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.

Medal of Honor Recipient Rides Shotgun with Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne at NASCAR Nationwide Series

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PHOENIX–With Veterans Day approaching, Rouch Fenway Racing and USO Arizona teamed up to kick off this year’s festivities with a roar.

Roush Fenway Racing driver Trevor Bayne, had two special additions on his No. 6 AdvoCare Ford Mustang at this weekend’s NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) event at Phoenix International Raceway to honor those who have served.

In addition to featuring the USO logo on the side and back of his vehicle, Bayne sported Medal of Honor recipient Fred Ferguson’s name on his passenger door. Bayne, who finished ninth in the race, also took a moment to give troops a shout before hitting the track this weekend.

In addition to meeting Bayne and seeing his name on the car, Ferguson, who received the Medal of Honor in 1969 for actions in Vietnam, was formally recognized at the pre-race driver’s meeting with a standing ovation.

Ferguson enjoyed VIP treatment throughout the day Saturday, thanks to Rouch Fenway Racing. He along with Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael  McGuire, USAA Executive Director Military Affinity and retired Marine Lt. Col. Bob Wiedower and other guests got an exclusive behind-the-scenes view of raceday action.

USO and NASCAR Help Soldier Surprise Family on Father’s Day

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BROOKLYN, Mich. —This weekend, the USO and NASCAR teamed up to help a soldier pull off a Father’s Day surprise for his family. Sgt. Sean Brady reunited with his wife, Lauren, son Sean and daughter Sarah on the pit road before Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

You can watch NASCAR’s video coverage of the reunion here:

NASCAR, USO Brings an Airman Back to His Family in Style

Technical Sgt. Chad Boley has been stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany for three and a half years, flying wounded soldiers from the Southwest Asia theater to either Germany or stateside. During that stretch, Boley has been separated from his family for the past two years. So when the chance came to surprise them with a visit, he seized it.

That opportunity was provided by the USO and NASCAR on Sunday, where Boley would be reunited with his wife, Stephanie and his family of two boys, Austin and Cameron, and two girls, Gwendolyn and Noelle and at the AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.

“To be able to reconnect with my family will mean the world to me,” Boley wrote prior to the event. “I have for so long done everything to do my country proud and bring hope to families whom have injured soldiers, that I have partially neglected my own. With this opportunity to see them again just makes the value of family that much stronger and more clear.”

Boley was treated to a day at the track for a real “behind the scenes” NASCAR experience. He blasted around the track in a pace car, toured the ESPN on-site compound, attended the driver meeting and went shopping for NASCAR memorabilia for his kids, all signed by the drivers. Later, Boley dropped the green flag to signal the start of the race.

His family received a similar experience and got to take photos with all the drivers including Danica Patrick and several USO tour veteran drivers.

USO, NASCAR Assemble 2,500 With You All the Way Kits for Children of Deployed Troops

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The USO partnered with The NASCAR Foundation twice in the last two months to host With You All the Way Kit assembly events as part of the second-annual “NASCAR: An American Salute” campaign. The kits will be distributed free of charge to children of deployed troops.

The events – on June 8 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., and July 5 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Fla. – produced a total of 2,500 kits.

-Photos courtesy of NASCAR

Marine Rides Shotgun with NASCAR Star Jeff Gordon on USO Trip

Growing up in Holland, Mich., Cory Gritter almost always spent Sunday afternoons with his father in front of the television, watching stock cars tear around oval tracks at ridiculous speeds.


Marine Sgt. Cory Gritter rides shotgun with Jeff Gordon along Las Vegas Boulevard during NASCAR Victory Lap on Thursday. Gritter is part of a group of a group of recovering troops brought to Las Vegas by the USO to participate in NASCAR’s Champions Week festivities. Photo courtesy of Trent Staley/NASCAR

Gritter’s favorite was the No. 24 piloted by Jeff Gordon, perhaps NASCAR’s most polarizing driver.

Years later and nearly 1,900 miles away, Gritter was riding shotgun Thursday when he looked to his left and Gordon — his racing idol — looked back and smiled.

“You might want to put your head back,” Gordon told him, “or you’re gonna get whiplash.”

With that, Gordon turned loose the 865 horses beneath the hood of his DuPont Chevrolet and spun into a burnout in the middle of the Las Vegas Strip, sending smoke rising over the asphalt and palm trees.

“That was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever done,” Gritter said afterward, still beaming. “I’ve got to thank the USO for bringing us out here. This is amazing.”

Gritter is now a sergeant in the Marine Corps, serving in a wounded warrior battalion at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he’s receiving treatment for injuries caused by an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan in 2009.


Jeff Gordon, with Marine Sgt. Cory Gritter on board, does a burnout on Las Vegas Boulevard during NASCAR Victory Lap on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Trent Staley/NASCAR

He is part of a group of wounded service members from Bethesda and Fort Belvoir, Va., brought to Las Vegas by the USO to participate in NASCAR’s Champions Week celebration. Thursday’s event, dubbed NASCAR Victory Lap, included the top 12 drivers in the Sprint Cup points standings parading their cars up and down Las Vegas Boulevard and doing burnouts at either end of the route as thousands of fans cheered from the roadside and from pedestrian bridges above the street. Gritter’s fellow troops looked down from atop a double-decker bus riding with the convoy of stock cars.

Gritter was singled out because he is the biggest NASCAR fan in the group. When Gordon heard that he is Gritter’s favorite driver, the four-time champion eagerly agreed to bring the Marine along for the ride. Gordon even handed off his iPhone to Gritter so he could snap photos and document the experience.

The outing is part of the USO’s Warrior and Family Care initiative and was coordinated by the USO of Metropolitan Washington. It is actually Gritter’s second Las Vegas trip with the USO, though the first involved more relaxation and less adrenaline.

“This was cool,” Gritter said. “My dad would love this. I can’t wait to tell him about it.”

—By Derek Turner, USO Senior Editor