The USO <3s Paul Wall

Paul Wall performs during his 2009 USO Tour at the Boardwalk at Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan.

When asked to think of USO entertainers, many people imagine Bob Hope or, more recently, country music superstars such as Toby Keith. Grammy-nominated rapper Paul Wall may be less expected, but, having recently come back from his 5th USO tour to the Middle East, is definitely one of the biggest supporters of the USO and our nation’s troops!

How did you get started touring with the USO?

There was a guy in Texas, his name is Mattress Mack and he owns a huge furniture store in Houston and he did a lot of events and stuff for the USO and he suggested I go out on a tour. And then my good friend Jamie Kennedy and I went out on a USO variety type show. He did stand-up and I performed for troops. It was a great experience and I really appreciated the opportunity to perform for troops.

What was your most memorable experience over the years?

The thing that sticks out the most is one time in Afghanistan, there was so much activity in the air terminals and we ended up getting stuck there. Our USO tour manager stayed up all night trying to arrange a way for us to get out, if he hadn’t done that we may have been stuck there for more than just a day. The whole time I was thinking about my family and getting home to them and I knew that this was nothing compared to what the troops must feel. I was only away from my family for a week but these guys are gone for months and a year at a time, I could only imagine how long an extra day might feel to them, if they were trying to get home and something like this happened. It just made me appreciate them even more for all of their hard work and sacrifice.

Hip-hop artist Paul Wall brings members from the 380th Expeditionary Wing on stage during his USO concert on Jan. 18.

How have things changed since your first USO tour?

With the drawdown in Iraq this time I had the chance to visit different areas of the Middle East. We Went to Kuwait, Djibouti and an undisclosed location in the Middle East. I almost experienced kind of a role reversal in Djibouti because many of the troops there had never been to Iraq or Afghanistan and they were asking me questions about what it was like over there. It really just made me realize how versatile our troops are and even though they may not be serving in theater they are still sacrificing time with their family, friends and loved ones and that they care about their fellow troops who are on the frontlines.

If you could say one thing to the men and women serving this country what would it be?

Thank you and I’ll see you when you get back or on my next USO tour!

Wall, whose latest album “Politics as Usual” was released last year, says, “My family is the most important thing to me and being apart from them, for any amount of time, is always hard. I can’t imagine how it must be for our troops. Most of them haven’t seen their family in months, that’s why I make it a point to go on tour with the USO whenever I can. Our troops need to know that we appreciate them.”

See images from his recent tour full of meeting the troops and five performances at USO.org.

Letters Back Home

Sometimes it’s easy to forget about all the small moments that add up to a great USO experience, so we love getting notes like this from deployed service men and women.

If you or someone you know is deploying overseas, check out the full range of services we offer for Troops and their families.  Not sure where a USO Center is located?  Check out our Locations Directory and find one near you today!

News & Notes from Around the World

Kuwait – The different units assigned to Camp Ali Al Salem started a Softball League and the USO sponsored their T-Shirts.  Thomas Lee, a Duty manager at AAS, coordinated the all the logistics to make it happen.

Each team came up with a design and the USO got the shirts made in Kuwait City. The USO logo was placed on each shirt to help promote the USO and to make it all seem as real as possible. The Softball League was created to unite the units and as a way to help boost service members’ morale.

Players get ready to hit the diamond as part of the newly formed softball league in Kuwait.

Stuttgart, Germany – On Friday June 4 2010, USO Stuttgart partnered with FMWR, AUSA and other local organizations to welcome home the 554 MP Co after a one year deployment in Afghanistan.  The USO Mobile Canteen served up hot dogs, the local American Legion grilled up hamburgers and pork steaks that were donated by the VFW.  USO Stuttgart volunteers cooked up sides and  salads, while the Center provided the desserts and cake.  A disc jockey played music and a bouncing castle and inflatable jousting ring provided entertainment for the kids.  In addition, USO Stuttgart raffled off four free entry registrations for our 19th Annual Golf Tournament in August, as well as amusement park tickets.  We take great pride in serving those who continue to serve our great nation!

A USO banner is the perfect way to welcome home Troops returning from Afghanistan!

Kuwait – At Buehring sometimes we have the opportunity to do something a little out of the ordinary. A couple months ago someone asked me if I would hold onto a card for her boyfriend who would be coming through Camp Buehring in June. Being the last stop for all units going into Iraq, Buehring has a constant flow of transient troops. In the flow of troops, Sgt. Ball found me to ask if someone had left him a card…over two months later! It was great to be able to hand deliver the card to brighten his day and help two people make a connection after they both passed through our tent doors!

Reunited, and it feels so good: Sgt. Ball with his card!

Guam – La’Licia is a six year old native of Guam who continues to greatly grieve the loss of her beloved Uncle and godfather — Sergeant Gregory Fejeran –who died at the age of 28 in Operation Enduring Freedom.

When Alicia Yamzon, La’Licia’s mother, shared this information with the Guam USO and that La’Licia had an upcoming birthday, the Guam USO arranged a small party at the USO for La’Licia and her family. USO provided a birthday cake that read “To La’Licia — Happy Birthday — I Love You — From Daddy.” She received presents, and was then connected with her daddy in Afghanistan via Skype…Please click here to read the full story.

The birthday cake from Daddy was held up for him to see, along with the presents and other special gifts for all his children.

Operation Hardwood – Hoops with the Troops: Episode 1

In 2006, 12 NCAA basketball coaches traveled to Kuwait to coach soldiers in a March Madness-style basketball tournament as part of "Operation Hardwood II."

Operation Hardwood was created in by the USO in 2005 to boost morale and bring a touch of home to those in uniform.  The USO has a long tradition of bringing sports figures and sports-related events to troops overseas,“Operation Hardwood” has deployed more than 35 NCAA basketball coaches and sports personalities to Kuwait and Japan.

In 2006, a group of elite coaches participated in “Operation Hardwood II,” coaching the basketball teams in Kuwait, and participating in combat drills, tank simulations, and visited injured troops in the hospital.
As part of a special four-part series, FOX Sports is looking back at this unique USO trip to see how it changed the lives of the soldiers and the coaches.  Through new interviews with some of the coaches – Rick Barnes, Tom Izzo, Kelvin Sampson, and Gary Williams – viewers get to see how their lives have been affected by the trip.  We hope you enjoy this series.  Let’s get it kicked off with Episode 1…

more about “Operation Hardwood: Episode 1“, posted with vodpod

Our Volunteers are the Best!

It may be National Volunteer Week stateside, but our USO Centers in Southwest Asia are extending that celebration overseas by recognizing their volunteers, too!  Here are some stories from the field…

National Volunteer Week in Full Swing at Ali Al Salem

To kick off National Volunteer Week the staff at Ali Al Salem (AAS) just so happened to be planning their quarterly volunteer recognition event. This time it was a day of fun in the sun, a pool party.

Duane DeVorak, AAS’s Volunteer Coordinator, planned the event over the past three months.  “I think every USO employee knows how valuable our volunteers are. That’s why I wanted to plan something to recognize them and give back to them,” said DeVorak.

The Rock Air Force Base right next door has a swimming pool and volunteers did nothing but enjoy themselves throughout the day.  “This was a much needed break from everything we have going on right now,” said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Kenora Drake, a USO Volunteer. “I can’t believe they did all this for us.”

“We had great food, give-a-ways and all kinds of pool toys for everyone, said Cindy Glenn, Assistant Volunteer Coordinator. “It seemed like everyone had a great time and really enjoyed themselves.”  In an effort to unite the centers here in Kuwait, DeVorak invited the volunteer coordinators and the top volunteers form Camp Virginia and Camp Buehring.

Volunteers from Ali Al Salem, Camp Buehring, and Camp Virginia enjoy a pool party thrown at Rock Force Air Base in honor of their efforts.

Baghdad USO Army and Air Force Volunteers Surpass the 150 Hour Mark!

Baghdad USO would like to congratulate SSG Shaina Newton assigned to TF28th CSH, Sather AB Iraq; her home unit is Bravo Company 28th CSH Fort Bragg, NC and her hometown is Shreveport, Louisiana. Also we would like to thank SMSgt David Sopshier assigned to 447 ELRS Sather AB Iraq; his home unit is 96 LRS Eglin AFB FL, and his hometown is Charleston, SC.

They both started volunteering in January 2010 and are eager volunteers who display a special desire and responsibility for their duties, learning new programs, and volunteering for additional tasks without hesitation. They are valued members of our USO team and consistently exceed the normal  expectations. We are very proud of their work here at USO Baghdad. Check out the pictures of Shaina and Dave!

SSG Shaina Newton and SMSgt David Sopshier celebrate 150 volunteer hours each!

Celebrating Volunteers AND Earth Day During a Water Shortage

And finally, Baghdad SO has been experiencing a water shortage and one of its many volunteers is helping out by recycling the water that is left behind from people passing thru BIAP and we are using it to mop and keep the USO buildings clean instead of going to the faucet to fill up. Below is a picture of Youssefian Parker doing his part and he is also rapidly approaching 1000hrs as a volunteer here at BIAP. THANK YOU PARKER!

Volunteer Youssefian Parker helps conserve water during a shortage at BIAP.