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.

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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.

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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

Recovering Troops Get Dressed in Style for NASCAR Event

A plane carrying a group of combat-tested service members touched down in the desert on Wednesday morning.

Spc. Cleber Ferreira shows off the tuxedo he’ll wear Friday to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas. Ferreira is part of a group of recovering troops and their guests who traveled with the USO to Las Vegas for NASCAR’s Champions Week festivities. USO photo by Samuel Zelaya

Then it was time to suit up.

“Oh, man, I want the red one,” said Spc. Cleber Ferreira as he spotted the jacket. “Nah, I’ll go traditional. Like James Bond.”

The desert is Vegas. Suiting up meant getting fitted for tuxedos and gowns.

Ferreira — who suffered back, leg and head injuries when 400 pounds of explosives detonated beneath his Stryker vehicle in Afghanistan in 2010 — is part of a group of more than a dozen wounded warriors and their guests visiting Las Vegas with the USO to take part in NASCAR’s Champions Week celebration. On Thursday, they were to sit atop a double-decker bus and lead a parade of stock cars down Las Vegas Boulevard, better known as The Strip. Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski will perform a celebratory burnout and race teams will conduct pit stops in front of the Bellagio’s famed fountains.

On Friday, it’ll be time to break out the formalwear for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony at the Wynn, a swanky gala where, between performances from celebrity entertainers, NASCAR will honor the top 10 finishers in the points standings.

Marine Sgt. Cory Gritter gets measured Wednesday for a tuxedo to wear to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series Awards Ceremony on Friday in Las Vegas. USO photo by Samuel Zelaya

The wounded warriors — on a break from recovering at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, or Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland — were looking sharp during their trial run Wednesday at Tuxedo Junction and David’s Bridal in Las Vegas.

Lance Cpl. Nathan Jakubisin, whose right leg was amputated below the knee after an improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan in June, initially worried that he might have to wear shorts with his tux because the pants wouldn’t fit over the metal fixator holding together his left leg.

“Maybe a kilt,” he quipped. “That’s a good idea.”

But with a pair of scissors, a little extra fabric and a sewing machine, the staff at Tuxedo Junction delivered a pair of custom-made pants.

And Ferreira? Well, he almost did look like James Bond. That is, if 007 wore a camo hat with his tuxedo.

—Story by Derek Turner, USO Senior Editor

Jimmie Johnson Hosts Benefit Concert for Soldiers

(L to R) NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson, USO of North Carolina's Megan Grady, President and COO for USO of North Carolina John Falkenbury, and Grammy-award winning musician Darius Rucker came out to support the Lowe's USO Family Fund. (Photo courtesy of WCNC.com)

By now you’ve probably heard the exciting news about the Lowe’s USO Family Fund, which support family programming at the USO.  On Thursday, NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson hosted a special concert at the Fillmore in Charlotte, NC, with musical performance by Darius Rucker…all to support the Fund!

“It means a lot to all of us and I think it’s really big for the city to have the race here in town,” Johnson told WCNC.com in Charlotte. “Drivers and almost everyone knows this is a big opportunity to be home and wine and dine some folks to show our appreciation to the fans.”  You can check out footage of the night’s events in a short clip below.

It was a great night for our Troops and the best part (besides supporting the USO, of course!) is that YOU can view the concert on the SPEED Channel at 7 p.m. on May 29, 2010 – just one week from tonight.  In the meantime, show your support for the Lowe’s USO Family Fund by visiting www.uso.org/lowes, by texting USO to 50555 for a $5 donation, or by calling 1-800-876-7469 and using giving codes “Lowe’s,” “Jimmie Johnson,” or “Racing.”  Thanks for your support!

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Jimmie Johnson and Lowe’s Show Their Support for the USO!

Jimmie Johnson will be in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet car at the May 30 Sprint Cup race. The car will feature a special patriotic paint scheme in recognition of Memorial Day, plus donation information will be posted on the team’s pit wall banner during the race!

Lowe’s and the USO have announced the creation of the Lowe’s USO Family Fund, proceeds of which will support USO family programs such as the “With You All the Way!” deployment kit, “United Through Reading,” and USO Operation Phone Home.

These programs help deployed service members who are abroad and their families stay connected and help those who remain at home prepare for the separation while their family members are away.

Team Lowe’s Racing driver Jimmie Johnson and country-music artist Darius Rucker will host a special concert highlighting the Lowe’s USO Family Fund on the SPEED Channel airing at 7 p.m. on May 29, 2010, the night before the 600-mile Sprint Cup Series Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Donations can be made to the fund by visiting www.uso.org/lowes, by texting USO to 50555 for a $5 donation, or by calling 1-800-876-7469 and using giving codes “Lowe’s,” “Jimmie Johnson,” or “Racing.”

During the May 30 Sprint Cup race, the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet will also have a special patriotic paint scheme in recognition of Memorial Day and will feature donation information on the team’s pit wall banner.

“Every year we do something different to show our support of the military during this race weekend,” said Johnson, who will be trying for his fourth win in the Memorial Day weekend race. “Both of my grandfathers served in the military, so I am especially proud to be partnering with my Lowe’s family for the Lowe’s USO Family Fund. The money raised will help those deployed and their families back home.”