‘He Came to Us’: USO Staffer in Germany Takes Action to Save the Life of Despondent Soldier

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How do you know if someone’s contemplating suicide?

For Shannon Huffman, it’s instinct. Huffman, a USO employee in Landstuhl, Germany, received extensive suicide prevention education during her 20 years in the Air Force. Late last year, that training may have saved someone’s life.

One evening, Huffman was at Landstuhl’s USO Warrior Center in Germany teaching a volunteer how to make chili. A service member approached her, looking distressed, and asked if she would help mail some belongings for him. Even though Huffman could sense something was wrong, it wasn’t until the he gave her his mother’s mailing address that she realized he was in a fragile, possibly suicidal, state and needed immediate help.

Huffman, an information specialist at the center, asked a volunteer to watch the service member while she alerted the hospital’s medical staff. Within minutes, Huffman subtly asked the service member to step outside the center and speak with medical personnel, who later escorted him to the hospital for treatment.

“She didn’t just help an individual – she helped all of his family and friends who may have had to suffer an irreplaceable loss,” said Laura Ponzo, the USO Warrior Center Manager and Huffman’s supervisor.

“The reason our center exists is to provide a home away from home for the wounded, ill and injured service members and give them someplace where they can feel comfortable and relax. That service member probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable going up to someone in uniform and asking for help, so he came to us.”

Because of her actions, Huffman was honored with the USO President’s Award, which recognizes USO employees for outstanding contributions to or on behalf of the organization.

“To be in a position where I get to help our veterans in need on a daily basis makes going to work a passion, not just a job,” Huffman said. “I was on the [receiving] end of the USO for 20 years and am honored to be able to return the kindness.”

Huffman says it’s the simple actions — like listening to someone vent or giving them a hug — that most benefit recovering troops who visit the USO Warrior Center.

“Often when a person comes in our center they are shook up and distraught,” she said. “Helping them make a cup of coffee and dial the phone back home to let family know they are OK is the most important thing in the world to them at that moment.

“It feels good to make that kind of difference for somebody, but that’s what we do right? Make every moment count.”

Celebrate Valentine’s Day With These Five Huggable USO Moments

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day and making memories for military families, here’s a look at five of the most huggable USO moments from the past year.

1. Americans Around the World Send USO Love Notes to Troops

In the past two years during the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, the USO has asked people at home and overseas to send love notes to troops and their families. People all around the globe embraced the challenge and sent in 3,713 notes of love and affection to troops between January and March of last year.

2. USO and NASCAR Help a Soldier Surprise His Family on Father’s Day

Sgt. Sean Brady, center, is reunited with wife Lauren, right, son Sean and daughter Sarah prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.  (Photos by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Sgt. Sean Brady, center, is reunited with wife Lauren, right, son Sean and daughter Sarah prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images

Not even a made-for-TV movie writer could dream up a military homecoming this special.

Last June, the USO and NASCAR teamed up to pull off the ultimate homecoming for Sgt. Sean Brady and his family, reuniting them on the pit road on Father’s Day before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

But that’s not all.

In the spirit of making moments count, the USO turned the tables on Brady and gave him a Father’s Day surprise, too. Check out the video to see what happened:

 

 

3. A Happy Ending: USO Steps in to Make a Wedding Happen for a Young Military Couple

The unpredictable military lifestyle can making planning big life moments, like weddings, a little difficult.

This was the case for Pvt. Chase Howard and his then-fiancee, Brittany, who had been trying to find a date to tie the knot for months. So when a Chase received a four-day pass over Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend last year, the couple finally had the perfect opportunity to say ‘I do.’

The only problems were that the couple only had a week to plan the ceremony and had no nearby family to help make the arrangements. That’s when Howard called his mother, who got in touch with the USO.

With some quick planning and a few good Skype connections — one with Chase’s father in Afghanistan and another with Brittany’s parents at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington — the Howards had a day to remember at the USO Warrior and Family Center in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

4. USO Sets Up Surprise Homecoming for a Soldier’s Family on “The Meredith Vieira Show”

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Every service member deserves a special homecoming.

But for Lt. Beau McNeff and his wife Ceci, who had missed their last two wedding anniversaries due to deployments and work-ups, something a bit more extravagant seemed to be in order.

The USO, which benefitted from more than 250 hours of McNeff’s volunteer service while he was stationed at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Afghanistan, selected the McNeff family for a surprise reunion on “The Meredith Vieira Show” and also arranged three days of fun for the family in Manhattan. Read more about the homecoming here.

5. A Perfect Proposal: USO San Antonio Helps an Army Private Pop the Question (Again)

Volunteers hold up signs during the surprise proposal at USO San Antonio. USO photo

Volunteers hold up signs during the surprise proposal at USO San Antonio. USO photo

When most girls dream about their perfect proposal, they imagine their future husband down on one knee — not a long-distance call from a boyfriend hundreds of miles away.

Unfortunately for Pvt. Zoe Tunchez and Pvt. Emmanuel Aleman, who were stationed at different Army bases, a happy phone conversation seemed like the closest to a fairy-tale proposal they would get.

That is, until Aleman, his mother, Marita Maldonado, and the team at USO San Antonio joined up to give Tunchez the surprise proper’ proposal of a lifetime just hours before the wedding ceremony. Read more about the couple’s magical USO moment here.

USO Guam Honored for Service to National Guard Troops

Troops and family members celebrate at a USO Guam homecoming celebration in April. USO photo

Troops and family members mingle at a USO Guam homecoming celebration in April. USO photo

They were there when they left. And there when they came home, too.

USO Guam got a big hat tip from the Guam National Guard this week, when it was presented the service’s Center of Influence Award for its work with troops and families during Operation Enduring Freedom. The award specifically covered USO Guam’s actions over the last two years of deployments, recognizing the center’s constant support of both Guam National Guard troops and their families through deployment and homecoming ceremonies, USO center services and additional family support.

The award was presented Sunday during an official retreat ceremony at Guam National Guard Headquarters in Barrigada, Guam.

This isn’t the first time the military has recognized USO Guam’s support. Read here about how USO Guam turned into a temporary hotel for 41 stranded Marines over the summer.

29 Facts You May Not Know for the Marine Corps’ 239th Birthday

Everyone knows the meaning of semper fidelis. But today, the USO takes a look at 29 other Marine Corps facts that may surprise you on the service’s 239th birthday:

Marine Rank

Now he can wear it on the outside. DOD photo

1. Marines often pin their next promotable rank onto their uniforms as a motivator. They usually hide it in their cover or under a pocket flap.

2. The Marine Corps’ first amphibious raid was only weeks after its creation when Marines successfully stormed a British weapons cache in the Bahamas.

3. The Marines’ first land battle on foreign soil was in Libya, where 600 Marines stormed the city of Derna to rescue the crew of the USS Philadelphia from pirates.

4. Male Marine recruits attend boot camp in one of two locations, depending on which side of the Mississippi they’re from: Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego for West Coast recruits (which is a separate facility from Camp Pendleton) and MCRD Parris Island for East Coast recruits.

5. Female recruits only attend MCRD Parris Island.

6. MCRD San Diego can be seen from the air if you fly into San Diego International Airport, causing recruits to wonder if the airport was built there to torment them.

Marine Drill Sgt

Nothing makes for a great photo like boot camp. DOD photo

7. Because MCRD Parris Island was the first of the two depots, Marines who attend MCRD San Diego are often called “Hollywood Marines” by Parris Island Marines. Hollywood Marines don’t have a name for Parris Island Marines because they feel bad about the sand fleas.

8. Since then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered the military to integrate women into combat arms occupations in January 2013, more than 18 female infantry officer candidates have attempted the qualification course. To this point, all 18 have failed to qualify.

9. Marines regularly train with their international counterparts from more than 15 different nations. See if you can hear/see the similarities between these Tongan Marines and U.S. Marines.

10. U.S. Marines also let their hair down at times while training with allied forces. Check out this drum battle with the South Korean Army band.

2012 Warrior Games (Practice 2)

A medically retired Marine at Warrior Games. DOD photo

11. The Marines have won four out of five Warrior Games competitions. This year marks their first loss to the Army.

12. Terrance Ford, brother of Harrison Ford, leads a photography program for wounded transitioning Marines at Wounded Warrior Battalion West on Camp Pendleton, called fStop Warrior Project.

13. Marine recruits are finished eating the moment their drill instructor is finished. This is why Marines eat so fast.

Watch out for the fist behind the beard. DOD photo.

Watch out for the fist behind the beard. DOD photo.

14. Fewer than 100 people have received the title of honorary Marine, a title that can only be bestowed by the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Here are a few of their names and ranks in order of seniority:

  • Chuck Norris (rank unknown but also unneeded)
  • Brig. Gen. Bob Hope
  • Master Sgt. Bugs Bunny
  • Cpl. Jim Nabors, star of Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
  • Gary Sinise

15. “Hurry up and wait” is what happens when each leader down the chain of command tells his or her Marines to be there 15 minutes prior to the senior’s directive. This is why Marines arrive early to their destinations.

16. The license plate of the Commandant of the Marine Corps reads “1775.”

17. Marines in uniform are not authorized to put their hands in their pockets.

18. Only female Marines are authorized to carry umbrellas in uniform.

House1

19. The rank of Marine “gunner” is the only Marine Corps rank that requires different insignia on the left and right uniform collars (*The rank of colonel requires the eagles on each collar to be mirror images of each other, so they are also technically different insignia).

20. In the Corps, because of the total hours off, a three-day weekend is called a “72” and a four-day weekend is called a “96.”

Chesty always gets respect - and hugs. DOD photo

Chesty always gets respect – and hugs. DOD photo

21. The Marine Corps mascot is an English bulldog named Chesty, after Marine Lt. Gen. Louis B. “Chesty” Puller, the only Marine to earn five Navy Crosses.

21. Even though the Corps is an amphibious force, swim qualification is one of the few annual qualifications that doesn’t count toward a Marine’s promotion to the next rank.

23. A three-volley salute performed at funeral ceremonies is often confused with a 21-gun salute. The three-volley salute is the firing of three rifle volleys (rounds) over the graves of fallen armed forces members and political leaders and can be traced to the European dynastic wars, when fighting was halted to remove the dead and wounded. Once an area was cleared of casualties, three volleys were sent into the air as a signal to resume fighting. Three, five or seven Marines can perform a three-volley salute.

24. Every year, Thai Marines instruct U.S. Marines in a day of jungle-survival training as part of the annual exercise Cobra Gold. The training culminates with the U.S. Marines participating in a Thai warrior ritual that involves cutting a cobra’s head off and drinking its blood.

Marine John Glenn25. Marine Corps Col. John Glenn was the first *American to orbit the Earth.

26. According to Marine sniper superstition, there is ultimately one round destined to end the life of a Marine, and that is “the round with your name on it.” Until that round is fired, the person for whom it is intended remains invincible. If the sniper carries the round with him at all times, it can never be fired and the sniper is therefore untouchable. Out of school, a Marine sniper carries the colloquial title “PIG,” or a Professionally Instructed Gunman, until he has killed an enemy sniper in combat and removed the round with his name on it from the enemy sniper’s magazine. That round is then worn as a necklace and symbolizes his new status as a HOG, or “Hunter of Gunmen.”

27. Ever since Vietnam, Marine amtrac crews will not eat apricots, as they’re considered bad luck.

28. Marines also think it’s unlucky to eat the CHARMS that used to come in packs of meals ready to eat.

29. Marines are often called jarheads because of their high-and-tight haircuts, but some Marines take this cut to the extreme. Unauthorized haircuts include the horseshoe and the mohawk.

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