USO, Corporate Partners Assemble Comfort Crew Deployment Kits for Marine Families

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ARLINGTON, Virginia–The USO hosted some of its corporate partners for a summit this week outside the nation’s capital. And after they exchanged ideas, they walked to another conference room and did what they do best together: give back to troops.

The USO and its corporate partners assembled With You All The Way Deployment Kits designed by the Comfort Crew for Military Kids. The kits will be distributed to families of Marines who are about to deploy out of Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. The group assembled 100 kits.

The Comfort Crew is part of the recently announced USO Transition 360 Alliance, which provides a holistic approach to transitioning from the military to civilian life.

9 Times the USO Came Through for Military Moms

Moms are the backbone of military families. Here are nine moments where the USO has come through for them:

1. Beamed in to the delivery room: Marine Capt. Nick Whitefield went downrange during the run-up to his wife, Laura Whitefield, delivering their second child. Thanks to USO technology, the couple got to see each other during that special moment.

2. USO/What To Expect Special Delivery Baby Showers: The USO works with The What To Expect Foundation and best-selling author Heidi Murkoff to deliver baby showers to military families around the world.

3. A juice and a snooze: How the USO gave a much-needed respite to one military mom and her young daughter when they got stranded while traveling to a funeral.

The Hoffman quintuplets. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

The Hoffman quintuplets. Photo courtesy the Hoffman family

4. Cute overload: USO Arizona quickly rolled out the red carpet for an Air Force couple that moved across the country right before giving birth to quintuplets.

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5. Staying connected with her kids around the world: When Amy DeRosa’s children started deploying, she wasn’t sure how often she’d get to talk to them. Then she found out about the USO.

Dickinson_md6. A mother’s quiet moment at the USO: How the mom of a fallen soldier honored his memory – and felt a little closer to him – during an impromptu USO visit after his death.

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7. Creative mom gets an assist on military daughter’s birthday: Jeanne McConnell had a history of surprising her daughter — Air Force Capt. Emily Arthur — on her birthday. Thanks to the USO, she was able to keep up the tradition even though Arthur was deployed to Afghanistan.

8. A twist on a birthday celebration: Air Force couple James and Cherrie Bell had a bunch of USO experiences over the years. So when their daughter turned 1, they wanted to set an example of giving back. Their efforts may have made her our youngest donor ever.

9. Giving a mom peace of mind: When Marlene Chapman’s daughter was stranded alone in the Denver airport overnight, their family knew exactly where to send her.

USO Steps in to Help Stranded Military Teen and Give Worried Mom Piece Of Mind

Marlene Kenney and her family. Photo courtesy Marlene Kenney

Marlene Chapman and her family. Photo courtesy Marlene Chapman

Marlene Chapman never thought her kids would need the USO.

But after her 19-year-old daughter, Mareena Brown, found herself alone, upset and stranded overnight in the Denver airport, Chapman, who’s married to Air Force 1st Lt. Joseph Chapman, was relieved the USO was there to lend a hand.

“I can’t explain it, except to say, I am crying (again) thinking how relieved I was knowing she felt safe. Knowing she was safe,” Chapman wrote in an email. “I always thought it was for the ones serving, not their families.”

Chapman and Brown’s USO story began long before any plane tickets were booked.

A few years back, Chapman and her children lived in Colorado. That’s where Brown met her friend Cali Lurvey, whose father was in the Army. But military families rarely stay in one place for long. Eventually, Brown moved to Salt Lake City with her mother, and Cali relocated to Minot, South Dakota, with her family. The girls remained close and continued to grow their friendship, particularly when Brown struggled with health issues and Graves’ disease during high school.

Brown eventually graduated high school and started to regain her health. She resumed everyday activities, too, including getting a job at a local call center. After earning her first paycheck, Brown decided to spend the money to visit Cali. So she booked a flight to Minot, packed her bag and had Chapman drop her off at the airport.

“She was very nervous about traveling alone,” Chapman wrote. “I was even more nervous.”

When Brown landed in Denver, she received a series of flight delay texts, and later, a notification that her connecting flight to Minot was cancelled. Alone, and facing a night in the airport without her luggage, Brown called her mother, who suggested she head to Denver International Airport’s USO center.

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After signing in with a volunteer, calming herself down and fueling up on a sandwich and juice, Brown called her mother to let her know that everything was going to be alright.

“She told me to thank Joe (my husband) for being awesome and in the Air Force,” Chapman wrote. “She said the USO felt safe.”

Even though the center closed 10 p.m., Brown said the USO volunteers gave her plenty of snacks and books to keep her happy in the main terminal until the center re-opened at 6 a.m. The next day, Brown went back to the USO and spent her morning relaxing at the center before catching her flight to Minot.

After her experience with the USO, Brown told her mother that she’d like to look into volunteering at her local USO.

“I told her that we will all look into it as a family,” Chapman wrote. “I am grateful to the USO for helping me find peace of mind while she was traveling. We definitely want to be part of the USO community, family, organization.”

Juice And A Snooze: How The USO Helped Ease One Military Mom’s Travel Woes

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The McClanahan family. Photo courtesy of Michelle McClanahan

When Michelle McClanahan headed to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport on her way to Pennsylvania, she didn’t anticipate spending the rest of the day in the Atlanta airport.

But since she and her daughter, Sophia, were flying on a non-reservation status to her grandfather’s funeral — thanks to a perk Michelle’s husband, Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob McClanahan, had in an earlier job —  they had to wait until seats became available on a plane from Atlanta to Allentown, Pennsylvania.

It was a long wait.

After several hours of boredom mixed with the sadness and stress of losing her grandfather, Michelle spoke to her husband, who suggested she head to the airport’s USO center.

Not expecting much, Michelle decided to take his advice and went to the USO Jean Amos Center at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

When she arrived, a volunteer helped her sign in and gave she and her daughter some food. A USO volunteer even went out to purchase some juice for Sophia, since the center only had water and soda at the time.

“I was blown away at how welcoming they were to my family,” McClanahan wrote in an email. “They even comforted me when I started crying over my grandfathers passing!”

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After enjoying the refreshments and a much-needed nap, Michelle says a few volunteers even offered to play with Sophia and walk around the center with her.

“I will definitely be using the USO again,” she said. “It represents to me a safe place to go when you feel like you don’t have any options. It represents a family environment.”

The Hunt is On: $10,000 in Prizes Awaits the Military Family that Finds USO Colorado Springs’ Jingle Bell Rock

JingleBellRockPhil Martinez got up before dawn Friday, went over to Fort Carson, Colorado, and hid a rock. Whichever military family finds it is going to be about $10,000 in prizes richer.

USO Colorado Springs’ Jingle Bell Rock contest sends military families on the Colorado Springs base into a pre-holiday frenzy, as active duty troops and their immediate family members race their peers to find where Martinez stashed the painted piece of Earth. Martinez supplements their search by providing clues through his center’s Facebook page, website and at the USO center on Fort Carson. (HINT: There’s even an exclusive clue at the end of this story.)

There’s a lot on the line this year, too, including a $5,000 tennis bracelet, laptop computer, flat screen television, android tablet and four tickets to the Dec. 28 Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders game and hundreds of dollars in gift cards to local stores.

“What’s great about it is it’s winner-take-all,” said Martinez, who is the director of USO Colorado Springs. “When I drive around [the base], you see little kids, families all bundled up looking for it together. I love that. It’s what it’s all about.”

Martinez says the contest has evolved over the years. The prize pool is up significantly from last year, when it was roughly $7,000 in gifts. He’s also seen collaboration come into play. After all, winner-take-all doesn’t mean you can’t team up.

“The first few years, everybody would hunt for it individually,” he said. “Now people are splitting up to look for it and pre-agreeing to split the prizes.”

Martinez says it normally takes between three and five days for the winners to combine enough clues to find the rock.

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The hefty prize pool is donated to the USO by local businesses as a way to say thank you to troops for their service. Martinez’s team puts the prizes together, comes up with a strategy to hide the rock and then springs it on the community in the days leading up to Christmas.

“Every year we try to make it bigger and better,” he said. “And with the help of our local partnerships out here with the business community, they are the ones who provide all the presents for our troops and their families.”

The full list of prizes includes:

  • $5,000 tennis bracelet courtesy of Gold Fingers Jewelry of Colorado Springs
  • 20” Mongoose bike courtesy of Coca-Cola of Colorado Springs/Denver 
  • 32” flat screen TV courtesy of Omni Financial
  • Acoustic guitar courtesy of MWR Fort Carson
  • Blu-ray DVD player courtesy of the USO
  • Nabi kids’ tablet courtesy of the USO
  • Assorted DVDs courtesy of Disney
  • Android tablet w/ case courtesy of the USO
  • Laptop computer w/ case courtesy of the USO
  • $500 in gift cards courtesy of the USO
  • Sony DSCW710 camera w/ case courtesy of the USO
  • Overnight stay and dinner for two at Hotel Elegante courtesy of Hotel Elegante
  • Marble top desk  courtesy of MWR Fort Carson
  • Two headsets courtesy of the Colorado Springs Airport
  • Colorado Rapids autographed soccer ball courtesy of Kroenke Sports in Denver
  • Papa John’s pizza for a year courtesy of Papa John’s Colorado Springs
  • Custom-made Disney gift basket courtesy of Disney
  • Four tickets to the Dec. 28 Denver Broncos-Oakland Raiders game courtesy of Coca-Cola of Colorado Springs

And finally, your clue:  Hunt day and night and keep a minimum speed, when you think you are close just look at the weeds.

USO Operation: That’s My Dress! and Sherri Hill Create Cinderella Moments for Jacksonville Military Teens

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JACKSONVILLE, Florida–It was an afternoon filled with fairytale moments and Cinderella transformations.

Just in time for the holidays, USO Operation: That’s My Dress! gave 400 Jacksonville-area military teens day filled with glamour, pampering and fun while they each selected a formal dress designed by Sherri Hill.

“We hope they’re thrilled,” Hill said. “Some girls have never tried on a dress like this. So it’s almost like playing dress-up”

In addition to leaving with a new gown, teens also received Stella & Dot jewelry, L’Oreal make-up and hair products and other beauty items to complete their outfit. Teens could even get their hair and make-up done as well as consult with celebrity stylists and pageant contestants about their new look.

“My biggest wish is that these women leave feeling empowered, that they feel like they can do anything and accomplish anything they want to,” said Ray Kennedy, Vice President of Programs for USO of Metropolitan New York. “I want them to feel like they are rock stars and whatever dream they have, it can be attained.”

Before the beautification process, teens also enjoyed a fashion show featuring Miss USA and Miss Teen USA state titleholders, as well as a performance by the USO Show Troupe.

But that’s not all.

To help the entire family get in on the fun, the Greater Jacksonville Area USO expanded USO Operation: That’s My Dress! to include the entire family Homecoming Football Party, including a tailgate, a football game viewing and giveaways for the whole family courtesy of the Jacksonville Jaguars, ESPN and L’Oreal.