Camp Buehring in Kuwait.  Our mode of transportation, two 12-passenger vehicles.  Travel time, two hours.  As we headed toward our destination, I was unaware that I was undertaking a journey all my own.

The bus was alive with chatter.   From the Power 106 players recalling their “best of” moments on the court to USO tour veterans Baby Bash and Big Boy reliving their previous USO tour together, it seemed that every sentence began with “Remember that game…” or “Remember that time when…” followed by the laughter that can only come from shared memories.   And then there was me, quietly listening because it was clear that what was happening here was the same thing that could’ve been happening in locker rooms thousands of miles away, or here in Kuwait, in the middle of the dessert where the soldier next to you quickly becomes the brother who protects you – a brotherhood was forming.   And in what seemed like a blink of an eye, two hours had passed and we had arrived at our destination.

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 2.02.46 PMGame time and its standing room only on the outdoor basketball court. A sandstorm on the horizon and you could feel the energy and excitement from both teams.  Cheers and laughter erupted from the sidelines as Big Boy emceed the game, and if it weren’t for the glare of reflector belts, the camouflaged uniforms and the blast walls, I could have been watching any pick-up game at a neighborhood court.

Both teams played hard and it was the Power 106/N”Credible team who finished with top points.  At the end of the game, players from both teams met center court to shake hands, hug and extend their compliments for a game well played. These men and women had sweated together, competed with and against each other, laughed with each other and from what I could tell neither team walked away with winning or losing on their mind, it was the experience they were taking away with them.

As we loaded into our buses and I settled back into my seat of anonymity, the chatter began again but this time it wasn’t about past experiences.  It was about the day, the people they’d met, the servicemen and women they played against and how the experience had changed their lives.  It was clear that being able to say ‘thank you’ to our troops, to bring them a break from their day-to-day activities and to hear from our servicemen and women how much that meant to them, was something that would forever connect these men to our troops.

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 2.01.53 PMOften we think that something really big has to happen to have an impact on our lives, but sometimes it’s a combination of experiences that do the trick.  Being able to listen and watch as these men grew closer over their experience, combined with my own history with the military – hearing from troops how during deployments your fellow soldiers become your family –made me realize that there are brothers who we are born to love, and those whose bonds are forged in experience.  And those kinds of bonds don’t take a lifetime to make, sometimes the time it takes to play a basketball game or travel from one point to another is all you need.

We can’t all go to the places our troops are deployed to show our support, but there are ways that we as Americans can let them know that we are always by their side, and that we recognize the sacrifices they make to serve our country.  To find out how you can help visit us online at www.uso.org.   – Sharee Posey, USO Senior Communications Specialist 

Passion for the Customer: USO Partner 3Di Goes the Extra Mile to Connect Troops to Families

Most of us get frustrated when our Internet service goes down. 

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Thanks to 3Di, troops were able to surf the Internet during their down time while deployed to New York City for Superstorm Sandy cleanup late last year. USO photo

But what if when you called your service provider – instead of putting you on hold for an hour to listen to elevator music – they made your broken connection such a high priority that the owner of the company dispatched a plane to fly a tech out to fix it that day.

It’s not make-believe. It’s 3Di Technologies.

The day before Thanksgiving, a satellite dish donated by 3Di to the USO for use during SuperStorm Sandy was inadvertently moved out of position, severing the Internet connection for deployed troops assisting with the cleanup. On a day most people were gathering with family, 3Di co-founder Don Baker wasn’t about to leave deployed troops in the dark.

As soon as he learned of the outage, Baker flew one of his techs from Baltimore to New York to fix the problem, re-connecting the dedicated satellite network in time for early-afternoon Thanksgiving chow.

“Serving the USO is a natural and truly effective way to provide comfort communication services to those who dedicate so much to our great country,” Baker wrote in an email. “We’re honored to do what we do, and we look forward to more opportunities to help the USO accomplish their mission.”

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The 3Di team during a trip to Kuwait. Courtesy photo

Satellite communications are at the heart of the USO mission to lift the spirits of troops and their families every day at more than 160 locations worldwide. The dedicated satellite network provided by 3Di makes it possible for the USO to connect deployed troops with family and friends over a game of Call of Duty from trailer in the middle of Africa, and it’s what brings new fathers into the delivery room via Skype from a remote center in Afghanistan.

3Di Technologies – a subsidiary of L3 Communications – helped the USO connect 3.1 million calls in 2012. That’s nearly 28 million minutes of goochie-goos and I love yous that military parents and spouses would have otherwise gone without.

After working for more than 10 years installing communications solutions in harsh, remote locations overseas, operating partners Dan Throop and Don Baker teamed with a financial backer to create 3Di Technologies. Their company aims to deliver end-to-end satellite communications, equipment, integration and – most importantly – field support, to their growing number of customers.

Their partnership with the USO began by supporting the USO-in-a-Box field canteen trailer program, and continues today with the coordination of connectivity at 14 centers in Kuwait and Afghanistan.

“USO-In-A-Box wouldn’t have existed over the past year without 3Di Technologies’ charitably donated bandwidth support,” USO-In-A-Box Program Manager Juston Reynolds said.

“Wherever those USO trailers went, no matter how far out into nowhere they were dragged, or what conditions they were under, they always had connectivity,” Reynolds said. “3Di came through when the USO needed them most, and I think that’s really what made them stand apart from their competition — their determination to get it right.”

In their own view, being passionate about the customer and working in the field to customize communications solutions that perfectly fit the customer’s needs is part of the fabric of the organization.

“The motto at 3Di has always been ‘passion for the customers,’” 3Di Technologies Director of Business Development Ray Fuller said. “That’s because most of our customers are guys on the front lines, and whether they are calling for fire support or calling their wife and kids from a USO, our mission is to make that connection happen.”

For the USO, it was clear 3Di understood the significance associated with connecting deployed troops with their loved ones at home via email, voice, video and gaming.

“Connectivity always rates at the top of troop needs in the field,” USO Director of Operations Kristen Baxter said. “What 3Di brings to us is a dedicated satellite network we can use to connect our troops directly to their families without hassle. Ten-digit calling — just like here in the states.”

–Story by Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

Activision Sends Battleship Gaming Goodness

A video game based on a movie loosely based on a board game… sounds complicated! But to troops stationed at the US Naval Forces Central Command Headquarters in Afghanistan it was simple: a little bit of time to relax and have some fun!

The men and women from the US Naval Forces Central Command Headquarters Afghanistan played the Battleship game on the side of a rocket attack bunker.

Activision Publishing, Inc. donated copies of the new Battleship video game to fourteen USO Centers, USO2GOs and MEGS in Southwest Asia. The game combines first person action and naval strategy for hours of fun and a little touch of home for our troops.

“It was a breath of fresh air in a combat zone to see the USO take the time out of their busy schedules to come and set this up for us.  The game was a blast, graphics were awesome, and it provided a nice change of pace…  The USO has certainly outdone themselves with the care they have shown towards the troops.” said YN2(SCW) Matthew Nolan.

Time to kick some alien butt!

Thanks Activision for helping the USO deliver a little gaming goodness to our troops overseas! – Vyque Elessar, USO Director of New Media

The USO <3s Rodney Atkins

Tennessee native and American country superstar Rodney Atkins just recently returned from Kuwait and Afghanistan after a weeklong USO tour. This isn’t his first time supporting the troops, though. In 2011, Rodney partnered with Applebee’s to help launch a military support campaign to honor veterans and active duty military personnel worldwide. The “Thank You Movement” officially launched last October and allows folks to post thank you messages on ThankYouMovement.com, Applebees’ Facebook page, Twitter using the hashtag #ThankYouMovement, or YouTube. Veterans and servicemen and women can then go online and see those messages.

 During his most recent endeavor, Rodney visited eight bases and performed six formal USO shows in addition to several “unplugged” performances for wounded soldiers and service men and women unable to their posts. He also posed for pictures and signed autographs with over 3,400 service members at Camp Buehring, Camp Arifjan, Camp Leatherneck and Kandahar Air Field.

Rodney Atkins on his 2012 USO Tour

“I can’t say enough about how amazing my USO tour to the Middle East was,” Atkins said. “From all of the skilled and brave service men and women I met to the warm reception I received throughout my time downrange.  I learned a lot, had a great experience and, most importantly, made a lot of memories.  I can’t wait to go back out again and extend my thanks.” – Joseph P. Scannell, New Media Intern